The spectacular Spider-millennial.
In the day and age of the modern superhero, Spider-Man has always been for fans of many ages. The Tobey Maguire movies were for the adults, while the Andrew Garfield movies were for teenagers. The third actor to reboot the franchise for the second time in less than 10 years, Tom Holland now swings into theaters with Spider-Man: Homecoming, a version that’s sillier, more lighthearted, and definitely aimed at the kiddos. You’re welcome to read that as either a compliment or a criticism.
After tussling with Captain America and crew in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is sent back to Queens by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who says he’ll call him when he’s ready for his next mission. Two months later, Parker is still sifting through boring high school life as he continues to go to class, get picked on by bullies, blush around cute girls, and wait eagerly for the school day to end. When the bell finally does ring and he’s out of school, he rushes towards the closest street alley he can find, suits up in his nifty new suit designed by Stark, and swings into action as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
The first thing I want to point out here is that I like Tom Holland a lot. Perhaps more than any actor before him, Holland embodies the characteristics of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man to a “T.” Peter’s social awkwardness and nerdiness, his integrity and good intentions, his black-and-white sense of morality and how he wants to make the world a safer place. When he’s out of the suit, Holland is required to portray the adolescent teenager, whose biggest challenges are passing your classes and talking to your high school crush. Holland is down-to-earth and believable in the role and very much feels like the most grounded Peter Parker to date. In the company of Maguire and Garfield, that is no small feat to accomplish.
Of course, Holland is also expected to play Spider-Man as well, and he exercises surprising finesse when he puts on the mask. There was one scene in the movie where a bystander spots Spidey on a rooftop, and he asks him to do a backflip, to which Spidey complies. Knowing that his acrobatics is what helped Holland land the role in the first place, I knew that it was very possible that he performed the stunt on his own, and he didn’t need wire support to do it. Embodying that kind of physicality for the role is what makes him fitting for Spider-Man, and seeing him physically take on the same challenges as the web-slinger puts the audience in Holland’s shoes, making the action feel more immediate and immersive.
Holland was great as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, and he’s just as great as him here. There’s one problem though: Holland is only half of the equation. The other part comes with the director in how he thinks the character should be portrayed. This is where things start getting sticky, because I don’t think director Jon Watts knew exactly how to handle Spider-Man’s second reboot and make him different from previous counterparts. It’s understandable, I suppose. The Maguire and Garfield movies both had their serious and lighthearted moments, and to make Holland stand apart from them might have been challenging without seeming like he was copying other filmmaker’s ideas.
Still, you have to stay true to the character, and there are some changes to Spider-Man here that just plain doesn’t make sense. In one chase scene, Spider-Man is after a getaway van with a pair of weapons dealers in it, and the action feels so clumsy that it comes off as slapstick. Spidey is being dragged along the floor, banging against garbage cans and mailboxes, web-slinging over buildings, crash-landing into pools, and at one point even playing fetch with a dog. The scene felt so removed from the acrobatic action that I’m used to that for a second I felt like I was watching a Looney Tunes cartoon rather than a Spider-Man movie.
Also, I hate that Iron Man is in this movie. Hate, hate, hate it. He’s not in the movie much, unlike the trailers will have you believe, but in the scenes that he is in he immediately takes control and switches focus away from Holland’s Spider-Man. In every moment that Spider-Man is in trouble, Iron Man swoops in to save the day. He falls into a lake, Iron Man saves him. A ship is splitting apart, Iron Man saves him. Imagine if another hero just swept in when Maguire was stopping the train in Spider-Man 2, or when Garfield dived to save falling bystanders off of a bridge in Amazing Spider-Man. Heroes have to answer for their choices and consequences in their stories, and Peter isn’t allowed to experience either in Homecoming. Tony didn’t have a “get out of jail free card” when he was stuck in a terrorist hellhole in Iron Man. Spidey doesn’t deserve a crutch just because he’s 15 years old.
Everything else from the movie is functional and little else. The writing is uninspired and demonstrates why having a large writing team doesn’t always equal better content (Homecoming had six writers, including Watts). The score by Michael Giacchino is fun and upbeat, but lacks the dramatic overtones that is prevalent in his previous compositions. And the visual effects are… inconsistent. Some parts look amazing, like when Spidey and the super villain Vulture (Michael Keaton) are fighting on top of the Staten Island Ferry. Other times they can’t close a door without looking like it’s from a video game. I remind you that Marvel just made one billion dollars from Captain America: Civil War last year, and this is their follow-up.
In the end, Spider-Man: Homecoming is fun but forgettable. It isn’t unique when it comes to its MCU peers, which is a shame because Spider-Man has many unique elements regarding his story. His immature, reckless use of his powers, the ironic tragedy surrounding his choices, his loyalty to the loved ones he cares about, the idea that even small people can become big heroes. All of that is shoved to the side in the place of cartoonish action where our young hero zips, zooms, and trips over himself when he doesn’t have a responsible adult to chaperone him. This was supposed to be a triumphant return to form for the character: his homecoming. Ha. More like the player’s bench.