Spider-Man: Homecoming *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Jon Watts.
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and Jon Watts & Christopher Ford and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers based on the Marvel comic by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko.
Starring: Tom Holland (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Michael Keaton (Adrian Toomes / Vulture), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Marisa Tomei (May Parker), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Jacob Batalon (Ned), Zendaya (Michelle), Laura Harrier (Liz), Tony Revolori (Flash), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Donald Glover (Aaron Davis), Bokeem Woodbine (Herman Schultz / Shocker #2), Tyne Daly (Anne Marie Hoag), Abraham Attah (Abe), Hannibal Buress (Coach Wilson), Martin Starr (Mr. Harrington), Garcelle Beauvais (Doris Toomes), Michael Chernus (Phineas Mason / The Tinkerer), Michael Mando (Mac Gargan), Logan Marshall-Green (Jackson Brice / Shocker #1), Jennifer Connelly (Karen / Suit Lady).
Mark me down as one of those crazy people who thinks we didn’t really need a third Spider-Man franchise started in the last 15 years, and one of those even crazier people who thinks that even if we did that, we don’t need it to connect to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is already bursting at the seams with many memorable heroes, and one memorable villain. I think it’s doubtful that a Spider-Man movie will ever top Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 – which remains one of the great superhero movies ever made, mainly because it’s done with the boring origin story (I was never much of a fan of Raimi’s original Spider-Man), but hadn’t gotten to the going through the motion phase of the third installment. While Raimi knew he was making franchise films each and every time – and knew sequels were possible, they weren’t inevitable, so he could work on telling his own story. I didn’t dislike the Marc Webb Amazing Spider-Man films like many did – I may even argue the first one is a better origin story than Raimi’s first one – but they were wholly unnecessary. Perhaps the best thing to say about Spider-Man: Homecoming is that they don’t cast some poor sap to play Uncle Ben to tell Peter that “With great power comes great responsibility” before being shot.
Ok, now, I’m just being an asshole, because that isn’t the best thing about Spider-Man: Homecoming (it is, however, a relief) – which overall is – like most of the films in the MCU – a fun, entertaining film, a breezy, entertaining way to kill a couple of hours and have a hell of a lot of fun. No, it isn’t as good as Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 – but perhaps it’s the second best Spider-Man film so far, so there’s that – and while the film does take pains to connect itself to the larger MCU – starting right where the fight in Captain America: Civil War, which introduced this Spider-Man, left off – there is hope that in the future, it won’t be quite as beholden to it.
So, the good news is that there is no Uncle Ben, no radioactive spider bite, not hour of a kid discovering his powers, and thinking that they’re supercool, before he gets in over his head using them. He pretty much already starts there, when he stumbles across some thugs selling some powerful weapons, built using alien technology. He follows along this path, and it leads to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, because apparently the message of Birdman is that all actors should do Superhero movies) – who 8 years ago in 2012 (yeah, I know, that doesn’t make sense –just role with it) was kicked off the sweet salvage he thought he had cleaning up after Loki attacked New York – and got pissed. Now, he and his crew get all the alien tech they can, make weapons out of it, and will sell it to anyone. Peter tells Tony Stark about it, but he doesn’t seem to care, so Peter decides it’s all on him to stop him – despite the fact that Peter also pretty lives in a 1980s John Hughes movie version of high school, where he and his nerdy best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) pine after the pretty Liz (Laura Harrier), even if we know Peter’s real love interest is eventually going to be the cynical Michelle (because she is played by teen star Zendaya).
The film was directed by Jon Watts, whose previous film was the low budget indie Cop Car, which wasn’t a bad film by any means, although it is the type that makes you wonder why they hired him to make a Spider-Man film. He handles the movie well for the most part – I thought the action sequences moved a touch too quickly at times, but at least didn’t succumb to rapid fire editing, so that’s a plus. I almost preferred the films action climax – where for reasons to complicated to get into here – Peter has to wear his very low tech suit, as opposed to the high tech one he had for the rest of the film – as everything did feel a little bit more like I was watching a human and a little bit less like I was watching a computer program.
As Peter, Tom Holland delivers a fine performance – he perhaps whines a little too much, but then again, he’s a teenager, so that’s kind of his thing. He’ll be a good Spider-Man for a while, and hopefully, they’ll let this one age a little bit before thrusting us back in high school with a fourth iteration of the character. Keaton is nicely menacing, and refreshingly, he has rather down-to-earth motivations, rather than world domination or an obsession with infinity stones – which oddly, has been driving this larger franchise for nearly a decade now, and no one much seems to care if they ever pay that off. Can Robert Downey Jr. take some time off from Iron Man though? I know he’s seemingly the only major actor in this franchise who appears to have lost in interest in doing anything else other than play Iron Man (and isn’t that just a little bit sad), but I could use a break from his Tony Stark for a while.
I know this review probably sounds harsher or more cynical than I intended it to. Spider-Man: Homecoming really is a fun movie, and I would gladly watch another installment of this Peter Parker fighting bad guys (especially if that bad guy turns out to be Michael Mando, from Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul, as setup in this film). It’s hard not to be a little cynical about these movies though isn’t it, which are more money and rights issues, etc. than actually making good movies. If they do make good movies, that’s a plus for the studios, not an imperative. This time, it’s a plus, so I guess we should be happy with that and move on to Thor: Ragnorok in a few months.