"Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 133 minutes
Directed by Jon Watts
Written by six credited writers
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey, Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon
Review by JJ Mortimer
While by no means a bad motion picture and displaying one of the best Marvel villains to date, Spider-Man: Homecoming is probably the first of the Marvel movies that felt somewhat boring, mainly due to its insistence on using stale "tried-and-true" elements of the Avengers universe that never allow either itself or its lead character to break free and feel wholly unique.
My take on Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be the popular state of mind with the majority of people who have seen it and enjoyed it. My problems with the film may seem minor to many who read this, but when little things add up, they often distract from my overall enjoyment of a finished product. Put too many peppers on a tasty pepperoni pizza, and the aftertaste begins to burn the throat when you burp it up.
First and foremost, I want to state that I did not HATE this movie; on the contrary, I thought it was just fine. This Spider-Man was "just fine" in the context of what Marvel has put out before it, but something to me seemed off, and I don't want to start pointing fingers completely at Sony for its co-involvement (and history of making relatively shitty decision in the production of many films). I will start with what I liked about the film:
Peter Parker. Spider-Man: Homecoming finally got Peter Parker right. Tom Holland is the right age, the right post-pubescent level of slight-insecurity and immaturity, but with the wit and intelligence enough to quickly learn the importance of making proper decisions in sticky situations. Having the character be portrayed by an actual teenager instead of a man who looks 30 was a fine substitution to the five films before it.
Michael Keaton. Here's a man who is having a complete career resurgence, and gives us a "villain" that is more complex, understandable, and relatable than any villain-type from Marvel films before in the Earth-based films (Kurt Russel from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 also falls into this category, but in a less relatable format). Keaton's Vulture proves more human and surprisingly menacing despite killing nobody (on purpose). A couple of his scenes (especially one while driving a car) are the best of the film.
Humor. Homecoming is more about the comic "fun" of the Spider-Man character rather than the dark, dreary undermining of a couple of the previous Spider-Man films. Jokes and gags are abound without feeling too forced, and at times feels very much in context with what we'd come to expect from a live-action retelling of a classic comic book for kids. Parker's best friend Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) is especially good as his confidant and counterpart.
Other great aspects of the film come at the very beginning, which do a nice job of establishing a motivation for the main antagonist, and also establishing the rambunctious nature of our hero as it shows shot after shot of him filming his previous escapades leading up to and immediately following the events from Captain America: Civil War. The film's heart is all here.
Unfortunately, there were more than a few NEGATIVES that drove me away from enjoying the film as whole-heartedly as I have the majority of the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Yeah, the Spider-Man character himself was something that the filmmakers (in my opinion) got mostly wrong. I've heard many people lament on how this film finally got Parker AND Spider-Man right, but my biggest complaint is that the intelligence and capabilities of Parker and his ability to turn himself into the hero that is Spider-Man are undermined by the technological prowess of Tony Stark. Parker's motivation to be Spider-Man itself is also changed, and for my liking not the better. What the prior Spider-Man films did right was give at least some dramatic credence as to why Spider-Man as a figure exists - as a way to stop crime and hone the responsibility of great power to help those who can't be helped. Homecoming, on the other hand, goes out of its way to show us that Parker's main motivation to be Spider-Man are to impress Tony Stark and NOT to fulfill a responsibility to the city he lives in as a super-powered hometown crime fighter. What made me like Spider-Man as a kid was his ability to be a hero not only using the powers that were given to him, but those he built upon with his own scientific and technological knowledge and his need to do the right thing as his aunt and uncle had taught him. There was a light to Spider-Man in the comics, even though he was born from a dark moment in his life.
Spider-Man: Homecoming shows us that his only real motivation is to impress a smarter mentor-like figure, a move that felt forced specifically for the need to (once again) have their biggest star put his footprints all over what should have been a relatively stand-alone film. Spider-Man is reduced to an Iron Man protege, with Parker using a suit that is made by Stark himself to be a weapon, if necessary. Spider-Man's powers in this film, if you take away the Stark influence, seem substantially limited. No "Spidey-sense," a confusingly-strange inability to climb properly with his spider-like fingers, and an over-reliance on the tools of his new "tech suit" hurt my loving grasp on the alter-ego of Peter Parker. Some funny moments are to be had with his suit, sure, but the purpose and existence of the character are lost in the pages of the script. Instead, a lot of what makes Spider-Man great is mostly due to the technology GIVEN to him
My biggest problem with Homecoming's version of Spider-Man is that he feels like a version of the character that was created specifically for the Avengers universe, and not the Spider-Man from the comics who just happens to be in the same universe as Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.
