I laughed a lot at Spider-Man: Homecoming and was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end, but was left thinking nothing happening on screen really mattered. There are no real long-lasting consequences to anything anyone does, and while we are spared yet another retelling of Spider-Man’s origin story we are also robbed of a clear sense of the hero’s moral code or purpose for being. It’s a 2+ hour movie about a 15-year-old kid trying too hard to impress his hero (a sparingly used Tony Stark), repeatedly failing in everything he does before kind of triumphing long after the film has lost track of why exactly the bad guy’s actions are actually all that bad (Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a somewhat sympathetic arms dealer specializing in alien tech-enhanced weapons). Plus, there are sporadic flashes of John Hughes-esque high school drama, which Homecoming doesn’t lean into as much as it should. It’s all just a little too lightweight for its own good.

But then I remember the Joel Schumacher-esque The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and tell myself to appreciate the quality control Marvel Studios clearly brought to Homecoming. And make no mistake – this is a Marvel Studios movie through and through. As Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige told THR, his pitch which resulted in Sony-Marvel’s current shared custody of Spidey was, “Have Sony pay for the movie, distribute the movie, market the movie. Just let us make the movie and incorporate him into our universe.”

Not surprisingly, then, Homecoming checks off all the familiar Marvel Studio boxes. There’s an inexperienced, youngish director (John Watts) whose contributions are hard to pinpoint considering how much of the film was likely finished off by Marvel’s post-production experts. Jokes are repeatedly prioritized over drama or sincerity, maximizing the film’s enjoyment factor but limiting its ability to have a Wonder Woman-like impact on audiences. A superhero narrative is molded onto a familiar, yet somewhat dormant genre (in this case, the coming-of-age high school movie), creating an intriguing blend which must regrettably always revert back to superhero story beats. There are plenty of nerd-baiting moments derived from the inter-connectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (e.g., Captain America PSAs are exactly as corny as you’d expect), and the villain could have been better.

It’s an assembly line approach which Marvel has perfected by now, and you can certainly criticize it. But with the rest of Hollywood stuck embarrassingly chasing after Disney’s tail reliability has become a rare and viable commodity. Homecoming, like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 earlier this summer and Doctor Strange late last year, has it in spades, though. You know exactly what kind of movie to expect, and are rarely surprised or bored.  After all, although this is technically the 6th Spider-Man movie in the last 15 years it’s his first solo adventure as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has racked up 16 movies over the past decade. So, Homecoming has far more in common with something like Ant-Man than with any web slinging adventures Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield ended up in. All of those things prior Spider-Man movies would hit hard (e.g., Peter’s tortured love life, the ongoing struggle between his personal life and superhero life) are present but de-emphasized here in favor of focusing harder on putting the character into unfamiliar situations (e.g., what is Spider-Man to do when there are no buildings to websling off of?).

As we glimpsed in Civil War last summer, this Peter Parker’s standard tale of woe is already behind him. Instead of re-re-relearning the old lesson about great power and all that he’s a teenager pining to join the big team, except in this particular high school movie the big team is The Avengers. This is a significant departure from prior Spider-Man movies, where Peter’s highest aspirations were more on the level of “get Mary Jane to notice me” or “get J. Jonah Jameson to hire me” and, obviously, help people because it’s the right thing to do. Instead, here Peter is modeling his behavior off of his heroes, likely making him even more of a surrogate figure for the current teens who’ve grown up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and after Civil War it’s only natural for him to be in a hurry to jumpstart his superhero career.

However, in order for Peter to impress The Avengers he must, by definition, deal with something which initially seems small and below The Avengers’ concerns (or else they’d just show up and save the day mid-movie) but eventually proves to be genuinely life-threatening.

Enter Michael Keaton’s Vulture, a contractor who makes 99% vs. 1% grumblings and goes rogue after Tony Stark monopolizes the government/city-contract sanctioned post-Avengers battle clean-up efforts. The bank robbery scene highlighted in nearly every Homecoming trailer is actually the work of a gang who bought weapons from the Vulture, and when Spider-Man attempts to stop them one of their guns goes off and destroys a nearby deli, one which Peter just happens to frequent everyday.

