Anticipation for a movie can be a very dangerous thing. Studios can create or add to that danger in how a movie may be marketed. In this case, it’s the long anticipated “homecoming” of one of Marvel’s arguably most popular superheroes of all time, that being Spider-Man back in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Since then fans have been eagerly digesting every bit of news, trailer, interview, and even photos taken from the set of Homecoming, just to get a deeper glimpse into this movie. Now the movie has finally been released in theaters, but does it live up to the hype, and how does Tom Holland compare to his predecessors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield?
One of Marvel’s strengths that has continually been the driving force in all of their movies has been the story. They understand the characters of their movies in ways that no one else does, and even though the first two Spider-Man movies from both Maguire and Garfield were enormously successful, the argument could be made that some of the nuances surrounding Peter Parker were lost. The simple truth regarding Peter is that he’s a teenager and is in high school. While most of us adults look back on our time at that age, and many times do so with embarrassment, and possibly even shame, because of some of the ridiculous behavior and antics we engaged in, at the time we approached life as if we were 15 feet tall and totally bullet proof. That is what being a teenager means, and when it comes to Peter Parker in Homecoming that is precisely who we get.
One beautiful difference between this film and past film incarnations of the famed web-slinger is that we are already past his origin story. We were past that when we first meet him in Captain America: Civil War. Interestingly enough, Peter’s story picks up right during the famed battle between the two different factions of the Avengers, but this time all shown to us in a slightly less “conventional” manner. This method alone is a brilliant maneuver in that it not only links both plot and character from that movie, but dropping the origin allows us to be freed of any of the emotional trip that Peter went through when his Uncle Ben was killed. Instead what we get is a jubilant Spider-Man as he’s riding the high of having participated in an Avengers mission, and it’s that very emotion that causes Peter to start behaving with reckless abandon. We see how that interferes with his school activities, we see how it disrupts any type of social life he’s trying to cultivate, and we see how it causes Peter to make bad judgment calls, which causes his activities as Spider-Man to go completely haywire. It is only later that Peter is faced with a very dire situation where he has to think long and hard about who he is. Is he just Peter Parker, high school teenager, or does he have what it takes to truly be a superhero and rise above whatever challenges that he is facing? It’s a bit cliché as we’ve seen this type of storytelling trope before, even within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man 3 brought us a demon-ridden Tony Stark who, when robbed of everything that he had, looked deep into his own abyss to prove that being a superhero transcended just the wearing of an Iron Man suit. Ironically enough, it is Tony that puts young Peter on that same path, as he has to realize what is required of him if he truly wishes to be a superhero, even when all of the tech and toys are taken away from him. Is it cliché? Yes, but told very powerfully nonetheless.
Another reason this movie performs so well is its cast. Michael Keaton is brought in to play Adrian Toomes aka Vulture, and Marvel immediately understood that villains don’t have to be two-dimensional characters. Toomes is misguided, but he’s not a sociopath. His motivations are very self-serving, but they’re not born out of any evil attempt to subjugate others, or even to cause them physical harm. No, his motivations are purely profitable and come from a place of wanting to take care and provide for his family, and nothing will get in the way of that mission. Keaton’s approach didn’t quite feel believable at first as he initially comes off as a more “dangerous” version of Johnny Dangerously (Did you see what I just did there?), but when the story peels back the villainous mask of who he is and we then see his true self, that is when we both find ourselves both terrified and compelled by the man. He immediately becomes fully formed and done so in a way that only Keaton could have done it. We also see the return of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, and what helps to cement this film in this ever-growing cinematic universe is that these characters feel as if they naturally belong here. This movie is in no way an Iron Man film, despite the slightly significant roles both Downey and Favreau have, they never overshadow young Tom Holland. They just feel like they belong there. After all, as Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has continually reminded people, it’s all connected! There is also Jacob Batalon who plays Peter’s best friend, Ned. He is the character who unwittingly becomes the bearer of Peter’s secret, and then we get a small character study of how a person behaves when given such a terrible responsibility, and Batalon delivered a both humorous and earnest performance. Lastly, there is Tom Holland. All eyes have been on this young man ever since he was first announced that he would be playing Peter Parker, and his first outing in Captain America: Civil War was so well received that it undoubtedly put even more pressure on Holland to deliver the goods a second time and prove that he wasn’t a one-hit-wonder. Happily he wasn’t. At 20 years of age he has amassed quite the acting resumé since he was only a child. Since that time he has honed his craft and once again shows that playing a superhero doesn’t mean sacrificing emotional depth. He was able to give us that teenage dilemma fueled behavior and make it feel completely real without turning it into angst. He successfully shows us through his performance precisely where Peter is on his character arc in this film, and it feels completely organic. This is not an easy thing to do given that these scenes were most likely filmed out of order for the sake of production, and yet he inhabits the character so well that you experience his growth that can only be described as feeling natural and real.
Given the recent success of Wonder Woman it’s no wonder that Marvel was probably feeling some pressure in the hopes that Homecoming would be the hit they desired. They should not have feared for this is truly one of the finest superhero movies Marvel has ever produced.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two small cameos, the first being that of Chris Evans as a pre-recorded Captain America providing PSAs a couple of times during the movie. For that reason it is IMPERATIVE that you sit through ALL of the movie’s credits. Trust me, you will not be disappointed as the audience responded with very loud laughter to the post-credit stinger. Secondly, a very special cameo appeared right towards the end of the film that addressed a troublesome story point from Civil War, and when this moment came across I found myself actually applauding and cheering the film.
This is a marvelous film, and with any luck Sony Studios will see for themselves how Marvel was able to make a successful Spider-Man movie and will then continue this cooperative venture with Marvel and produce many more movies with everyone’s favorite Spider-Man!!!
I give Spider-Man: Homecoming 5 out of 5 spider webs!
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