Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Does whatever a Spider-Man movie can.

by Benjamín Harguindey

Fifteen years, six movies and three iterations into the friendly neighborhood masked superhero, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) hits all the requisite beats and little else. It’s a fun bit of entertainment, light in drama, romance and action (and here I’m thinking of all the highlights in previous movies, which have no real equivalent here) but comically hopped up in Marvel’s meta-cynicism, if that’s your thing.

It’s kind of unavoidable thinking about the preceding five movies. It’s right there in the title, isn’t it? What does “Homecoming” allude but to the titular hero’s return to Marvel Studios after Sony’s failed attempts at withholding the rights to the franchise? Yes, “Homecoming” is also the name of a school dance Peter Parker attends at one point, but this smells like a case of title first, plot second.

It’s also one of the many examples of the movie not really having much of an identity other than celebrating itself for existing. There’s many a joke complimenting the sexy Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, as if characters knew she had previously been played by elderly granny-types; Donald Glover in a pointless cameo which exists entirely to address a fan campaign; a point where Peter accuses patron Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) of literally phoning in his involvement, and yet another in-joke in which Captain America (Chris Evans) asks – again, literally and to the camera – how many more movie appearences he has to make.

But look here, if you strip the movie of its overbearing obsession with fitting into Marvel’s cinematic universe while acknowledging its own laziness for the sake of comedy, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a halfway decent entry into Spidey’s filmography, perhaps less for Spider-Man himself and more due to Peter Parker. Rejuvenated into a sophomore student and played by Billy Elliot lookalike Tom Holland, Peter looks and acts like he’s believably in high school, not quite Tobey Maguire‘s nerdy take but a hopeless dork nonetheless.

After being welcomed into the MCEU in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Peter has retained Stark’s custom Spidey suit and awaits eagerly for further missions with the Avengers. As far as Stark is concerned, Peter’s a case of “don’t calls us, we’ll call you”, so the kid is dropped back in New York to harrass Stark liaision Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) via text message while spending his afternoons fighting petty crime.

For a long while the movie is your regular high school shtick, with Peter hanging out with loser friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), taking abuse from twerp Flash (Tony Revolori) and ogling the pretty Liz (Laura Harrier), all the while ignoring the way more interesting Michelle (Zendaya), who’s ogling him in turn. But his extracurricular activities start cutting into the school life, especially when Peter stumbles upon a series of thefts perpetrated by the Vulture (Michael Keaton). The movie never really works up a reason for us to care that Peter might not make it in time to the decathlon or, god forbid, that “Homecoming” dance, but it’s fun to see Peter Parker continue the tradition of finding pathetic ways in which to disappoint his all too forgiving girlfriends.

Back to Adrian Toomes, AKA Vulture (though never referred to as such). At the start of the movie, he’s a contractor salvaging the alien tech in the aftermath of the Chitauri invasion in The Avengers (2012). Quickly dismissed by Stark’s own clean-up crew, Toomes nurses a grudge for 8 years and repurposes the alien tech into a bird-like mechanical wingsuit, all the while pulling a series of escalating heists. Vulture isn’t the most interesting character in Spidey’s rogues gallery, but Keaton delivers a compelling performance, a nod to his tenure as Batman (1989-1992), the elegiac Birdman (2014) and his many underdog/blue-collar roles.

It’s a shame we don’t get much of Vulture up until the end of the movie, which is also when things get interesting, what with a certain twist and Peter being stripped from his suit. I’m not a fan of the way Stark has retooled Spider-Man’s costume into basically another Iron Man suit, complete with a head-up display, detachable drones and a sultry computer voice (courtesy of Jennifer Connelly), because it means the suit essentially does the fighting for him (also true of Vulture’s exoskeleton and, really, the movie itself, which renders both its hero and villain in CGI most of the time). But it does make Peter all the more vulnerable once he’s deprived of it, and for an effective “darkest hour” third act.

As for the action set-pieces, most of them are pretty indistinct. Two stand out, less for the action and more as stunts: one at the Washington Monument and then another aboard the Staten Island ferry. In order, both recall Spidey’s spur-of-the-moment falling elevator dive in Spider-Man (2002) and his attempt at saving the passengers of a doomed vehicle in Spider-Man 2 (2004), complete with crucifixion imagery. So not the most creative, the action. We do get a laugh from seeing Spidey cope with a lack of buildings to swing from at one point though.

The movie’s directed by Jon Watts, plucked from the depths where he forged the gritty exploitations thrillers Clown (2014) and Cop Car (2015). Not that it matters. What matters is that it was produced by Sony CEO Amy Pascal and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, who agreed to share the cash cow; that the cash cow was penned by six writers, and that you can see all twelve hands monitoring guest stars, coming up with easter eggs and squeezing hard to imbibe their script with Marvel juice every step of the way.

BenjaBenjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).

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