This is perhaps the most crucial moment in the movie because it is the only reminder we get that Peter is not just doing what he’s doing to join The Avengers; he’s doing it because it’s the right thing to do. As the movie itself jokes, he’s the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and somebody flooding his neighborhood with dangerous guns is exactly the kind of thing he should try to stop even as Tony Stark and Happy Hogan repeatedly order him to stay in his lane. However, it somehow gets muddled along the way as Homecoming attempts to juggle a story about Peter accepting the value of simply of saving your friends and neighbors over saving the world with Peter struggling to be both a high school student and masked avenger. It’s not that neither part of the story work; it’s that the movie doesn’t quite take either of them seriously enough.

Furthermore, Spidey’s heroics are far too frequently reduced to him simply using some new piece of tech in the suit gifted to him by Tony in Civil War. There’s even an out-of-nowhere mid-section where Peter is suddenly in his own version of Her, forming a more significant relationship with the female-voiced (Jennifer Connelly) artificial intelligence unit operating his suit than he ever really does with his actual love interest, Liz Allen (Laura Harrier).

Yet these aren’t the kind of faults which ruin the movie. Instead, they are the kinds of things which can be easily smoothed out in the inevitable sequel. Ditto goes for the criminal under utilization of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May (whose one defining characteristic in this movie is that she’s uncommonly attractive), Zendaya as “Michelle” (a scene-stealing, taciturn quasi-friend of Peter’s) and the over-edited, incomprehensible third act fight scene.

And I absolutely look forward to the sequel. After Amazing Spider-Man 2, I was more or less done with Spider-Man, but thanks to Holland’s memorable Civil War appearance my enthusiasm for the character has been renewed.  Now, Holland’s interpretation of Peter Parker might be my favorite yet, and the multicultural world he inhabits in Homecoming is refreshing. Other than Peter, Aunt May and the Vulture, almost all of the notable Spider-Man canon characters in this movie have been race-switched to better reflect modern day Queens.

Now, the plan seems to be to spend at least one more movie if not two with Peter Parker as a high school student. He has a fantastic supporting cast to come back to, with a solid set of friends (chiefly Jacob Balaton’s hilarious Ned), rivals (Tony Revolori’s sniveling Flash), potential love interests (Zendaya), recognizable teachers (Hannibal Burress, Kenneth Choi, Martin Starr) and associates (Donald Glover). The next movie will do good to remember that even though we have seen the Spider-Man story over and over again the whole “with great power must also come…” aspect of the character is too important to be glossed over. There needs to be more of a moral weight to what we’re watching, but if light and fluffy is what they have to offer at the moment then I’ll take it when the cast is this good and jokes so consistently amusing.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As the 6th Spider-Man movie of the past 15 years, and 2nd full character reboot of the last 5 years you might expect Homecoming to test your patience for all things Spider-Man. That doesn’t really happen, though. Instead, this turns out to be the fresh start Spider-Man needed. What’s more surprising is how much Homecoming tests your tolerance for all of the usual Marvel Studios story tics. In a year which has given us Logan and Wonder Woman Homecoming could have benefited from more of the naked, non-ironic sincerity which Marvel Studios avoids like the plague. But it’s hard to come down too hard on this movie because at the end of the day Marvel Studios did the Marvel Studios thing, giving us a remarkably enjoyable superhero movie and one of Spider-Man’s finest cinematic outings to date.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

15 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed it with just a few complaints.

    I don’t mind changing races of well established characters but I really hate it when they totally change their personalities. Flash as a second string knowledge geek doesn’t fly with me. I hated how Flash is lower than Peter but gets away with verbal bullying. Flash is supposed to be an elite athlete and a physical and emotional bully.

    But far worse is the change to MJ. NO NO NO!

    I agree that the third act fight scene was terrible. It was frustrating to watch because it was impossible to see who was doing what. And they really didn’t do much to make us feel the high risk nature of a fight that high in the air.

