On my way to see Spider-Man: Homecoming, I hit up Taco Bell. (Don’t judge; it’s my cheat day.) Spider-Man: Homecoming gave me exactly the same feeling as that cheesy gordita crunch: an hour-ish of satiety, followed by questioning my life choices, followed by disappointment—in them and myself—culminating in the kind of all-consuming diarrhea that your benevolent, loving God spares you until you turn 30.
Tom Holland takes the Peter Parker/Spider-Man role this time, a perspicacious but impatient nerd who has long since received his spider-bite and his mandate to dress up like a spider and fight crimes. Parker wants in the Avengers, and like an applicant betraying their desperation to get hired, he hounds Happy Hogan and Tony Stark (Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr., as usual) for the next big chance to prove himself. This comes when he finds out that Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, having graduated from Batman to Birdman to Vulture) has established a comfortable living selling alien technology to criminals. In typical Spider-Man film fashion, Spidey learns the hard way that Toomes plays a role in his civilian life as well. During all this, Parker neglects his civilian acquaintances: Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), sidekick Ned (Jacob Batalon), cynic Michelle (Zendaya), rich bully Flash (Tony Revolori), and crush Liz (Laura Harrier). So it falls to him to find a way to defeat Toomes whilst balancing—er, continuing to neglect his loved ones.
This film delivers in the same way a J.J. Abrams movie delivers: you’ll enjoy it at the time and forget it by morning. I once saw a RedLetterMedia video (I think it was RedLetterMedia; I don’t feel like sitting through an hour of murder/rape jokes to verify) that attributed this to Abrams’s inconsistent characterization. That would explain Spider-Man: Homecoming. This Peter Parker may think he learns a thing or two—the film ends in the style of 8 Mile, where he makes a life-changing decision that the old him would never have made—but we don’t see this in any of his other behavior. His exploits still cause boatloads of property damage. He still neglects his personal life. He still lacks patience. In Christopher Vogler’s awesome book, The Writer’s Journey, Vogler points out that heroism doesn’t center on doing amazing acrobatics or causing huge explosions or getting the girl. It centers on sacrifice. This Parker learns nothing about sacrifice, nor does he seem to acknowledge the gravity of the sacrifices he makes. He may be a superhero, but even at the end, he has yet to become a hero.
Perhaps because of Keaton’s astronomical difference in experience, I found his character more relatable. More to the point, in the film’s biggest narrative weakness, I agree with his motives. Toomes’s animosity toward Stark and the superhero set has its roots in the valid, well-earned rancor of the working poor towards the bourgeoisie. Stark represents the 1% and their use of government connections to screw over the middle class, a valid political concern that worries me in real life. If we didn’t see Toomes off a recalcitrant henchman or threaten Spider-Man—or we didn’t see him living in a nice house, implying hypocrisy—he would’ve seemed like a sympathetic modern-day Robin Hood. His core motivation doesn’t seem evil or even wrong. Like Christopher Nolan’s Catwoman, he only seems like a villain because he symbolizes change.
I find this ironic because of Spider-Man’s roots in archetypes of adolescence. No superhero has a greater cultural association with puberty and the cusp of an uncertain adulthood. Spider-Man’s stories should represent change and upheaval because therein lies the essence of growing up. Growing up means taking on responsibilities, getting laid, realizing The Boondock Saints was never a good movie. It doesn’t mean preserving things as they exist. I’d go so far as to say this movie admonishes Millennials: “Stop wanting nice things; you have to earn them!”
But as with Toomes’s motivation, that ignores that Millennials have valid reasons to want things.
The movie has good casting, at least. Actors of color abound, although I still find it vexing to see two white male leads again. Holland rises to the needs of the script, and he looks like a test tube baby created from Tobey Maguire, David Mazouz, and Grant Gustin—so he looks the part. But I found myself annoyed at the script’s reliance on Downey, Jr. and Favreau, like Marvel didn’t trust a Spidey movie to stand on its own two feet. While the film has a number of actors of color in roles that emphasize intelligence, it only shows Toomes’s men selling to two clients, both men of color. The casting also seems ageist; Keaton, Tomei, and Mando all look much younger than their funnybook progenitors. For a franchise that loves the same-old-same-old, the Marvel universe sure dislikes the aging process.
But the youngsters of color do a great job making their characters memorable. Director Jon Watts made them binge John Hughes’s œuvre, and it shows. Zendaya’s deadpan snark makes her a better version of Scott Pilgrim’s Knives. Batalon plays the comic relief sidekick like an excited fanboy of a kid, and having an overweight actor in such a pivotal role almost comes off as body-positive. Revolori plays a more intelligent Flash Thompson, an evolution of the 60s jock bully into a spoiled rival who didn’t earn what he has (going back to the film’s core admonition). Donald Glover makes a glorified cameo, a consolation prize for not getting to play Spidey. Glover comes off as likable as always, but when one realizes that his not playing Parker has everything to do with his skin, the issue comes back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s basic function as worship of the status quo disguised as progress.
The direction follows the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s playbook. These films look pretty, but they never feel like a human made them. Sam Raimi would use saturated colors and strategic compositions. Spider-Man 3 sucked, but at least Raimi took some damn risks. To Watts’s credit, he, like Raimi, rewards comic fans. Steve Ditko and John Romita, Sr. would punctuate issues of Amazing Spider-Man with Peter Parker staring into the distance, half-Spidey, half-Peter; a tribute to that becomes the catalyst of Parker’s transformation in this film. This takes place amid a reenactment of an iconic scene from Amazing Spider-Man #33.
Spidey also spends much of the film in a homemade costume that resembles the Scarlet Spider (because every Spider-Fan just loves the 90s). The Wonder Wheel makes a cameo near the end… which has nothing to do with Spider-Man, but I love The Warriors.
Watts does his main job duty and brings the spectacle. The setpieces all come off as exciting, pulse-pounding, and colorful. Louise Frogley’s costume designs shine (which I hate to admit, as I adore her predecessor, Kym Barrett). Toomes’s green light-eyes and bomber jacket and mechanical wings form a gestalt of a silhouette that make the Vulture as memorable as any of Nolan’s Bat-villains. I wouldn’t have thought the Vulture of all villains could carry a film, but Keaton succeeds. The two Shockers have vague nods to the comic in their civvies, but they look like real tough guys, not angry men in spandex. I’d like to have seen Mac Gargan in Scorpion regalia, but I’ll give that one a pass. After watching Michael Mando on Better Call Saul, I don’t know if I feel ready to see him with an alien cannon slithering out of his ass.
I complain, but this lighthearted iteration of Spider-Man has something that a hell of a lot of superhero movies lack: joy. In this short time after Adam West’s passing, I look back at his Batman and I miss when superheroes looked like they enjoyed themselves. Marty, Joe, and I recently had a conversation about how it doesn’t take much to fit the part of Spidey; anyone with a certain physicality and charisma can pull it off. But Holland looks like he loves this job, and that goes a long way. Holland might have what it takes to finally make a Spider-Man series that doesn’t flare out in a paroxysm of corporate incompetence. But it seems appropriate that this film drubs the viewer over the head with themes of patience, because this Spider-Man and his creators need to take some chances before they achieve greatness.
That reminds me: don’t bother staying after the credits. The stingers aren’t worth it.Liked This? Share It!