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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

Spider-Man: Homecoming movie review: boys and their alien toys

Spider-Man: Homecoming green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Thoroughly charming. Spider-Man’s signature light comedy works surprisingly well even as this story is uniquely steeped in the darker Marvel Cinematic Universe.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love the Marvel Cinematic Universe
I’m “biast” (con): tired of Spider-Man
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Oh, god, not another Spider-Man movie! We’re all tired of Spider-Man, aren’t we? Didn’t we all groan a little when he showed up in Captain America: Civil War because we knew it meant more standalone Spider-Man movies? (I mean, of course it did. Like how every Avenger gets their own movie: Iron Man and Cap and Thor and Ant-freakin’-Man and Black Widow– oh, wait.) It was only just five years ago, in 2012, when we got Andrew Garfield as The Amazing Spider-Man (with its sequel only three years ago), and that was only five years after the final movie with Tobey Maguire as the teenaged webslinger, in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. Seriously, Hollywood: come on.

“Right this way to your own franchise, kid...”

“Right this way to your own franchise, kid…”tweet

So I really was not in a good mood for Spider-Man: Homecoming. And yet… I found it thoroughly charming.tweet Tom Holland (The Lost City of Z, In the Heart of the Sea) as Peter Parker is delightful (and at only the tender age of just-turned-21 a couple of weeks ago, the closest in age to the high-school character yet). The signature light-comedic tone of the Spider-Man stories works surprisingly well even within the overall much darker Marvel Cinematic Universe, of which this is a part… perhaps because Peter’s interaction with the Avengers here is limited to snarky Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.: The Judge, Chef) and his driver, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau: The Jungle Book, Entourage), who appears to believe he needs to supply the snark when his boss is not around.

This Peter Parker lives in a New York City indelibly shaped by the Avengers…
tweet

But maybe the best way in which Homecoming works in the MCU is that it is positively steeped in it in a way that none of the other films have been before; it is clearly part of this series and yet stands very much apart, too.tweet Peter lives in a New York City — he is from Queens, as always — that has been indelibly shaped by the Battle of New York that occurred at the end of 2012’s Avengers, the one that devastated much of midtown Manhattan. The story’s villain, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton: The Founder, Spotlight), is an ordinary working guy who turns to crime when he is forced off his city contract cleaning up after that battle when Tony Stark snags a federal contract to do the same thing on a larger scale; Toomes is incensed at the whiff of corruption and rich-guy cronyism that seems to entail: Stark is now gonna profit off the mess he helped create? (It’s tough to disagree with Toomes here, or with the other hypocrisies of Tony Stark he later points out.) Toomes is running a black market in weapons that fuse human technology with alien doodads scavenged from Avengers battles all over the world, which is a wonderfully twisted — and entirely plausible — extrapolation of the heroics we’ve so far witnessed only up close. Here is a whole big world in which superheroes and alien demigods and attacks by more advanced civilizations are real: How do ordinary people cope with that? How do they react to that? How does the culture change to make room for that? (One thing we learn: Captain America has made some cheesy educational videos that kids are forced to watch in school. It’s a brilliant way to bring that light Spidey touch to the MCU.)

“Spidey Suit 2.0 is gonna have some pockets, so I can stop hauling this stupid backpack around.”

“Spidey Suit 2.0 is gonna have some pockets, so I can stop hauling this stupid backpack around.”tweet

Peter’s journey falls under that cultural angst: it’s not only adolescence that is tripping up this would-be superhero,tweet though there is that, too. Reboot this may be, but it’s not Spidey’s origin story again; we don’t have to watch poor Uncle Ben get sacrificed to Peter’s moral development once more, thank goodness. Instead, this is about how a genius 15-year-old who isn’t challenged even at his awesome science-centered high school tries to balance his desire to become an actual Avenger, a part of the team in the same way he was in the big fight at the Berlin airport in Civil War, with his desire to just be as much of a regular kid as his radioactive blood and mutant powers allow him to be. He’s got a huge crush on pretty, supersmart Liz (Laura Harrier: The Last Five Years), and the school’s homecoming dance is coming up… But that’s not what the title refers to (and in fact, the contrivance of the dance is one of the film’s weak points): the homecoming is the one from Berlin, and what Peter is going to do with that taste of life as an Avenger. We’re supposed to be eight years on from the Battle of New York — so either the year is 2020 here, or the battle took place earlier than 2012 — but either way, that means that Peter was only seven years old when the battle happened and will have little memory of a world before the Avengers. Holland may be terrific at making us believe that his Peter is authentically consumed with his dilemma, but the unique setting in which he is wrestling with it — we don’t often see science fiction movies that grapple with the long-term aftermath of alien invasiontweet — goes a long way to helping sell it, too.

