Since 2002 we’ve seen two actors take up the mantle that is Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield. Now, with the MCU’s continuously expanding universe and a partnership with Sony, a third joins the fray, Tom Holland. Spider-Man is one of the most recognizable icons in all of pop-culture, so when Spider-Man: Homecoming was announced and that Marvel Studios and Sony came to an agreement to allow Spider-Man to join the MCU, there was a lot of excitement. In addition, we got a wonderful taste of the new take on the web-slinger in Captain America: Civil War (2016), so with a solo movie showcasing what this iteration was all about, naturally the hype was extremely high. And it really pays off in the end.
***WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD***
It should be made known that this interpretation of Peter Parker is a younger kid than the past two live-action ones, specifically a 15-year-old high school sophomore. Tom Holland is the youngest to play the role to date, and he fits it like a glove. Not only does he look the part, being so young, but his whole demeanor and personality are immature but in the best of ways. He’s quick-witted, and about as blown away as audiences are while he’s pulling off his super stunts. Tom Holland is a refreshing take on a character we all know and have seen on the live-action screen twice before, and that’s great. He owns everything about Peter, the awkwardness, the genius, and the whimsy and outgoing-ness of Spider-Man. He’s perfect for the role. Alongside Tom Holland, he has his best friend character, Ned played by Jacob Batalon. Batalon plays the comedic role well enough, however, I personally feel that there were too many bits of him just derailing scenes. He was funny, don’t get me wrong, however, the film is filled with humor so to have a character that was there almost devoted as the comedic relief seemed a bit tired. His relationship with Peter, however, felt very genuine, so the constant gags he plays always feel in character.
From a villain perspective, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (The Vulture) isn’t anything groundbreaking, but here he works very well with what the film is going for. He is realistic and felt mostly justified with what he was doing, however, some jumps in motivation were a bit stark, which made Toomes feel a tad bit underdeveloped. Nonetheless, Keaton plays him very well, with confidence and with just the right amount of broodiness that he didn’t feel at all like another cheesy, weak Marvel villain. On top of Adrian Toomes’ evil doing, I appreciated the humanistic approach to him and his team. When the world is now wracked with aliens and monsters, people, of course, will start to try to get ahead just to survive, but then to profit. It was a nice commentary on how humans react when they feel outgunned or up against a wall. A “forced hand” to The Vulture’s character was very apparent.
Among the top stars in Homecoming, Robert Downey Jr., and Jon Favreau reprising their roles as Tony Stark and Happy Hogan respectively. I’m glad that this film didn’t try too hard to bank on Iron Man. He was a very welcome supporting character, an awkward mentor and a person that Peter thinks very highly of. I’ve missed Happy, not seeing him since Iron Man 3 (2013), and the same goes for Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. These characters were all very welcome on-screen. The other cast of characters including the rest of Peter’s classmates like Laura Harrier as Liz, Tony Revolori as Flash, and Zendaya as Michelle were all great to see. The diversity in the casting of the film is very commendable, as well. It felt like a really diverse high school in a real city. It’s often seen as a little thing, but roles like these do carry a lot of weight and it’s very refreshing to see. On another beat, the younger take on Aunt May (played by Melissa Tomei) worked well with the younger take on Peter, as well. She didn’t feel out-of-place, and honestly, I kind of preferred it.
I did want to chime in on the MJ talks too. Zendaya plays a role named Michelle Jones, and at the end of the film, she says “my friends call me MJ”, a clear emulation of the known character Mary-Jane, “MJ”, and Peter’s wife in the comics. There’s no real content in the film to say that she is the “new MJ” but regardless, she’s a different character entirely, as seen by how she carries herself here. The nickname is really the only place where the two characters cross. Regardless of future intent for the character, like her potentially becoming Peter’s love interest, she’s not Mary Jane. Her nickname, of course, pays homage to the “original MJ”, but that’s it. This is Marvel taking artistic liberties, with both diversifying its casting, as well as creating a unique, but still recognizable, universe for Spider-Man.
