I finally got around to seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming a few days ago. I was debating whether or not to go see it because frankly, I'm a little tired of Spider-Man movies. Even though some of them had their moments, and Spider-Man himself was handled pretty well, it was Peter Parker who just never really clicked. For one thing, he was always way too old, and for another, he just wasn't very likable. Tobey Maguire played him like kind of an endlessly crying jerk, and Andrew Garfield was a tortured, twenty-something emo. So even though Marvel, and not Sony, handled the creative direction for Homecoming, and his cameo was well done in Captain America: Civil War, I was just kind of over the whole Spider-Man thing.
But recently I had some time to kill, and a friend of mine hadn't seen it yet either, so we decided to check it out.
And I'm glad I did - because this is how Spider-Man should've been done all along.
Thomas Holland does a great job as Peter Parker, and this is really where the heart of the character has to be. That's what made him unique when Stan Lee created him - Spider-Man was a teenager first, and a superhero second, where previous teenage heroes were all just generic sidekicks. Peter has to figure it out and carry the burden by himself, and he's still just a kid. Holland comes across as not just a high schooler, but a young one at that. He doesn't know how to drive. He's awkward and uncertain. He makes mistakes that kids would make. Even as Spider-Man, he doesn't have things figured out yet. There's a great scene in the film where for the first time he has to get to the top of a very tall building. And it takes him a long time. It's difficult, tiring, and when he gets to the top, he's a bit freaked out because he's never been that high up before. He's not immediately swinging around effortlessly between skyscrapers. This is new for him, too.
Homecoming does a great job of putting Peter Parker back in high school, and really developing him as the character behind Spider-Man, whereas in the previous movies it often felt like the two characters weren't always the same person. It's also refreshing to see Peter having to deal with high school stuff: making friends, sitting in classes, dealing with teachers, peer pressure, etc., all while trying to figure out who he is supposed to be as Spider-Man. He's not in college, trying to earn money from the Daily Bugle, or dating some overly-hot 20-something babe. This is a more naive, innocent Spider-Man, and while the movie is not an origin story (mercifully), we're still catching him very early on as he's making mistakes and dealing with the consequences of them. It's all good stuff, and it feels honest. It feels the way Spider-Man should. He doesn't always do the right thing, but he always wants to do the right thing.
Now, one of the major weaknesses of recent superhero movies has been the villains. This is why Marvel keeps trotting Tom Hiddleston out as Loki over and over again, because he's so good at being bad. But Michael Keaton excels in this film. He's not out to rule the world, or destroy it, or be the baddest villain on the planet, or even be known as a villain. His motivations are much more grounded, believable, even understandable. His approach is smart. He doesn't make stupid mistakes, and doesn't tolerate them from subordinates. He fully believes he's doing the right thing, and has his own measure of honor. Yet he's incredibly menacing when he needs to be, and like many great movie villains, is so compelling you wouldn't mind rooting for him. He's easily one of the best superhero villains in many years, and gives me hope that Marvel is capable of reaching that level again in future films.
The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Peter's high school friends (and rivals) are all very smartly cast, well acted, and nicely updated. And yes - they all seem like high school kids. Marisa Tomei does a great turn as Aunt May (and no - I don't miss the shriveled up octogenarian from the comics at all), and easily has the best line in the movie.
Robert Downey Jr., is back as Tony Stark/Iron Man, but he doesn't dominate the movie or distract from Peter's story. He effectively serves as Peter's mentor, hoping to steer him along a better path than what he himself followed. His presence here makes sense, but anything more would be intrusive. Marvel seems to know this, as the next Spider-Man film reportedly won't have Iron Man in it.
The writing throughout the film feels natural and honest to the characters. It doesn't seem too clever - Spider-Man can be funny at times, but he doesn't always have the perfect quip or witty retort. Holland at times reminded me of a young Michael J. Fox, which is a high compliment. There are some nice nods to Spider-Man's history too, including at least one pivotal scene lifted from a classic comic story. The tone of the film is incredibly well-balanced, but most importantly - it's fun. I really enjoyed watching the movie, but best of all, I cared about what happened to the characters.
That said, it's not a perfect film as some of the special effects didn't fare too well. A number of the CG stunts felt decidedly fake, which is surprising considering how far that sort of technology has advanced. Also, the editing made it hard to follow some of the action during fight scenes. But for the most part, the action worked well, and again, it was still fun to watch.
As an aside, it's a little difficult for me to separate out the movie from the theater that I saw it in. It's one of those theaters where you can order food while you watch the film, and while generally not a problem, near the end of the movie it became really annoying as the servers came around to hand out people's checks, and would inevitably disrupt the movie by either walking in front of you, or talking to you about your own bill. That sort of thing should wait until the end credits, or just be taken care of as people exit. But I still really enjoyed the movie anyway, so that speaks pretty highly of how good it was.
Spider-Man is finally on track movie-wise. I'm really looking forward to his next solo films, provided Marvel can maintain control of them. The other Marvel films Sony is working on? Couldn't care less. Hopefully they'll learn they need Marvel's help to get these characters right. It worked here. Hopefully, they can make it work again.
Spider-Man: Homecoming gets an 8.5/10