There are problems here. The film is too long — there’s plenty of room for judicious editing that would have brought the movie in under two hours; it’s well over that — and there’s a piece of plotting that is so ridiculous that it momentarily jars you right out of the story. The central setpiece action sequence on the Staten Island ferry (which, ahem, does not carry cars) is pretty lackluster; the action bits are where indie director Jon Watts stumbles with his first big-budget film.

“They let me keep this jacket from Birdman, isn’t it great?”

“They let me keep this jacket from Birdman, isn’t it great?”tweet

But fortunately there’s tons of good stuff to make you forget that. The sly humor of casting of the always superb Keaton — former Batman and Birdman — as Toomes, who is also known as Vulture for his alien-tech-powered flying armor — never gets old. And the entire supporting cast is sharply on point in a comedic way that we haven’t seen before in the MCU, from Peter’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), who has some ideas about how he can best perform as sidekick to a superhero; to teachers such as Peter’s subversive academic decathlon coach, Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr: Amira & Sam, Veronica Mars), and Toomes’s overenthusiastic engineer, Mason (Michael Chernus: The Family Fang, Aloha); to Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei: The Big Short, Love the Coopers), whose tolerance of Peter’s strange behavior gets pushed a bit too far.

I worry about May’s wardrobe, however: 70s hippie chick simply does not suit her. It is perhaps the least persuasive element in a movie about a sweet, good-natured mutant teenager who plays with a lot of dangerous alien toys and yearns to be a member of a superhero squad.


green light 4 stars

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) | directed by Jon Watts
US/Can release: Jul 07 2017
UK/Ire release: Jul 05 2017

MPAA: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate fantasy violence, threat, sex references, obscured strong language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I’m glad MaryAnn enjoyed the movie but I must admit that my initial reaction to her review was something like this.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK9HXu9g5qA

  • Would you recommend this to somebody who isn’t familiar with the Marvel franchise? I’ve seen _Iron Man I_ and that’s it.

  • Why?

  • Yeah, I think it would still work quite well for you.

  • I had the exact same reaction as you to the prospect of another spiderman movie. I’m happy to hear it’s supposed to be good, but I still won’t bother seeing it in the theater.
    I’m curious about Micheal Keaton here. I also like him as an actor nowadays. Plenty of great roles. But isn’t he a bit old to play a spiderman villain? He’s 66 years old! I had no idea until I checked on IMDB.
    Hollywood has no issue nowadays castng all sorts of old guys in action roles. Don’t see the same happening for women.

  • It’s true that there is a far wider variety of men in this movie than women, just like there always is: guys can be fat, plain, other than perfectly gorgeous, and they still get juicy roles. At least there are *two* nonwhite young women here (Peter’s fellow students, one of whom is his crush, Liz), but they’re still thin, light-skinned, and conventionally pretty.

    As for Keaton: He’s fantastic here. And I’d never guess that he’s 66: he looks at least a decade younger.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Because I had heard so much naysaying — both online and off — about this movie that I honestly did not expect to see it get a positive review. Especially here.

  • Hallah

    Comics!Toomes is quite elderly, and much more frail-looking than Keaton (though he’s mean enough to make up for it). Casting Keaton is actually another case of Hollywood going younger and prettier with their casting.

  • Danielm80

    For a number of years after I saw City of Lost Children, I hoped that someone would cast Daniel Emilfork as the Vulture:

    https://www.artstation.com/artwork/QXq6B

    But decades went by before the character appeared in a movie, and because Daniel Emilfork wasn’t young or pretty, he passed away in 2006 at the age of 82.

  • Bluejay

    Curious to know, what was the piece of plotting that jarred you out of the story? I was thoroughly into it, and enjoyed it.

    So much that I liked about this. (SPOILERS from here on) I liked how Holland’s Spider-Man is exactly as insecure and awkward as his age; my favorite scene might be the one where he walks unnoticed into the bank as the robbery is taking place, and takes the time to figure out how to strike the Nonchalant Pose before he calls attention to himself. Loved the Heroic Deeds Montage as well – if there’s something that this film and Wonder Woman get right, it’s showing heroes actually interacting with and looking out for ordinary people on an endearingly human scale. And Keaton is perhaps the most nuanced and relatable MCU villain since Loki; I’m glad he was spared the one-film-and-out Villain Death. Would love to see more of him.