I will also say that I have no problem AT ALL with social diversity in films. So many films have successfully integrated realistic social makeup into the roles portrayed in their films without drawing attention to it, but MY GOD, I found Homecoming to be distractingly diverse, to the point where in certain scenes I thought I was watching a Saturday Night Live sketch where the film makers were trying to fit in every single demographic that they could without repeating them. To me, it felt like either Sony or Disney were trying really hard not to offend anyone to the point of nearly every shot at Parker's high school having at least one member of every major ethnicity from major box office markets that could draw (and often do draw) the most money. I could also do without throwing in a politically correct statement in the first couple lines of dialogue in the film, or by showing that a high school teacher thinks its "patriotic" for a teenager who knows nothing of the world to want to protest in front of an embassy in Washington D.C.
Again, I'm a supporter of accurate demographic representations, but when it feels like a business decision from the film's parent company rather than a conscious choice of social reconstruction, I start to get the feeling I'm watching a car commercial advertisement rather than a film that cares about the core dynamics of its titular character.
Spider-Man: Homecoming made me, at times, begin to root for Keaton's "bad guy," mainly because I got fed up with the forced PC nature of the film and started to feel for the hard-working blue collar man who got fucked over by the government.
Like the recent Star Trek reboots before it, I feel like the film makers forgot some of what made the characters great in the first place. It isn't how cool their ship or super-suits were - it's how calculated, cool, and relatable the human side of the character was. I don't care about and don't need a Spider-Man suit that is essentially an Iron Man suit and can do thousands of cool things. What I need instead is a character that properly represents just how great of a mind he really has - a boy, a teenager, who has the capabilities of something grand that most scientists twice his age would kill to have and uses them from an event sparked from a dark moment in his life, while learning to responsibly use his powers to help rather than to punish.
In terms of quality, the film is nearly on par with Ant-Man (but with a more memorable villain), which isn't a bad thing, but isn't nearly as big, bold, or epic as one of the more major Avengers-related films as some critics and fans have come to praise it for at the time of its release. The cinematography is nothing to hugely praise, given it continues the generically-flat and relatively colorful look of the MCU films, which is par for the productions. And again, this is another big-budget action/fantasy/comic book film missing a memorable musical score, using instrumentations that pick from current trends rather than breaking new boundaries to stand out among the bland musical intuitions of most major composers working in Hollywood today.
With a lot of new(er) characters, some part of what we've grown up knowing about the Spider-Man comic and his universe is strangely missing. While I admire the need to change from what we already know from five previous films, it still would have been nice to have a Harry Osborne, or even a Gwen Stacy waiting in the wings to become a rightfully-fitting character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, I felt we got just another Avengers-fitting version of the Spider-Man character with interactions that satisfy the film universe, rather than drawing directly from the comics with which it existed.
While it was nice to have friends and other characters for Peter to bounce his ideas off of, if there's one thing the filmmakers SHOULD have changed (if they needed to change anything at all) is that in order to relate to the audience more I felt he really did need to be a geeky loner rather than just another kid at school. Hell, he doesn't even have a real bully to push him and press him past his physical and/or intellectual limits and have to eventually stand up against. Instead, that character (Flash, the muscle-bound jock from the first Sam Raimi film) is rewritten as another nerd who just makes kinda-mean comments toward Peter, but never really challenges him.
Spider-Man: Homecoming displays a somewhat watered-down version of a popular Marvel character, in a film produced by a company that walks so finely on egg shells as to try not to offend anyone under the guise of being "hip" and "with it." I'm also not sure why the film is subtitled Homecoming, considering the high school homecoming is a very, VERY small part of the overall film.
As these films go on, I'm becoming more a fan of the "fantasy" characters - the Thors, Hulks, Dr. Stranges - rather than the tech-based, more Earth-bound characters. As good as Tom Holland's Peter Parker was, Tony Stark's involvement with his suit and ultimate powers diminishes the wonder, or shall we say, "marvel," that is the Spider-Man character.