Neither Amazing, Nor Spectacular, Nor Superior,
A Film Review of Spider-Man: Homecoming
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to our 3rd cinematic Spider-Man who still spins his webs under Sony/Columbia’s roof, but now Marvel Studios is holding up the support beams as his integration into the MCU is now complete. As such, Peter Parker and his entire mythos need to be tweaked to allow audiences to reconnect with this new iteration in unique and meaningful ways to separate him from his predecessors. “Rebranding” is a popular corporate term for “recycling” that doesn’t have the icky stigma that a word like “rebooting” has in the film industry. For franchises that are immune to death thanks to ridiculously reliable profits at the box office, rebranding can be invaluable.
Or it can be marginal if said changes are only allowed a cosmetic impact because the corporate conglomerate really has no interest in messing with a sure formula and the filmmakers haven’t the interest or the intestinal fortitude to dare something truly different. This is certainly the case in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but that’s not to say I disliked these slight amendments. I liked the increase to the ethnic diversity of this film’s supporting cast. I liked centering Peter’s narrative in contemporary geek culture while completely ignoring the bully angle of jocks and cheerleaders as counterpoints. But that, essentially, is where the rebranding ends and the rest of the film plays out in an all too familiar manner that has been seen before during the Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire regimes. Peter is still awkward, unsure and struggling with his school/superhero life balance. Peter is standoffish and keeps secrets from Aunt May. Peter has to have a weird, masochistic father/son relationship with the main antagonist that’s trying to kill him. Peter has been there and done that far too often in his own blockbuster movies that it feels lackluster going back when he’s already rubbed shoulders with the Avengers.
The one thing that would have made this young, inexperienced, prone to screwing up Peter Parker unique from every other in any form of media, ever, would be to give him the kind of mentor who has been in his shoes and has the kind of experience to guide him to exactly where he wants to go. Robert Downey Jr. reprising Tony Stark to fulfill this role is not only inspired, but makes perfect sense seeing how it was Stark who discovered Peter and properly brought him into the hero game in the first place. This specific element of the film was heavily pushed in its advertising since the very first trailers were released. Unfortunately, this film’s final cut represents a massive bait and switch, blink and you’ve missed it, pull the rug from right under you approach to delivering this new, exciting and fresh student/mentor relationship between Spider-Man and Iron Man.
It doesn’t happen; not in any way that actually matters. 7 minutes of total screen time for Robert Downey Jr. qualifies as a bit part. The whole film is Peter Parker trying so hard to impress the one person who opened his world to infinite possibilities, but it’s all bluff and no stuff because Peter’s idol, mentor and inspiration simply isn’t around. Peter being constantly ignored, dismissed and passed off stops being funny after a while and eventually devolves into desperate pleas from a borderline obsessive compulsive in dire need of some kind of acknowledgement.
There may be many reasons why Kevin Feige and director Jon Watts decided that Tony Stark was not to have a larger part in this film, nor a more significant role in Peter Parker’s young adulthood, but they are all bad. These reasons are not bad because of all the lost opportunities of neat character interplay between two of Marvel’s greatest individuals that would have, could have and should have happened had this film actually delivered on its teasing trailers. They are bad because regardless of their rational, the net result is a Spider-Man film that, at its core, is the exact same movie that has been done 5 times before. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Tony Stark is mere window dressing for the not “Amazing,” not “Spectacular,” not “Superior,” but just “Ok” Spider-Man movie featuring decent action, excellent visual effects and MCU tie ins.
Audiences are used to Spider-Man swinging around the concrete jungle with speed and proficiency, but scenes in this film take us away from the city, thus forcing our hero to downgrade his method of transport to hitching rides on semis and running on the ground. The climactic battle is a vital shot of adrenaline to the audience, but combined with some pedestrian martial fisticuff combat, the variety and quality of the action overall is plain.
I don’t know if cinematographer Salvatore Totino offered Jon Watts any dynamic angles for framework in this film at all. If the frame cannot do what a spider can, then, to an audience, a Spider-Man can’t. It is reflective of Sal’s experience in primarily shooting dramas rather than action films.
Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man even though he is now a twenty something playing a 15 year old high-schooler. I didn’t care as much for his Spidey banter as I did for his interplay with his friends at school demonstrating that vintage inner struggle and vulnerability we all love Peter Pan, I mean Parker for. Bonus Point for Tom not breaking his American accent once.
Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned has great camaraderie with Tom Holland as Ned provides a sincere and necessary reflection from the audience who clearly would be saying and thinking the things he is at several moments in the film as the amazed observer. But this category is all about Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture, and I think we have officially found our second quality villain below Loki in the MCU. Keaton brings an intensity to his performance that clearly channels from his time as Batman and from his Academy Award winning film, Birdman. Keaton’s film experience is in full effect and creates an antagonist that has more depth than I figured the Vulture ever would.
