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The only requirement for a good superhero film, unless Christopher Nolan is directing it, should be for it to leave the audience feeling a sense of fun and wonder. Spider-Man is undoubtedly one of the genre’s biggest names, and yet it’s arguable there hasn’t been a truly “great” big screen depiction of our favorite web slinger.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is the closest we’ve seen, and in its defense, it was a very good movie, but was trapped in a Tobey Maguire Spidey that never really “felt” like Peter Parker. It felt like Tobey Maguire playing Peter Parker, and there’s a gigantic difference to be found in those two realities. Tobey as Peter wasn’t a bad thing, at least until Spider-Man 3, but I never bought into Spider-Man, I bought into Tobey Maguire.
Spider-Man 2 is also 13 years old.
Andrew Garfield’s attempt in The Amazing Spider-Man worked for me, for exactly one movie, and then completely fell apart in the disappointing sequel. Yet again, however, Garfield was playing the role of Peter Parker.
Tom Holland IS Peter Parker.
And that’s why Spider-Man: Homecoming swings with ease through the streets and off higher skyscrapers than any of its predecessors have attempted. It even finds its way to scale one of the world’s most famous buildings before the first chapter of the story ends.
Holland’s work is by no means the only reason Homecoming is such an entertaining ride, but it’s the largest part. Best known to this point for his work in Wolf Hall (which shows you he’s just NOW becoming known), this is Tom’s arrival onto the mainstream scene. He has several projects in the works, and he just turned 21 last month.
Peter Parker is supposed to be a bit of a smart-ass, but he’s also supposed to be a kid thrust into a world he doesn’t fully understand and isn’t fully equipped to handle. He’s trying to navigate through each day in much the same way as his high school classmates. The only difference is he fights crime and does…well…whatever a spider can. Not without a few blemishes along the way, but Holland’s Parker indeed fulfills the promise of what Spider-Man should look and feel like on a giant movie screen.
Finally, there’s a Spider-Man film that actually feels like it was designed to be a Spider-Man movie first, rather than a vehicle for the big name attached to it. It actually plays in the movie’s favor that we don’t really know much about Tom Holland, and thus we can easily just see him as Peter Parker, without attaching Eduardo Saverin or the adolescent from Wonder Boys or Seabiscuit to the character.
With a few exceptions, the entire Homecoming cast is filled with young up-and-coming talent, but not household-name talent. It removes the distractions that often accompany big budget popcorn blockbusters, and here, that’s a welcome scenario, because what’s provided within the movie is more than enough to keep your attention. Again, this is not a perfect film by any means, but it’s the closest we’ve gotten with a Spider-Man film thus far.
Whereas both Maguire and Garfield brooded, Tom Holland runs, jumps, clumsily makes mistakes, fires off one-liners at thugs and hooligans, and tries to impress the likes of Tony Stark and Happy Hogan. He has fun doing it, but he’s by no means an overpowering superhero that doesn’t put himself in problematic situations. His childlike innocence leads him to think he can do things he simply can’t, and that leaves him in precarious and potentially fatal spots.
Homecoming dodges another common problem in superhero movies as it places a believable, credible, compelling villain on the opposing side. The Vulture isn’t an “A” antagonist in the annals of Marvel’s greatest evils, but it would be very easy to go over-the-top with the appearance and lose the essence of what the Adrian Toomes character can be on the HUMAN level.
Luckily, screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley avoided that pitfall, which was made easier thanks to Michael Keaton. It seems when this guy plays some variation of a bird, good things happen. He’s already had a tremendous year, with The Founder one of 2017’s best, but as Toomes, he steps into a pure villain role, and does so effectively. There’s depth behind Vulture, including what drove him to look past the realm of the law, both man made and natural varieties, and believe he could exist within that space. Keaton plays him with nuance and vulnerability, but also a sinister, cold, selfish ambiance.
Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t work without Keaton, and is greatly enhanced by his presence.
