For those keeping track, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the second reboot of the Spider-Man series in the last half-decade (the third version of this movie franchise overall in modern times). After the decidedly lukewarm reception to the two The Amazing Spider-Man films, the folks over at Sony elected to create a new Spider-Man series that was more agreeable to the public and also set the character in the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to hopefully generate more interest in it.
As part of the MCU, the picture certainly benefits from continuity with the other films in the franchise (both in big and small ways) without getting bogged down in the kind of world-building nonsense that became the most crippling problem of The Amazing Spider-Man series. Additionally, this film also takes on the MCU’s trademark humor, meaning that, as with Ant-Man, both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, both Thor movies, and the last two Iron Man movies, this is a comedy first and a superhero film second. Granted, I’ve never been entirely on board with that approach, but all the same it is handled fairly well here. I laughed enough, in other words, though not quite as much as the audience I saw it with (consider me a buzzkill).
Unlike the last time they rebooted Spider-Man, this entry wisely avoids trying to ape the beats of the untouchable 2002 Sam Rami-helmed classic and instead crafts a mostly unique narrative for itself. This is not an origin story for Peter Parker/Spider-Man (played with genuine enthusiasm by English actor Tom Holland), although given how naive and inexperienced he is, it still sort of feels like one. It depicts the time following Peter Parker’s involvement in the events of Captain America: Civil War as he struggles to master his powers, learn the “right” way to be a superhero, and balance that with his own private life and responsibilities. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark provides a strong supporting role as a mentor and father-figure for Peter who attempts to guide him. Michael Keaton (who is still arguably the best cinematic Batman we’ve ever had) meanwhile plays the Vulture — a thief and arms dealer whom Spider-Man must try to stop — with the kind of amusingly off-kilter performance he’s so known for and that only he can pull off.
Overall the story is entertaining and the actors add some charm, but if you’ll allow me to go on a tangent here, I’d like to note that the plot of Spider-Man: Homecoming asks you to accept a lot of notably odd stuff, even for a turn-your-brain-off-action flick. To give some examples, the following things take place in this picture:
1) An incredibly attractive female somehow hasn’t been asked to the big high school dance mere days beforehand.
2) Swimming in a pool after-hours (no, not skinny dipping, just ordinary swimming) is framed as an edgy thing for teenagers to do in the 21st century.
3) High schoolers throw massive, raging, cacophonous parties in quiet, well-to-do residential neighborhoods that somehow don’t end in police involvement due to noise violations.
4) Simple scrap dealers with no higher education reverse engineer advanced alien technology, and a high schooler manages to hack Tony Stark’s systems.
5) Tony Stark voluntarily gives Peter Parker a suit with weapons he seemingly never intends for him to use (and then gets angry when he does use them).
6) Two intelligent people (and the film does make a point to tell us they’re intelligent) have very similar knowledge about Peter Parker’s appearances/absences in relation to Spider-Man’s appearances/absences, yet only one puts it together that he is Spider-Man with the other remaining perplexingly ignorant on the matter.
7) Donald Glover (the Childish Gambino and the soon to be younger Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo movie) is cast in the film only for it to be an embarrassingly small cameo that only serves as a plot device to fill Peter in on important story details he otherwise wouldn’t know about.
8) Spider-Man somehow sneaks off a ferry in a harbor without having to swim.
9) Captain America spends his free time making motivational videos for adolescents.
10) The Vulture attempts a stern, non-physical “talking to” in order to keep Spider-Man off his back (spoiler: it doesn’t work).
So yes, a fair amount of this film is decidedly weird. Granted, I’m not trying to use this to mount a case against it in order to tear it down. At least some of its idiosyncrasies are fairly amusing and relatively harmless, although I believe others are indicative of genuinely subpar writing; and for those I do think it’s telling when the movie fails to wrap you up enough in its story in order for you not to really notice stuff like that.
Admittedly, it also doesn’t help that the picture is lacking in the kind of over-the-top spectacle that usually keeps you from contemplating narrative problems in movies. Don’t get me wrong, there’s eye-candy and entertaining effects sequences, but it all feels sort of derivative. And to be fair, it probably is. We’ve had five other Spider-Man films, plus Civil War; and I think the possibilities about what the character can do on screen have more or less been exhausted (although throwing Iron Man in the mix this time does help a wee bit).
On a different note, much of the film’s promotional buzz emphasized its supposed high school focus. More than once, Spider-Man: Homecoming was described as a 1980s John Hughes high school picture with superheroes. The movie does indeed make a few references to Hughes’s work about high school (not the least of which by playing a clip from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Unfortunately, most of the high school elements (dances, academic competitions, detention, crushes, teenage anxiety) largely only exist as either background noise or as a means to move certain plot elements forward. The picture never dwells on them and, in fact, is quick to awkwardly jump away from them at will to focus on more typical superhero stuff (case in point, Peter takes his crush to the big dance only to abruptly leave in a clumsily directed scene with no satisfying resolution later on). More significantly, it never digs beneath the surface or finds anything especially meaningful to say about youth in relation to the modern world (which was the theme of all those John Hughes films people kept comparing it to). It’s more than a bit under-serviced in this regard.
Having said all that, I do suspect that the John Hughes-80s-high-school influence is why A Flock of Seagulls’ oft-overlooked 1982 masterpiece “Space Age Love Song” is featured in this movie, which is admittedly pretty cool. Speaking of music, The Ramones’s punk-anthem “Blitzkrieg Bop” is also featured prominently in the film. This song is arguably overused in movies, but its presence here is alright, if only because it’s a nice bit of trivia that The Ramones came from the same part of New York (Queens) as Peter Parker.
When all is said and done, Spider-Man: Homecoming is just kind of okay. It’s not the best Spider-Man film, or even a runner up for it, (Sam Raimi’s first two entries still take the prize in that regard); and while it is superior to the Amazing Spider-Man films, that’s admittedly a low bar to pass. It’s also not in the upper echelon of MCU films, lacking sufficiently compelling action or thematic meaning to make it noteworthy. All the same, the movie does succeed as the palette cleanser it set out to be. It’s entertaining enough; it’s funny enough; and while having flaws, it doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s the kind of movie you’ll enjoy seeing in a theater, though you might not find yourself thinking that much about it afterwords.