Director Jon Watts and his writing team had his work cut out for him, crafting a fresh take on the character of Spider-Man as well as blending him in with the established MCU. Skipping the original story completely was the absolute best decision for the film. Instead, we focus on Peter’s dealings as Spider-Man, his desire of becoming an Avenger, and his really being a young, naïve kid. This is a grounded, small-scale approach to Spidey. He’s never in downtown Manhattan, for example, he’s swinging from smaller buildings and using what’s around him to get around. There’s even a bit of him swinging into a golf course where there’s nowhere to swing, so he ends up just sprinting across the screen muttering, “This sucks”. The plotline as well is very small compared to the “world ending” stories that we’ve gotten used to seeing from Marvel at this point. It was refreshing to take a step back and focus on building Peter and Spider-Man and establishing him, before anything else. The writing is very strong with Peter’s character.
I will say though, that there were several bits throughout the film that had great dramatic potential, but were undercut by daft attempts at comedy. Spidey is always going to quip, that’s a given, but here I felt like the writing was trying way too hard to add humor in not-needed places. I wanted to take things a tad bit more seriously, but I feel like I wasn’t allowed to.
As a storyline goes, it hits all the generic notes, but it relies a lot on Tom Holland’s character to do the heavy lifting. His character is meant to draw in viewers, and if done right, whatever Peter is doing, people should be invested in it. Like I said, it’s a small-scale film, and it definitely plays on a lot of cheesy elements (typical high school, typical romance, the same Peter Parker troubles we’ve all seen before), however the film generally does a great job with allowing those things to work with the script and have it still feel exciting, rather than tried.
Homecoming paced itself generally well, too. There were some parts that felt a little rushed, some of the high school sequences felt a bit lackluster as well. Almost like they were in there because they had to be, but they didn’t carry too much weight. What really moved the film along was Peter, himself, and whenever Spidey was on-screen. There were some great fight sequences, the ferry scene being the most notable. Spidey was quick, quipping the whole time, and showcased some amazing talents. I very much enjoyed “Karen”, Spider-Man’s computer that Stark put in his suit. I loved seeing the high-tech suit, something we hadn’t seen before.
The best action sequence was, again, the ferry scene. It is the clear height of the film, where we get a real showdown between Spider-Man and The Vulture, a great scene with Peter trying to keep the ship from breaking off, as well as Tony confiscating the Spider suit. The movie was in full swing by this time, and Peter’s transition back into his make-shift suit through the end of the film didn’t feel spoiled at all. Heading back to the roots was a nice direction to go in, especially to give a glimpse of what Spidey was before Tony’s suit.
I think Homecoming started in the best of ways. After being introduced to Adrian Toomes during the clean up after the “Battle of New York”, we get a first person, video footage perspective of Peter when he is first picked up by Tony in Civil War, to when he gets his new suit, as well as him filming while he’s waiting for his queue to swing in and take Cap’s shield. I thought that whole bit was extraordinarily clever and the best way to introduce Holland’s Peter into this movie. Separately, it isn’t abundantly clear when this film takes place. We do get an ”8 Years Later” stamp after we see Toomes cleaning up New York; we’re obviously somewhere in between Civil War, as Cap is cited as a war criminal now, and the events of Doctor Strange and the Earth bit of Guardians 2 isn’t mentioned at all. I also have to give a great commendation for Cap’s troll of a post-credits scene. After Gunn’s clever post-credits bombardment in Guardian’s 2, we get Cap doing a PSA announcement on “patience” and how it’s so important, even when faced with something so disappointing when you waited a long time to get to it. I see you, Marvel.
I think Spider-Man: Homecoming is exactly where the MCU needed to go with Spider-Man. It didn’t waste too much time getting to him, it gives Tony and Happy, new Spider-Man gadgets and things, and it was an all-around good time. There may have been some issues with the comedy undercutting some important, potentially dramatic scenes, and the plotline being a generic one, but the film is a lot of fun regardless because Tom Holland alone reels you in and keeps you smiling. It’s small-scale, and to some, it may feel a tad bit underwhelming, but for the character of Spider-Man, this is where we needed to see him. In a “friendly, neighborhood” setting. It worked really well, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Spider-Man in the future. I really hope he’s here to stay because: objectively, this is a great movie and Tom Holland is wonderful, but subjectively, Spidey is my favorite in all of Marvel comics, so I really want him to stick around in the MCU.