When it comes to comic book films, the most important thing to fans is “getting it right.” You need to do right by the characters and capture the spirit of what made them popular in the comics and translate it to the big screen. Sony had two previous chances to get Spider-Man, one of the most popular comic book characters ever, right on the screen. None seemed to capture the magic for very long. Spider-Man: Homecoming was Sony partnering with Marvel to finally nail the character down. But while the end result is a good movie, a solid movie, it still feels like something’s missing.
We join Peter Parker (Tom Holland) not long after his team-up with Tony Stark. He uses the new, high tech suit Stark built for him to patrol the streets of Queens as Spider-Man. He fights all sorts of low-level crimes waiting for a call from Stark asking him to the Avengers. One day he stumbles upon a ATM robbery with crooks using highly-destructive, hi-tech weaponry. When the crooks almost accidentally kill a store owner Peter is friendly with, Peter decides to track down where these crooks got their guns. The trail leads to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a former salvage company owner who has jury-rigged scavenged tech from superhero battles to create weapons he sells to the bad guys. Spider-Man wants to bring Toomes down, but Toomes saved some tech for himself–a flying suit that makes him look like a vulture. Before long, the young hero finds himself in over his head.
The most obvious thing missing in this edition is Spidey’s origin story. Conventional wisdom dictates that for characters like Spider-Man, Batman and Superman, whose origin stories have become a part of the American folklore, showing their origin with every revamp is superfluous. There’s truth to that, but we needed more of it than what we got here. The “bitten by a radioactive spider” part gets a good going over in a series of conversations between Peter and Ned (Jacob Batalon). But the “death of Uncle Ben” part is glossed over. It is only brought up in a notable way in one scenes, and it is referred to essentially as “that thing Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) went through.”
The filmmakers feel that we don’t need more than that. We’ll just access the memories of what happened from our watching the two previous takes on the character. However, we will also remember how Ben Parker’s murder provided those previous go rounds with emotional resonance and a tragic reason for Peter to become a hero. All that is lost here. This film portrays Spider-Man as a green novice at the hero game, one who screws up more than succeeds. That means Ben’s death must have been in the fairly recent past of the storyline. But neither Peter nor May show any outward signs of grief. Peter seem more motivated to do good so he can impress Tony Stark than any sense of responsibility and May’s main points of characterization is A)being concerned for Peter and B) having people fawn all over her because she is so hot.
I’m not saying that the film should have cast an Uncle Ben just to kill him off. The film is already two and a quarter hours long. But one 30 second scene of Peter and May discussing their grief or that shows the impact Ben’s death had on them would have given the film a part of the depth that made the other versions better.
“But other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln.”
I don’t want to make you think that the lack of depth made this film a horrible, must avoid film. It just makes it a disappointing, good-but-could-have-been great movie. There’s a lot of things in the film that make it one of the best interpretations of the character on screen ever. Holland is excellent as the main character. He totally makes you believe that he is a teenager trying his best to fight crime and protect his family. Toomes, who is the Vulture in the comics, is rejiggered for the film that stays true to the spirit of the character but totally works in the context of the film. Michael Keaton does a great job in the role, providing a relatable, down-to-Earth villain for Spidey to fight. Keaton’s Toomes quite possibly might be the best Spidey villain since Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.
The film connects to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an organic and natural way. I had feared that any tie-in would be in a showy, yet easy to excise way. The film doesn’t beat you over the head with the connection, but there is no way this could not be part of the MCU, if that makes any sense.
And the cast of Peter’s classmates are superb. The actor range from 20 years old to 27 years old, but they both look and act like they should be in high school. One change from what came before is that now Peter and Flash (Tony Revolori) both go to a science high school. That means the “Jock vs. Nerd” paradigm will no longer work, but the filmmakers replace it with a “Rich Kid vs. Poor Kid” animosity that works as well if not better.
There is a lot of humor in the film, and it is more hit than miss. Especially good are the PSA’s the students have to watch, featuring a cameo from another MCU star. And there is a sequence that mirrors a sequence in a John Hughes film where, just when you catch on to the similarities, the original Hughes film pops up on a TV in the background. That was a nice touch. But then there are gags such as Aunt May’s last line in the film where it seems like characterization is sacrificed for a cheap joke.
If there would be another week link in the film, it would be Zendaya’s Michelle, but not in the way I expected. Having an eight-year-old daughter, I am well versed in the limitations of Zendaya’s acting skills. The ads for the films made me worry that her acting might be an issue. But her acting as Michelle isn’t the problem–she does an okay job with what she is given. The problem is she doesn’t really have an interesting character to play. The filmmakers give her this weird push and pull to her personality–she’s a joiner yet works hard at pushing people away by insulting them–plus a throw-away reference to her being a “social justice warrior.” That would be enough characterization if she was just a background character. However, there are hints that she will play a bigger part in Peter’s life in future installments. If that’s the case, they should have made her role a bit meatier, say, giving us a reason for her behavior, so we would be interested in finding out more about her. As it stands, there’s is not enough there to make me curious or want to see more. And that’s deadly if they are going in the direction they appear to be going with the character.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good film and an adequate start to a franchise. But, unfortunately, its lack of depth makes it at best only the second or third best Spider-Man film and not the best installment yet. And no amount of MCU crossovers can change that.
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