    I also liked how this film deals out its easter eggs without getting in the way of its own story. It’s not important to know exactly who Donald Glover’s character is, but if you realize who he’s uncle to, it’s pretty exciting. (And frankly a bit annoying, for the same reason that MCU movies about female superheroes and minorities always seem to be pushed into the “maybe later” category to make way for more white male heroes.)

  • Matt Clayton

    Strangely enough, I came into “Homecoming” expecting something good and I came out disappointed. I didn’t grow up with the 1980s high school genre popularized by John Hughes (I was a ’90s kid) and all the references and homages to films like “Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” were irritating.

    I really like Holland and the rest of the cast, and there are some scenes that worked (like Holland getting the ‘father talk’ from Keaton). The action sequences were terribly shot and cut together, and Robert Downey Jr just looked bored in the few scenes he was in.

    I think I’m just one of the few who didn’t like “Homecoming.” I grew up on Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films and I was pining for “Spider-Man 2” after exiting the theater Thursday night.

  • Curious to know, what was the piece of plotting that jarred you out of the story?

    Really? Can you not guess? Did you not see it yourself?

    Wow. :-)

    Okay, here it is:

    Toomes turns out to be — surprise! — Liz’s dad.

    That’s completely ridiculous and totally unnecessary. It feels like a cheat that the writers resorted to because they couldn’t figure out any other way to get Peter together with Toomes.

  • Bluejay

    Oh man, I didn’t think you could POSSIBLY have meant that, because I totally loved that twist. (And judging from the gasps and spontaneous applause, so did the entire audience at my theater.) It may not have been strictly necessary to get him to meet Toomes, but I thought it added some interesting complications to his relationship with Liz (much as it was interesting to have Spidey’s nemesis be the father of his best friend in the original Raimi series). It gave Toomes a reason to spare Peter’s life, and added emotional heft to Peter’s rescue of Toomes later on. And it gave Peter and Liz a reason to have a falling-out, thus providing an opening for “Michelle”/MJ, at the end.

  • Hallah

    Looks-wise, at least, he’d have been spot on.

  • Danielm80

    FWIW, I hated it, too, because Spider-Man came across as completely incompetent.

    MILD SPOILERS

    Every time he tried to save someone, he put more lives in danger, and destroyed huge amounts of property. At the end of the final battle, I thought: He should have just called up Tony Stark and said, “You might want to look in on that plane.” Tony could have beaten the Vulture in about five minutes, and there would have been less danger of civilians being killed by a flaming aircraft.

    But I’d love to see a movie about Zendaya’s character. She was more interesting than all of the lead characters put together.

  • Bluejay

    Every time he tried to save someone, he put more lives in danger, and destroyed huge amounts of property.

    That’s sort of a hazard with superhero films in general, isn’t it? It’s pretty much the reason why the Avengers were under pressure to sign the Sokovia Accords.

    He should have just called up Tony Stark and said, “You might want to look in on that plane.”

    Except he wanted to prove himself. And flawed characters don’t always make the sensible decision.

    I enjoyed it, but I guess the film did want to play up the comedic “inexperienced teenager on a learning curve” angle, and may have leaned on it a little hard. For what it’s worth, when Stan Lee has a chance to write the character himself, he seems to favor “hilarious incompetence” as well:

    http://comicsalliance.com/the-spider-man-newspaper-strip-crazy/

  • Jaxxon

    Well, of course he’s not good at it. That’s classic early Spider-man from the comics – he has fantastic powers at an age when he has no idea how to really use them and doesn’t always think about the ramifications. When he first got his powers, he used them all the time to show off and make a quick buck. He used to get into pointless fights with the also-teenage Johnny Storm because he was jealous that Johnny – as a member of the Fantastic Four – was much more popular. He has caused a lot of people to be accidentally killed through actions he took trying to save people: Betty Brandt held Spider-man responsible for the death of her brother, Gwen Stacy’s dad was killed by debris during a battle with Doctor Octopus, and we all know what happened to Gwen when Spidey tried to save her from the Green Goblin. This trend even carried over into adulthood – While fighting the Sin Eater serial killer on the streets of New York, he dodged a shotgun blast without thinking and the people behind him were gunned down.

    All that to say: Classic Spider-man was a kid who screwed up a lot trying to do the right thing, and a lot of those screw-ups came back to haunt him. But he’s also a guy who never stops trying to do the right thing, even when the cost is unbearable.

