Marvel Studios brought home a big prize back in 2015 when they announced they had partnered with Sony Pictures to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. The Internet broke, and hope was renewed that Marvel could one day bring back other franchises sold off to other studios during a time of financial crisis.
As celebration turned into speculation, Marvel explained they weren’t going to explore Spider-Man’s origin story and that his introduction would come in Captain America: Civil War. The cameo was stellar, and the hype for Homecoming (the title, not so much) went through the roof.
The single best decision for the movie was the exclusion of an origin story — which would have made it the third retelling in 15 years. Spider-Man: Homecoming arrives ready to go, and he’s a bit more evolved than any previous version’s first single-movie appearance.
First, he’s got Iron Man upgrades — a nigh-indestructible suit and high-tech webshooters. Second, his resume’s stacked. Toby Maguire ended his first movie after taking on the Green Goblin. When the opening credits roll on Tom Holland’s Homecoming, he’s already fought one-half of the Avengers.
Which is sort of how Homecoming starts — a quick recap of the events in home-movie form shows Peter Parker getting his new suit and waiting for Tony Stark’s “Underoos!” signal at the airport where the Avengers implode. Parker, at this point, is a 15-year-old whose exuberance seems a little misplaced given he’s about to throw down against half of the world’s greatest heroes.
Thankfully, nothing too crazy happens to Parker, and Stark brings him home. Parker’s given a fine line of responsibility by his new mentor — “Don’t do anything I would do, and definitely don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. There’s a little gray area in there, and that’s where you operate.” Parker gets to keep his suit, and his tenure as the neighbor-hood friendly Spider-Man officially begins, though he frequently laments that he’d rather hang out with the Avengers.
While Homecoming doesn’t go through the motions of another origin story, it’s still very much a walkthrough of Spider-Man’s first steps as a superhero sponsored by Stark. When best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) hacks into the suit and removes the babysteps protocol, Spider-Man gets all of the cheat codes starting with an AI, similar to Iron Man’s J.A.R.V.I.S. A host of settings that allow him to change his voice, shoot a few hundred different combinations of webbing, and control a flying drone round out the mix, and Spider-Man uses them to full effect in taking on an underground arms dealer who’s made a business of selling overpowered Chitauri weapons.
It’s a Spider-Man built for the technology age, and it’s a solid film — though it has some glaring drawbacks.
First, the movie really made me feel my age — as a 37-year-old, I am not exactly the movie’s demographic. Set in high school with all that entails, Parker has to navigate between his duties as an academic, his crush on the senior Liz (Laura Harrier), and dodging bullies like Flash (Tony Revolori).
And while we’re working under the assumption that Uncle Ben ultimately left Peter with the words, “With great power comes great responsibility,” the movie maintains a fine balance in that gray area that unfortunately doesn’t give us much emotion to draw from — no real big highs and no sorrowful lows. Though Tomei imbues Aunt May with a little anxiety that gives us a consequence of what happened on that fateful night, we never really see Peter dealing with the death of his uncle or the aftermath of it. It’s as if this movie takes place just after Parker’s been absolved of all guilt and regret regarding Ben’s death. While we get to see him stretch his wings, we never feel that closeness because we weren’t in those emotional trenches with him. We get all the joy but none of the pain, which is perhaps why every Batman ever (it seems like it, anyway) mentions the Wayne deaths. It is the why, and Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t really include that.
His foil, Michael Keaton’s villainous turn as a bomber-jacket wearing jetpack pilot Adrian Toomes, never gets an official name in the movie — though he’s basically the MCU’s Vulture. A former 99-percenter, Toomes turns his back on the law, resorting to illegal arms trade with harvested Chitauri and alien technology in order to keep his company and its employees working. The conflict between Spider-Man and Toomes ends with a tremendous impact on Parker’s personal life, but before we can really get into deep water, we’re brought back to the shallow end.
Parker’s motivation for being a superhero is a fantasy. Back when I was a kid, we all played that game — what superpowers would you want and why? Parker gets superhuman strength and agility along with Stark technology, and he runs with it like any teenager would. There is joy in seeing this as a Spider-Man fan, but it isn’t until the second half of the movie that he becomes a more familiar version of the webslinger that we know and love — flawed, conflicted, and filled with true purpose.
I could write a few paragraphs on it, but what better to describe the essence of Spider-Man than his television theme song which goes something like this:
“Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Wealth and fame, he’s ignored. Action is his reward.”