    I found Ned to be extremely annoying but I admit it was probably a “realistic reaction” to finding out your best friend is a super hero. But the idea that other kids could be 3 feet away and not overhear Ned giving away Peter’s secrets was eye rolling.

    I have mixed feelings about the Stark provided costume.

    On the one hand, it never made sense that someone with Peter’s financial woes was ever able to make his own costume and web shooters. So, having the suit come from Stark was a nice explanation. But, the over engineered suit did take a way somewhat from Peter’s own ability. OTOH, it was a nice bit where Pete had to decide he was a hero even without the suit. Finally, it bothered me that when Pete found out there was much more the suit could do that he didn’t take learning everything he could more seriously. 38 minutes in the warehouse and he was done learning?

    Lastly, on the suit, I had always thought it was weird how Spidey was able to shoot so many varieties of webs, so the Stark suit is a decent explanation for that, too.

    What I liked…

    I really liked seeing Pete struggling to figure out how to BE Spidey. How to be cool in the suit. Struggling to interrogate. Struggling to be intimidating. I liked that he didn’t automatically know how deal with all the dangers he faces as Spidey. BUT… no Spidey Sense???

    I liked the awkward relationship between Pete and Tony. I liked Peter’s obsession with being one of the Avengers. I liked that Vulture’s tech came from the aliens. It always bothered me that Vulture had such great tech — that was never adequately explained in the comics.

    In short, I liked everything except what I complained about above.

    Reply

    1. On Ned – The “wait, no one around them is seriously hearing him continually giving away Peter’s secret?” was a real suspension of disbelief element of the movie. To be fair, Peter does continually shush him and imply that he needs to be more mindful of who might be listening, and to be fair to Ned he did straight up immediately warn Peter he would suck at keeping his secret.

      Flash – Maybe they thought the old high school jock character type was outmoded, and they wanted to lean geek, science and tech in all things. It’s a bit weird knowing that in the comics Flash eventually becomes Venom, but in the movies Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige keep going back and forth on whether or not their Venom and Black & Silver movies will take place in the same universe as Homecoming. So, will this guy playing Flash eventually become a villain or reformed ally? What’s the point. They already have Tom Hardy playing Venom in his own movie.

      MJ – I get that. Regardless of what she physically looks like, the character she is playing shares nothing in common with any MJ I’ve seen before on film, TV, cartoon or comic book. I’m not as married to Spidey canon though as I might be to some others. So, the change didn’t bother me, but I get why it would.

      Spidey suit – The suit does tie into the overall story of Peter needing to learn how to become Spidey, e.g., if you can’t be a hero without the suit then you shouldn’t even put it on. And it does result in plenty of funny and newish moments of him doing things with his spider suit we’ve never seen on film before. However, the film might have leaned a little too heavily into that to the point that the suit and Jennifer Connelly as Karen were kind of upstaging the actual actors on screen.

      I guess, overall, there’s not a lot to really dislike about Homecoming. There’s just a lot of choices they made which might have been pushed too hard or departed from the comics a bit too much, but it’s still an incredibly fun movie. I wish it had a bit more heft to it in terms of drama, and the third act fight is more like a challenge to the audience to see if they can actually track the action.

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  2. test

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    1. Good thoughts, Kelly. I can’t disagree.

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  3. e.g., What is Spider-Man to do when there are no buildings to websling off of?
    The CRANES! Line up the cranes! That would be dramatic. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

    Did you like it better than Ant-Man?

    Will probably pass on this one (also, wife not interested).
    Will probably reserve the next movie date for Baby Driver.

    Reply

    1. Oh, the cranes. LOL.

      Homecoming is, from beginning to end, more purely enjoyable than Ant-Man, but perhaps because I’m closer in age to Paul Rudd than Tom Holland I related more to Ant-Man’s message about parenthood than I did to Homecoming’s basic high school coming-of-age story. There’s a better emotional story being told in Ant-Man than there is in Homecoming, but Homecoming easily has the better action scenes, although no Tank crashes out of a building out of nowhere nor do tiny people fight on a toy miniature set so Ant-Man’s still got that going for it.