It also doesn’t work without Ned Leeds, Peter Parker’s classmate and best friend, and the source of much of the film’s comic relief. Here, again, a relative unknown in Jacob Batalon, but Ned may well be the character most remember when they leave the theater. He could be polarizing, but here we have the teenage comedy aspect of the movie.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is one part superhero movie, one part summer blockbuster, and one part light, awkward high school motion picture experience. Ned easily could have been friends with Jim and the gang from American Pie, just as one example. Except he’s not banging pastries. Instead, he’s more like Batman’s Oracle, but just coming out of puberty.
While he isn’t featured too often (which is a good thing), Robert Downey Jr.’s appearances add a level of power to the movie. Iron Man means something in the Marvel universe; in fact that character means more than anyone else in the space. Also a positive is the on-screen chemistry between Stark and Parker, as Peter goes from idolizing the man and seeing him as a superstar, to really viewing him more as a mentor, a father figure, and a friend.
One final point to make in Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s favor is that it somehow manages to be a rebirth, without being an origin story. If you’re looking for the spider bite, you won’t find that here. Thank goodness for that. We get it. We know how he became Spider-Man. This isn’t a rehash of what we’ve already seen. From moment one in Homecoming, Peter Parker is Spidey. He’s learning what it means to be a hero, and he’s discovering new things about himself, but he has the suit from the second the movie begins.
This marks a new beginning for Spider-Man, and the film reintroduces us to certain aspects of Peter Parker, and then it gives Tom Holland an empty, vibrant stage on which to lay claim to the character and fire his own webs. So, there’s an “origin” to the movie, but it’s not THAT origin nobody has any interest in reliving again in a theater. It’s simply an introduction to the new Spider-Man, a character we met in Captain America: Civil War, and a hero we’ll get to know much more in upcoming Marvel films, not to mention the 2019 Homecoming sequel.
The romance of the film is not what you’ll walk in expecting, but it’s refreshing, with a bit of an addendum in the story’s final minutes that sets the stage for the future. For that reason, I’ll refrain from speaking about it in any further detail or even going into specifics with character names. Marisa Tomei’s May Parker has her suitors as well (George Costanza isn’t one of them), and as usual with her, she’s a joy to watch.
Donald Glover and Bokeem Woodbine, among others, play important, though somewhat limited roles, and Martin Starr and Hannibal Buress are both perfect for the comedy portion of the film. They feel right at home when they’re used, and both will make you laugh.
Though some don’t like knowing this kind of thing ahead of time, I have to tell you it’s totally worth it to sit through the credits. Don’t expect any deep mythology, but you’ll leave with a smile on your face if you give the movie that extra five minutes. I thought it was very clever, which is an adjective I could use over and over to describe some of the things Spider-Man: Homecoming tries and pulls off through the course of its run time.
This is absolutely a movie you should check out this weekend. You’ll enjoy it, as will your entire family. There’s enough “adult” to satisfy you, but there’s enough of the craziness to satisfy the little folks. I believe those of my generation might enjoy it more than the youngsters, because Vulture’s sensibilities and motivations will speak to you more than your kids.
Finally, I’m not going to spend much time on the effects, because we’ve reached a point where good work in that area is expected. Spider-Man: Homecoming certainly has its share of, “Yeah, that’s CG” moments, but it looks and sounds great, and you won’t be disappointed.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier remains my favorite Marvel film, with Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy not far behind, but Spider-Man: Homecoming is a solid addition to the group. While it may not be quite as good as any of those films, it’s the most approachable Spider-Man film of all-time, by a wide margin. Tom Holland will be a star next week. His days of anonymity are over, even if the character he portrays is forced to value that quality above all others.
I’m just your friendly neighborhood @JMartOutkick. We’ll talk much more about Homecoming on Friday’s Outkick the Culture podcast. By the way, the response, the subscriber numbers, and the feedback…totally overwhelming. Can’t thank you all enough for the support!