Spider-Man Returns Home Providing An Enjoyable But Not Spectacular Experience
It’s fitting that the newest Spider-Man film is entitled Spider-Man: Homecoming rather than the Spectacular Spider-Man or any of the multiple subtitles that have accompanied the run of comics because for one, this film marks the return of the hero back home under the creative control of Marvel Studios and two, because this time around our favourite web-slinger is far from spectacular. Rather he is by in large just a kid that like so many around his age are struggling to find a place in this world (albeit his journey has the added burden of his superhuman abilities). This is perhaps the biggest reason that Spider-Man: Homecoming is successful where many of its recent predecessors ( The Andrew Garfield Spiderman films and Spider-Man 3) have failed. By telling a singular story centered around the hero’s journey, Homecoming is a return to the genre’s original roots.
Unlike the previous iterations of Spider-Man, Homecoming chooses to forgo the origin story in favor of getting right into the fray. Opening with a quick recap of Spider-Man’s involvement in Civil War (humorously shot home video or vlog style), it is quickly discovered that life as a superhero is not always fast-paced action. In fact, the job is more akin to the neighborhood watch than that of a glamorous superhero, stopping would-be bicycle thieves and giving elderly women directions. Played by a spry Tom Holland (reprising his role from Civil War), this depiction of Spider-Man especially behind the mask as Peter Parker is arguably the closest to his comic counterpart put on film to date.
At the peak of socially awkward adolescence, Homecoming’s version of Peter Parker harkens back to the roots of the character honing in on the elements that made Spider-Man Marvel’s marquee superhero long before the rise of Iron Man and Star-Lord as household names – his relatability. Thematically reminiscent of an 80s John Hughes film (particularly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), watching Peter Parker try to balance the responsibilities of his two lives is compelling in part because the film has an underlying sense of nostalgia to it beginning with the classic Spider-Man theme song from the 60s cartoon series that plays over the opening credits and continuing throughout as it carries forth the tried and true motif of the hero’s journey.
As Spider-Man, Peter Parker is under the collective supervision of Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and mentor Tony Stark AKA Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) while simultaneously avoiding the suspicions of his classmates and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Complicating matters is the presence of Adrien Toombs (Michael Keaton) as a scavenger turned high-tech weapons dealer adopting the pseudonym Vulture.
Much like Wonder Woman from earlier this year, Homecoming tells a simpler story than the complex multi-film arcs that has dominated the genre recently. While this does create a fairly predictable plot that sticks firmly to the superhero blueprint, the film is elevated from its peers thanks to Keaton’s performance. Maybe it’s a byproduct of his fellow villains but both the Marvel and DC cinematic universes have struggled with defining a villain as a fleshed out full character so in comparison, even a passable performance from an actor the caliber of Keaton feels heads and shoulders above his fellow villain counterparts.
Of course, the villain’s role is to serve as a foil to the hero which I am not sure Homecoming was ever truly able to grasp in terms of the causal relationship between the two characters. I would argue the most thrilling scene from the film, a race against time against a collapsing Washington Monument occurs less as a result of the Vulture’s villainy and more to do with Peter’s own inexperience and naivety as a full-fledged hero. I also question the inclusion of Tony Stark in this film as he basically adopts the Uncle Ben role but in doing so takes a far more hands-on approach. In adopting this “training wheels” approach the lessons that Peter does learn hold far less resonance because his mistakes carry little to no consequence as there is always an Iron Man Deus Ex Machina there for him to fall back on.
The impact of these lessons is felt most in the film’s climactic moments where Director Jon Watts attempts to recreate the iconic scene from Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man issue #33 (see above), while credit has to be given for a relatively faithful adaptation, the moment just lacks the power that the comic had because those lessons don’t feel quite as earned.
That being said, Homecoming is still an above average superhero affair, this is due to the all around solid performances from the cast that begins with Holland who embraces the role with a warmth that makes it easy to cheer for him. This extends onward to the supporting cast that includes Peter’s lovable sidekick / best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), mysterious outcast Michelle (Zendaya) and Toni Revolori as Flash Thompson (yes the lobby boy from the Grand Budapest Hotel is the school bully, against all odds Peter Parker ended up on the bottom of the social hierarchy). Though I do wish that established comedians Martin Starr, Hannibal Buress and Donald Glover were given more room to flex their comedic muscles, these are minuscule issues within the grand scheme of things.
Beyond its cast, Homecoming’s other strengths lie in the strong writing from duo Jonathan Goldstein and Jon Francis Daley who pen a smart script that maneuvers quick one-off jokes with great bits of physical humour (Spiderman’s inability to swing in the suburbs in the absence of buildings is one of the best one-off gags that I can’t recall any of the other Spider-Man films touching on). The score is also far more noticeable than most MCU affairs especially in one moment of heightened tension between Keaton and Holland but I wonder how the scene would have shifted had they opted for more subtlety in that particular scene as it mitigates the performances of the actors and instead attempts to hammer home the tension with a dominant score.
With all that in mind though, Homecoming is still an undeniable success especially factoring in that this is the 3rd reboot in 15 years for the character. Where the story could have gone stale from the multiple retellings over the years, Homecoming finds a level of freshness in its young and enthusiastic cast and its smartly written script that correctly opts against the origin plotline. Jon Watts doesn’t do much to stand out as a unique director in his first major motion picture but also doesn’t drop the ball when it comes to delivering some genuinely well-produced action scenes (minor sporadic visual effects gaffes aside). Following the established superhero blueprint closely, Homecoming won’t be a trailblazer for innovative new approaches to the genre but is nonetheless a solid enjoyable entry into the Marvel pantheon.