Greetings, True Believers! Rest assured– Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie you have been waiting for.
When we last left our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, he made a small, but memorable, appearance in last summer’s Captain America: Civil War. He stole Cap’s shield, and basically the entire movie, in just a couple of scenes.
Our film opens with a video diary from his point of view of everything that happened in Germany. “a Film by Peter Parker” it says in courier script as he narrates, “Queens, New York. A rough borough, but it’s home.”
“Who are you talking to?” an irate Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) asks from the driver’s seat, as he puts up the privacy divider in the car to stop being pestered by the teen’s questions: “Why do they call you Happy?”
As Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) drops Peter Parker (Tom Holland) off at his Queens apartment, he tells him, “Can’t you be more of a. . . friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? . . . Just don’t do anything I would do. And definitely don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. There’s a little gray area in there– and that’s where you operate.”
And there is no better summation of how this movie fits in with the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those movies span the globe– the universe, even– and this is a story that is mostly confined to Queens and a single school field trip to Washington, DC. Instead of this being about fighting a galactic menace, he’s focused on the people robbing the ATM in his neighborhood or a stolen bike. The Avengers handle the big stuff. Peter Parker handles the little stuff. Manhattan vs. Queens.
But, oh, he does not like that. At all. Every day he’s texting, asking when the next time they’ll need him is. He spends all of his time trying to prove himself, and when he bites off a little more than he can chew with Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture (Michael Keaton), we actually see what a screw-up he is. No, he isn’t ready for the big time, and that’s perhaps the hardest lesson of adolescence.
But one of the best things they did right in this movie is what they don’t do. There’s no origin story of being bitten by a radioactive spider. No Uncle Ben. And while I kind of wanted to see Spidey being motivated by his great power and great responsibility, this just isn’t that story. This is the teenager who wants to grow up too fast. It’s the MCU colliding with John Hughes. The simple fact that there are two very obvious homages to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (one right after the other in case you didn’t get the first one) tells you that’s exactly what they’re going for. And they nail it. I can’t decide if this is a reason I dislike the film or that I like it so much, but it’s that it’s so full of teen angst. And that’s a bold move for a superhero genre movie to stray so far from the formula of what we expect in a reboot.
I only briefly mentioned Keaton before, but he is the real breakout star of this movie. (Insert obligatory Birdman joke). Possibly other than Loki he’s the best MCU villain– because he’s not a bad guy. He starts off a normal guy who gets stepped on and decides to use stolen space technology to provide for his family. Even his name makes sense– the Vulture– because he’s picking the scraps off of whatever fight The Avengers and SHIELD just had.
But he’s menacing. A scene near the end reminds you just how amazing an actor Keaton is. You can almost see the gears in his head turning as he figures things out. And he also has a sense of honor about what he’s doing. But despite his bluster about being against the 1%– let’s be super real, here. We find out he’s doing just fine financially. Yes, he’s worried about providing for his family, but he provides for them in a pretty upper-middle-class way. There’s something to be said here about the rise of the Trump voter and the fear of loss of privilege. . . but I’ll save that diatribe until more people have had a chance to see the movie and can discuss this in more depth with spoilers.
This is not to say the film is flawless. Again, the emphasis on teen angst was certainly intended, but I would’ve liked to see the other side of the character. And as many comedic moments as there are in the film, none were quite as memorable as some of the Joss Whedon or James Gunn moments from The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy, or even the most recent Thor: Ragnarok trailer. And a final nighttime action sequence set against the black sky on top of a dark stealth aircraft made the action harder to see and follow. See this in the best theater with the best contrast you possibly can.
This is the Spider-Man movie we’ve all wanted to see. And it’s a great reminder that Marvel Studios understands their characters better than anyone else out there. This should be a wakeup call to Fox or anyone else who has a languishing piece of the Marvel intellectual property– please let Marvel Studios co-produce your next Fantastic Four movie. They might make it not suck. Because Spider-Man: Homecoming does anything but that.
4 out of 5 stars