A film review by Craig J. Koban July 17, 2017



2017, PG-13, 113 mins.


Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man  /  Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes / Vulture  /  Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man  /  Marisa Tomei as May Parker  /  Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan  /  Zendaya as Michelle  /  Donald Glover as Aaron Davis  /  Jacob Batalon as Ned  /  Laura Harrier as Liz  /  Tony Revolori as Flash

Directed by Jon Watts  /  Written by Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING marks the second time in 15 years that Marvel Comics' most iconic property has been cinematically rebooted. 

Let that settle in for a bit. 

After the Sam Raimi quarterbacked and Tobey Maguire Spidey trilogy of the early to late 2000's (two of which were great, with the last film being overstuffed and undisciplined) came the Mark Webb helmed grittier and darker reboot that began rather well with the 2012 film and then all but collapsed with its wrongheaded 2014 sequel.  Now comes SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING to potentially confuse lay moviegoers, which is a whole new silver screen solo adventure featuring the world's most famous super hero wall crawler that's not tied to either Raimi's or Webb's films, but rather is now officially a part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (via some convoluted dealings, Marvel and Sony Studios reached a deal that would allow Marvel to use the character for their own branded films).  So, this newest SPIDER-MAN film is not just another retrofitted take on Stan Lee's and Steve Ditko's classic creation, but it's also the 16th official film in the MCU. 

Everyone still with me? 



Of course, MCU diehards will know already that this latest incarnation of Spider-Man is not the character's first appearance in the MCU, seeing as he made a late cameo (and a rather awkwardly shoehorned in one at that, in my estimation), during the climax of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, during which time he was assisting Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) with stopping Captain Steve Rogers and his own team of heroes that decided to defy governmental protocols that he thought were counterproductive to the whole Avengers initiative.  SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING essentially takes place after the events of that battle, but it opens during the aftermath of 2012's THE AVENGERS  as we meet Adrian Tooms (Michael Keaton) as he and his salvage team try to clean up after all of the city wide devastation that the Avengers left after defeating Loki and his alien army.  According to the film's title cards, this scene is set eight years in the past, which would be 2011...but THE AVENGERS was released and assumingly took place in 2012...so...well...never mind. 

Tooms and his crew are sent unceremoniously packing when some government reps from Stark's Department of Damage Control swoops in to inform them that their services are no longer needed.  The very distraught Tooms pleads with the agents, seeing as he has put his life savings and livelihood on the line for purchasing equipment for the costly clean up, but his concerns are quickly dismissed, leaving him with a serious hate on for Tony.  Flashforward eight years and we meet up with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) shooting vlog footage of his being drafted into Team Stark for their aforementioned battle against Captain America.  These opening introductory scenes - captured with a freewheeling and spontaneously loose aesthetic of a found footage film - are SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING's best when it comes to embodying its titular character's youthful spunk and energy.

Even though Peter's efforts were noteworthy enough to impress Tony, they nevertheless were not enough to convince him that he should become an official worthy member of the Avengers.  Somewhat dejected, Peter returns back to New York and a life of relative normalcy with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, officially the youngest and hottest Aunt May to grace these movies) and returns back to high school to reacquaint himself with his BFF Ned (Jacob Batalon).  The 15-year-old Peter tries as he can to lead a dual life of a costumed vigilante and student, but thwarting ultra low rent crimes begins to both bore and frustrate him.  To make matters worse, he feels stymied in his multiple attempts to win over the affections of his crush, Liz (Laura Harrier).  Fate, predictably, steps in with the re-emergence of Tooms, who has morphed from being a disgruntled blue-collar construction worker to a full on black market alien weapons dealing criminal (he uses some stolen alien tech from the Battle of New York to create a massive set of mechanical wings that allows him to fly and partake in his crimes with effortless ease).  The always eager Peter decides to take it upon himself to stop this "Vulture" before his crimes get out of hand, even though his mentor in Tony has explicitly told him to let the Avengers handle it. 

One thing that works greatly in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING's favor is that this is arguably the first SPIDER-MAN film that really hones in on the microcosm of Peter's high school existence.  That, and the film is refreshingly cast with age appropriate actors that really helps to sell the veracity of Peter's daily academic and social life.  Holland is the youngest actor to play Spider-Man, which is a huge plus because he looks, sounds, and acts like a plausibly hormonal adolescent (for as much as I admired, for example,  Andrew Garfield in the previous SPIDER-MAN films, the approaching 30-year-old actor was somewhat laughably implausible as a teenager).  As was the case with his brief turn in the last CAPTAIN AMERICA film, Holland captures all of Peter's youthful naiveté, impatience, and goofball wit that has made Spider-Man so eminently lovable on the comic book pages for fifty-plus years.  Every time Holland occupies the frame he utterly channels and commands the his character's multiple identities and all of the aggravating dilemmas that this fractured life rears up; he's simply note perfect here. 

