Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Rating

Director

Jon Watts

Screenplay

Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers

Length

2h 13m

Starring

Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Tyne Daly, Abraham Attah, Hannibal Buress, Kenneth Choi, Selenis Leyva, Angourie Rice, Martin Starr, Garcelle Beauvais, Michael Chernus, Michal Mando, Logan Marshall-Green, Jennifer Connelly

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments

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Review

Sony, one of two companies who hold the rights to Marvel cinematic properties, has finally relented to Disney’s market domination and allowed use of the Spider-Man character in their films. Spider-Man: Homecoming marks the first Sony feature to include that incarnation, the third in fifteen years.

A staple of the comic book industry since its creation in 1962, Spider-Man follows the story of a teenager in New York City who’s bitten by a radioactive spider and gains the ability to climb walls, sense danger, and use his super genius to create gadgets that help him swing through the air and capture enemies with web-shooting wrist devices. When the character turned 40 in 2002, Sony introduced the webslinger to audiences in the guise of 27-year-old Tobey Maguire for the film simply titled Spider-Man. He was joined by Kirsten Dunst as his longtime paramour Mary Jane Watson.

After two successful sequels under the able direction of Sam Raimi, Sony rebooted the character on his 50th anniversary with future Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield in the red-and-blue spandex. The 29-year-old actor shared the screen with future Oscar winner Emma Stone as alter ego Peter Parker’s first sweetheart Gwen Stacy. While the first of these new films, The Amazing Spider-Man was decently well received, the poorly-constructed sequel forced Sony to drastically restructure its output and thus opened the dialogue with Disney.

The result of that partnership is yet another reboot of the character, this time they’ve pegged a much younger actor for the role, Tom Holland. As Peter Parker, first introduced in Disneys Captain American: Civil War, Holland has solid comic ability and is surrounded by a strong, diverse cast of actors, including former DC hero (he’s the Tim Burton Batman) Michael Keaton. While he has an initial fascination with a classmate named Liz (Laura Harrier), his primary goal is not to protect her from outside forces like it has been in the previous two incarnations.

Holland has the boyish looks that make him a passable 15-year-old in the film. He gives the character a suitable sense of awe and wonder, but the performance isn’t anywhere near his current peak in his cinematic debut The Impossible. The movie struggles at times to be more than just a bridge film between Civil War and the next Avengers film. Hindering that development is the surrogate father narrative being explored by the inclusion of Robert Downey Jr. as his Marvel Cinematic Universe mainstay Tony “Iron Man” Stark.

Director Jon Watts is saddled with a screenplay written by six individuals (himself included) and with that many voices working on a single story or idea, you have the same problems a lot of animated films have, a penchant for irrelevant humor and periodic lack of focus. This is exemplified in the poor way they handle Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (aka Vulture) character. Presented as the head of a construction firm forced to give up a lucrative contract to clean up the mess left behind after the Chitauri invasion in the first Avengers movie. He spends the next few years working behind the scenes to illegally collect Chitauri tech and sell his inventions to the highest bidder, even if they have nefarious motives.

This narrative is intended to paint Toomes as a working man screwed over by the government, there’s insufficient development to give him a fully-formed character to inhabit. Keaton does well, but employs the sneering villain routine a bit too frequently, making him seem like a corrupt businessman, similar to the idea of the government he rails against, rather than a working man forced to resort to ulterior methods of survival. Jamie Foxx’s Electro in the abysmal The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a similar and better drawn character.

Alfred Molina’s performance as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 remains the gold standard of villainous portrayals in the Spider-Man universe or even the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. Keaton has some strong moments, but the character is far too predictable and too often unrelatable to be effective.

In the grand scheme of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the overwhelming need to tie the film into the other universe inhibits many of the narrative goals of the film, but not enough to thoroughly overwhelm it. Holland is a fine actor and his Peter Parker is an adequate replacement for the superior Garfield, but where he goes in terms of serialized character development will determine whether this decision to thrice reboot the character was a wise idea. Keeping the character light is imperative, not making him seem like a weakling unable to think and act for himself is not. The future of the Spider-Man universe hinges on making sure that Peter doesn’t stray too far from his comic origins and personalities.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Visual Effects

Review Written

August 10, 2017

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