Not to reference the ad campaign again, but this film’s trailers featured popular 80s tracks that were fitting for the vignettes highlighted for commercial purposes. Now where did all those cool tracks go for the final film? Original score and theme: average.
Excellent precision here. I absolutely loved all the variations to webbing effects in addition to Spider-Man’s tech suit upgrades. The Vulture’s wing suit really does sound like someone wearing 2 mini jet turbines on their back.
“Moving” = 22/33
The visual effects are top notch throughout. I’m glad they didn’t have Spidey’s tech suit do more than one would think possible given its form fitting nature, but its artistic design allows for the minimal tech to not intrude on the fluidity of Spidey’s animated movement. I was equally impressed with the CG provided to all flight sequences featuring the Vulture demonstrating flight movement unique from anything we’ve seen in an Iron Man film.
Practical effects feature a bit more prominently in this film than your average MCU blockbuster. Pyrotechnics are high caliber, but I was particularly taken with the manner vehicles get thrown around in combat situations in addition to localized destruction of buildings, etc. to showcase healthy collateral damage to the surrounding area.
A masterful blend of artistic creativity meeting real world practicality describes the costume design for the super people of this film. Point deduction, however, for a completely MISSED opportunity to show the audience the true Stark tech Spider suit in this film’s closing moments in favor of a design that’s not very special at all.
Hair & Makeup
Can you win an academy award for dressing down the likes of Zendaya to the guise of a teen going out of her way to avoid hygiene?
Would have liked to see a lot more cityscapes for Spider-Man to do his thing in, but I’ll give some props to the diversity of locales that all seem to limit his movement potential.
Not particularly impressive overall, yet satisfactory from Peter’s apartment to his school.
“Picture” = 25/33
Peter wants to prove to the man he clearly looks up to that he is worthy of the attention, the suit and a chance to do what he does to be an Avenger in what seems to be a budding mentor/student relationship.
Oh wait, none of the above actually happens, but the audience is just led to believe that. So the real conflict is Peter’s desperate need for validation despite his casual inadequacies in the basics of super-heroics, which draws his attention away from the basics of his academic development, which turns Peter into a whiny, little, school boy b*tch. So, basically the conflict of every Spider-Man movie before.
Oh no. There’s no formative resolution to anything in this film’s final moments which are far too concerned with sequel setups, possible future Avenger film subplots and a new development in Tony Stark’s life? Has Peter actually grown and more importantly, has he earned that growth?
I found the dialogue to be excellent not just in terms of getting messages across in the moment, but in terms of shifting status in appropriate ways from Peter’s perspective regardless of his age and experience. It demonstrates a greater awareness for the stakes he’s playing for.
How did Spider-Man get to the MCU in Civil War? A perfect little self narrated film by Peter Parker in the very beginning gives the audience everything we need to know why Peter Parker is here and now. This may very well be the best moment of this entire film.
See the op-ed in the beginning, but as a quick review: this Spider-Man is the same one we’ve seen in previous iterations which is a crime seeing how a certain relationship that was teased to happen and ultimately didn’t failed to deliver a truly unique Peter Parker. I do like giving the Vulture a somewhat rational motivation for doing what he does rather than the stereotypical malevolence/indifference factor.
Peter Parker is easily among the most relatable of super heroes not simply for being Spider-Man, but because despite his talents, abilities and opportunities, he fails, as we fail from casual “no big deals” to Earth shattering moments of “what were you thinking?”
“Story” = 24/34
Overall MPS Rating: 71/100
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good superhero action blockbuster that certainly adds layers of intrigue to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. This film leaves a lot to be desired because the potential for something far greater was hovering about this production, but was not capitalized upon. Perhaps the Sony Pictures representation is to blame for keeping some of the shackles on the Spider-Man persona intact? Perhaps weak direction was the culprit? Perhaps Kevin Feige has just shown the first chink in his armor? Fans of the Avenger films will appreciate what this entry has to add and Spider-Man fans would show up to this no matter what as is evidenced by this film’s strong opening weekend take at the box office. Let’s see what the second week drop off percentage will look like though. Most films make less money in subsequent weekends following its opening, but the best ones maintain a steadier decline over time demonstrating the spread of positive word of mouth despite an overall increase of people that have seen it. There’s nothing “wrong” with this film in the strictest sense of the term as it checks more than enough of the boxes required to consider this movie to be “successful.” Unfortunately, checking boxes doesn’t make a cinematic adventure great; it simply increases the odds an audience will not spontaneously walk out.