Another wonderful aspect of SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is that - thank the comic book movie gods! - it's not yet another obligatory and redundant origin film.  Everyone by now knows of how Peter becomes Spider-Man, so revisiting such established territory would have been a creative mistake.  Instead, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is given more room to breath as a standalone adventure with the hero (well, mostly standalone) without the restraints of utilizing wasteful origin exposition.  This also allows director Jon Watts (COP CAR) and his writers to hone in on the character's growing pains at school.  There's a commendable amount of care taking in the story to infuse it with a John Hughes-ian focus on the young lives of its characters.  Peter may indeed be a super hero with remarkable powers, but underneath all of that lurks a painfully ordinary young man with crushing self doubt and insecurities.  At its best, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING works better as a fairly razor sharp observation high school comedy than it does as a super hero action film. 

And maybe that's part of the big problem with this film: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING - as far as super hero solo films go - registers pretty flatly overall, not to mention that it spends a bit too much time trying to deal with the narrative particulars of tying the character into the larger MCU instead of just focusing solely on the character itself.  The overall scripting trajectory here doesn't break much new ground for the character, nor does it take any calculated chances with him either (which is something that I admired about Webb's THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: a willingness to change up both the tone and the core mythology a bit).   Of course, since Spidey is now a part of the MCU that means that this already crowded on screen mythos leads to SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING feeling a bit overcrowded at times (for as much as I enjoyed seeing Downey Jr.'s Stark, his few brief scenes in the film cast a mighty big shadow over his younger co-star to sometimes distracting effect).  More often than not, I rarely felt that this was Spider-Man's very own film.   

Another area of concern with SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is with its main villain.  Michael Keaton's casting is noteworthy, mostly because (a) he most famously played Batman and helped launched super hero films into a viable genre nearly thirty years ago and (b) he starred in BIRDMAN and played another comic book inspired character that also had the ability to fly.  I think the case with the Vulture here is that he's portrayed by a deeply committed actor that brings more to the table that the screenplay does.   Tooms, if anything, is arguably as ordinary as Peter, seeing as he was an average Joe that got screwed over by the government and turned to high stakes crime to make ends meet.  Without question, he's arguably the most relatable and sympathetic of all the MCU villains to date, and Keaton plays him with a soft spoken sinister edge that hints at deeply rooted emotional and economic wounds.  Unfortunately, the Oscar nominated actor simply doesn't occupy enough fully fleshed out scenes in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING to become a thoroughly complex antagonist (sans one brilliant scene involving a very matter-of-fact conversation he has with Peter during one extremely tense car ride).  Tooms also makes the journey from middle class family man to murderous sociopath a bit too casually in the film, mostly because the script never affords him enough moments that embellish a potential psychological depth.  All in all and despite Keaton's mesmerizing presence here, his villain is disappointingly undercooked.  

Lastly, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is replete with wall-to-wall special effects - some exemplary handled, whereas some show their phoniness a bit too readily.  Jon Watts certainly understands the mindsets of his youthful characters rather well, but as an attuned and capable filmmaker that's capable of confidently handling eye popping action and spectacle he leaves a lot to be desired.   He doesn't have a particularly inspired feel for constructing moments of super hero mayhem; some sequences that should inspire awe and wonder in viewers (like a massive one involving a Staten Island ferry being literally ripped in half by Tooms and his thugs, leaving Spider-Man to figure out a way to save the vessel), but instead they lack a palpable sense of nail biting tension and danger.  Moments like this feel like polished video game cut scenes without much emotional resonance.  

Fifty per cent of SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is a winning and audience placating success.  That half involves the more insular and compellingly rendered character beats that show Peter dealing with the social horrors of growing up.  The other half of the film that's trying to be an empowered and triumphant super hero extravaganza never quite cuts it, nor hits intended crescendos.  Overall, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is a sometimes thrilling, but lamentably uneven MCU effort that rarely seems to settle on a consistent groove or plan of attack (I counted six screenwriters here, and oftentimes it shows in the final product).  Spider-Man is and always will be one of the most endearing characters in comic book fiction, but the generic and pedestrian vibe of SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING doesn't do this legendary character full justice.  The film isn't quite amazing and not especially spectacular, and considering recent genre busting comic book originals like LOGAN and WONDER WOMAN from this year, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING just seems to be monotonously going through the motions and playing safe with MCU troupes.  

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