  • Danielm80

    All true, but early Spider-Man also came up with clever solutions to problems, using the cold of a refrigerator to defeat the Lizard and magnets to defeat the Vulture. There was a sense that he was really good at his job. The balance of victories with spectacular failures was one of the main reasons I grew to love the character so much. I saw some of that cleverness in the movie, like the trick with the cellphone, and I admired his persistence in the scene that echoed Amazing Spider-Man 33, but most of the time, he relied on Stark technology, or Ned, or the villain’s mistakes to achieve any victory at all. I did love the cast, though, and I hope that in the next film, they get a story that’s less dispiriting.

  • Matt Clayton

    I would also point out that Holland’s Peter is eight months into being Spider-man (and 15 years old). I would expect some big mistakes early on, but when you’re a costumed superhero saving people you have to adapt quickly when saving people to avoid property damage when possible. Especially after being handpicked by Iron Man himself and fighting other superheroes. (Raimi’s first Spider-Man didn’t have quite as much collateral damage!)

    And that goes to another thing that I didn’t like: the busyness of the plot. It feels like a checklist made by Feige for Jon Watts rather than characters themselves driving the plot. I didn’t feel the emotional weight of Peter trying to be everything to everybody or the guilt of messing up (i.e. missing the Decathlon finals). It doesn’t dig into the emotional development of Peter the way Raimi did with Tobey Maguire’s interpretation.

  • Jim Mann

    They did try to call Stark (via Happy Hogan) to say that there was an issue with the plane but Happy hung up without listening.

  • Jurgan

    “mutant teenager”

    Careful with that word- Fox is gonna sue you. Well, not really, but the “mutant” word in Marvel specifically refers to people who are born with powers, such as the X-Men. There’d be a big legal issue if they’d actually called Spider-Man a mutant, since Fox still owns the rights to that corner of the Marvel universe.

  • Jurgan

    It was highly implausible, but it was also very Spider-Man. There are a bunch of Spider-Man villains who just happen to know Peter in civilian life. The first Raimi movie had the same thing, with the Green Goblin coincidentally being his best friend’s dad. So while it did make me call BS, I couldn’t really be mad about it because it’s built into this series’s DNA.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Harry Osborn has always been one of Peter’s best friends. The only change Raimi made was to have them know each other from high school, rather than meeting in college. Even the “hide Norman Osborn’s secret from Harry” plotline is straight from the comics.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Hey! The very fact that Keaton looks so much like Kelsey Grammar (the voice of Sideshow Bob) in that above photograph should have given that twist away. :-)

  • Danielm80

    I’m not getting the reference. Can you explain the joke?

  • Jurgan

    That’s not entirely true. When Harry first met Peter, he hated him. Practically everybody hated Spider-Man and/or Peter (part of Steve Ditko’s Objectivist take on the “great man despised by his inferiors” trope). Meanwhile, Norman wasn’t formally introduced until issue 38, one month before he was unmasked as GG. Harry and Peter became sort of friends in that same issue. Anyway, my point was that the villain coincidentally knowing Peter in his civilian life is something that has happened since he early comics days, so it’s hard to get mad at the movie for doing that.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Oh, is that why they cast Donald Glover? I kept trying to figure out what he was doing in this movie. He’s recognizable enough among an integral portion of the MCU’s core audience that he stood out, but his character had nothing to do and nothing to say. Glover himself looked vaguely pissed off at being there (which makes sense, since he was thrown a bone in a way that precludes him from being cast in the role he really wanted).

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Yeah, that part… wasn’t great. Really, Michael Keaton’s performance is covering for a number of significant problems with the way the character is written. It’s like some of the writers wanted Toomes to be one thing, but other writers needed him to be something else, and two never gel.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’m sorry. What I inferred from your comment was the the Osborn connection was something Raimi invented. My bad, carry on.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Sorta…

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The best argument against the claim that Homecoming isn’t an origin story is Homecoming itself. It’s absolutely an origin story, it just starts in act two.

  • Danielm80

    I agree, although I’m not sure how that relates to my comment. I suppose you could argue that this is a different sort of origin story: the story of Peter’s development from a powerful-but-sort-of-clueless teenager into the Amazing Spider-Man. If that was the goal, maybe I’ll like the sequel a lot better.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    “Hero causes some mayhem as they adapt to their new abilities” and “hero refuse to call in professionals in desire to prove himself” are common tropes of the superhero origin story.

    I’m reading a lot of takes about how Homecoming “proves you don’t have to do an origin story” that elide or ignore how many origin story tropes this move leans on, heavily.