      If the wife is not interested then feel free to pass. Homecoming is fun, but kind of empty calorie viewing. Baby Driver isn’t necessarily a grandly more ambitious movie in terms of emotions, but it is infinitely more ambitious in old-school filmmaking with amazing steadicam sequences, intricately planned car chase scenes and stunts done almost entirely in camera and not in a computer. Like seemingly every other film nerd on the internet, I love the hell out of that movie.

      Reply

      1. Thanks for such a detailed response. (I just skimmed thru your Spidey review trying to avoid spoilers.) I initially had reservations on Ant-Man, but was pleasantly surprised with it. Well, I didn’t have that much expectations to begin with, so that also probably helped.

        Unfortunately, Baby Driver isn’t arriving to my place until August (damn these distributors), so I have to wait a little longer.

  4. “homecoming could have benefited from more of the naked, non-ironic sincerity which Marvel Studios avoids like the plague”

    Have you read a Spider-Man comic? Or know the character’s iconic traits? Spider-Man is a teen, a wise cracking goofy nerd of a teen. Spider-Man doesn’t need non ironic sincerity, he’s needs to be a goof. Please enjoy the Dark Knight. The main character is 14/15 and in high school … let’s not get to ahead of ourselves.

    Reply

    1. You misunderstand me. I don’t want The Dark Knight-level drama in a Spider-Man movie. I get that the tone has to match the character, and Spidey being just a kid and a traditionally wise-cracking hero calls for a comedic tone. And the movie does have that moment of him under the rubble as well as his pre-final fight confrontation with Adrian Toomes, both of which were among my favorite scenes in the movie. So, it’s not like it doesn’t dip into some seriousness. It’s just that Marvel Studios movies are so relentlessly comedic and afraid of a what might be regarded as corny sincerity, at least outside of The First Avenger, that to me Homecoming is just another standard Marvel Studios movie in a summer in which Wonder Woman has shown that you don’t have to undercut your sincerity with humor.

      I’ll take Homecoming over The Amazing Spider-Man movies, for sure, but I’m just getting a tad weary of the Marvel Studios formula, like how you immediately know that when Happy is getting all emotional about how important his job is to him that something is going to happen to undercut that. Granted, in that case he is a comic relief character, but he’s also someone we’ve known in that universe for nearly a decade. Let him be emotional so that Peter can see the positive effects his heroics had on someone.

      The Raimi Spider-Man movies were made in a world where it was okay to dip into Donner-esque sincerity from time to time. The Marvel Studios movies, though, seem so aggressively self-aware of superhero movie conventions and how to either update them or simply undercut them entirely with humor (such as Guardians of the Galaxy 2 spoofing Avengers’ hero shot by having Mantis be hit by something right as the camera settles in on them and the music hits a crescendo) that you always get a reliably entertaining movie but not always one with a long-lasting emotional resonance to it.

      This YouTube video from the JustWrite channel breaks it down in more detail:

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      1. I agree. Though I don’t agree with all of the examples mentioned in the video. And this is one reason why I can’t say I really liked some (or most) MCU movies. They just don’t resonate with me, uh, emotionally. And those that do? GOTG 1 & 2, Ant-Man, The Avengers…

      2. This has long been the argument made either for/against the MCU movies. They are all just so much fun, and for the longest time I was on the bandwagon of loving what they were laying down. But the fatigue has finally caught up with me, and Logan and Wonder Woman each opened my eyes to the reality that these movies don’t have to be light and fluffy all the time. It’s long been a binary choice between either the Joss Whedon-infused Marvel Studios way or the grimdark march over at DC, and that was no contest for me – Marvle all the time. Now, Wonder Woman showed the power of naked sincerity, and Logan remembered grit and dramatic heft doesn’t have to equal “let’s just copy off of Christopher Nolan, but really suck at it.”