    You’re right that there’s no other reason for Peter to be this incompetent in this movie. At this point he’s been at this Spidey stuff, on a daily basis, for months. In fact, he’d been at it for months when we meet him in Civil War.

  • Danielm80
  • Bluejay

    Great article. But that seems like an awful lot of things to like, for someone who says they hated the movie. :-)

  • Danielm80

    I really liked the movie it could have been, and I’m hoping the sequel builds on its strengths. Here are some things I did like about the movie:

    * The diversity of the cast

    * The fantastic performances from everyone in the film, particularly Michael Keaton and Zendaya

    * The little reminders of Freaks and Geeks: I can imagine Bill Haverchuck growing up to be a befuddled, slightly subversive teacher, and I can definitely imagine Sam Weir growing up to write the screenplay for Spider-Man.

    * The complexity of the villain, which you’ve discussed at length here

    And especially:

    * The emphasis on Spider-Man’s sense of humor, which was toned down in earlier films

    If you want a list of things I hated about the movie, I could make that list, too. It would be pretty long.

  • Jurgan

    Nah, I was mainly wondering why Maryann was bothered by the Vulture-Peter Parker connection when I never heard her complain about the very similar coincidence in Raimi’s movie.

  • Jurgan

    It’s an origin story in the same way the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon was (whose vision statement was “the education of Peter Parker”). Spider-Man has been a hero fighting standard criminals for months, but this is his first time fighting a supervillain, and so it represents his entering the big leagues. He’s not used to dealing with alien technology and superpowers, save for that one fight in Civil War, so he messes up a lot. They skipped over showing how he gained his powers and motivation, since everyone knows that by now, but they showed how he became a hero. Specifically, they showed him go from being Stark’s errand boy to his own man with his own agency. I didn’t like him having a high tech suit that he got from someone else, but the fact that he had to prove himself without it was the payoff. The most heroic thing he did was running into the fire to save Toomes- given how most of the other MCU heroes have been warriors who killed their opponents and/or their opponents’ hordes of minions, it showed him as finding his own way.

    Also, who else thinks Liz suspects Peter is gay? He seems friendly but turns down both swimming and dancing with her, and she tells him “I hope you figure out whatever’s going on with you.”

  • Jurgan

    I agree with you about the humor. That was the one major problem I had with Raimi’s movies. In all of the first movie, Peter makes two jokes, and one of them is a homophobic jab at Bonesaw.

  • Bluejay

    who else thinks Liz suspects Peter is gay?

    Having MCU Peter be gay, and struggling to come out, would be an incredibly gutsy and awesome storytelling move. And it would kind of poetically fit with the fact that he’s the only MCU hero so far who’s trying to hide their true identity. Of course Peter’s hetero, so any suspicions of his gayness would just be played for laughs, but one can imagine what decisions a braver studio might make.

  • Danielm80

    Peter’s abrupt disappearances and long absences would make me think he had a drug problem, but there are all sorts of possible explanations for his behavior.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Yes, that’s what I meant by “starts in act two”. :)

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I suspect because in those films it’s a central conceit of the story, rather than the (poorly set up) twist that kicks off act three.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Now it’s my turn to feel old. I never thought I would have to explain that reference on this forum but apparently I was wrong.

    The joke is:

    Sideshow Bob is the most infamous villain of the Simpsons universe.

    He is voiced by actor Kelsey Grammar.

    The way Michael Keaton appears in that above photo, he looks a little like Kelsey Grammar. And like Grammar, he too is playing a villain.

  • The problem isn’t that two characters have an unexpected connection. It’s that in this case, it comes completely out of the blue. We need some hint that this is coming, even if it’s something obvious only in retrospect. There is no support for this surprise at all, and it feels like a cheat.

  • But we already know Keaton is the villain from the opening scenes of the film. What we don’t know until the end of the film is that he is Liz’s father. (I guess you haven’t seen the film yet.) There really is no Sideshow Bob joke to be made here, unless Bob turned out to be Lisa Simpson’s secret father or something.

  • Danielm80

    What MaryAnn said.

    SPOILERS, I guess.

    I thought you were saying that Sideshow Bob had a secret, multiracial child.

    I was watching the Simpsons back when they were on The Tracey Ullman Show, and Kelsey Grammer was still on Cheers, which means I am ancient.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Point taken.

  • Owen1120

    I finally saw it- enjoyed the film overall and agree on Aunt May’s wardrobe.

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