      3. I realized we’ve been talking about the MCU again—wholesale. I thought I put on more thoughts, more details. Ha ha.

        While I agree with your point, the fatigue that comes with the overall (though not unbearable) lightness of these movies, I don’t agree with the video’s point that what he called “bathos” (there are two different definitions when I looked it up) or telling jokes right after a dramatic moment, and them being frequently present in these movies, is what’s ruining them. (Sorry, I watched the video once, I’m may be wrong on some points.) Because it worked in some movies and didn’t work for the others. GOTG 2 has a few of those: Nebula’s revenge speech, that Mantis scene you mentioned; but it didn’t hold back when it comes to its dramatic themes: Quill’s “What’s wrong with that” line, choosing his friends over his father, Drax’s scene with Mantis talking about his daughter, and Rocket crying in the end. I must admit that Quill’s speech at Yondu’s funeral kinda reaches “bathos” (ineffective drama, the other definition). I cannot say the Gunn’s being insincere with his movie about “family”, even though he loads it with lots sarcasm and irony.

        Another case in point would be Ant-Man. Paul Rudd’s “I ruined the moment there, didn’t I?” was so funny, but (for me) didn’t undermine the whole father-daughter thing between Hank and Hope. It might have helped that Rudd’s a largely believable character, same with Michael Douglas and Evangiline Lily’s portrayals. Like when he said to Hope that he’s expendable, you can feel him because he really is expendable. He’s also a big Avengers fan—he’s just like us, a nobody, without the suit. He’s comedic actor but I can see believable sincerity in his character.

        Which leads to my next point: Robert Downey Jr. He’s probably the last character in the whole MCU I’d expect to show sincerity in these movies. It’s just probably me, but from A Scanner Darkly, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sherlock Holmes, the three Iron Mans, The Avengers, I only see Robert Downney Jr., and he’s playing billionaire, playboy, smart-ass, always wise-cracking. And he was established to be that way. He’s not one you’d expect to show naked emotions, he’s always holding back something when he speaks. It worked in Iron Man 3 when his main problem is that he doesn’t have his toys, but the whole wormhole anxiety thing felt like a gimmick. It works when he’s just being his old smarmy self, but if you have to put him in some weighty situation, make him vulnerable, like in Civil War, it needs a lot of work to be convincing. Tony saying something serious then telling a joke the next line doesn’t help, rather adds up to the problem. When Rhodes was injured, the wholly entertaining fight in airport felt like it should have been in another movie, as the movie shifted back to a more serious tone afterwards.

        With Doctor Strange (the other example in the video), like with Tony Stark, the precedence of jokes over drama works because he’s supposed to be another self-centered character, just like in the first Iron Man.

        Is it possible that some movies have just better screenplay than the others? Have more consistent tone than the others? With Wonder Woman being able to balance the comedy and sincerity (her fighting for those people in No Man’s Land), I think Marvel should start reviewing their “check list” to see if they’ve got “sincerity”, or at least “consistency” in it. And replace “big-climactic battle” with either of the two. Because, if there’s one thing that’s surely ruining Marvel, it’s their insistence on big scale battles and city/nation/planet/galaxy-wide destruction, that sometimes drowns out any hint of drama or fun in their movies. These big scale battles has much less personality, obviously than the one-on-one fight scenes in the Sam Raimi movies.

      4. I agree that GotG 2’s undercutting humor works better in some areas than others, with the funeral scene being one area where it goes too far.

        I think in general this common Marvel device is debatable on a case-by-case basis, and really wouldn’t even be that objectionable at all if there simply weren’t so damn many of these movies which do the exact same thing to the point that we’ve now been trained to expect such undercutting humor, and when that happens it starts to lose its effectiveness. Of course, that more applies to those who see all of these movies, and not everyone does that.

        In terms of the third act battles, at least give Marvel credit for changing things up enough that the third act battles aren’t all aerial affairs anymore, and Doctor Strange at least tried to subvert the third act battle trope by having the hero more or less annoy the villain to death through technically dying over and over again.

  5. […] Woman was the right film at the right time. Dunkirk gave us an amazing Oscar movie in July. Spider-Man: Homecoming stunned by being arguably the best Spider-Man movie of all time, and Guardians of the Galaxy […]

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