Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)


I am often fearing that each time I review a movie from the Marvel Universe series that they are getting almost as repetitive as the movies themselves.  In truth, there are only so many ways to rephrase my opinion that, while the movie is okay, I feel like I'm watching the same thing over and over again. 

It is for that reason I was really looking forward to seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming.  The first two Sam Raimi directed movies were pretty good, even if the third was a silly mess that, instead of getting a chance for redemption, ended prematurely, with Andrew Garfield replacing Tobey McGuire in the role and beginning, again, with the origin story.  The Amazing Spiderman movies represented some of the worst handling of a superhero franchise, and a third movie was ultimately scrapped.

Thus it was nice when Spidey showed up in Captain America: Civil War, already bitten by a radioactive spider and whatever drama with Uncle Ben in the past.  No origin, just an overambitious, and frequently annoying, 14-year-old boy who wants to be a crime fighter.  Now that he was officially part of the Avengers universe (no mean feat, as the Spiderman franchise is owned by Sony rather than Disney), it was only a matter of time before he got his own movie.  Happily, rather than going back and showing how he got to where he was, Spider-Man: Homecoming was more than happy to just continue from where we left off.

Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew are your average blue collar workers in New York.  Of course, in this particular universe, blue collar work also means cleaning up after battles between the Avengers and invading alien species.  Tasked with salvaging the leftovers, he is suddenly taken off the job when associates of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), working with the U.S. government, show up to take over the operation.  Upset about being put out of work, Toomes keeps a lid on the fact that he already has a truckload of the stuff.  Eight years later he and his associates have made a small profit retro-engineering the alien technology, using it for heists and selling the weapons to willing buyers.  Toomes even has his own flying suit - a vulture-like get-up designed by his tech guy Phineas Mason (Michael Chernus). 

Meanwhile, hot off helping Stark fight Captain America, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has involuntarily returned to home life.  Still, he finds time between building Lego sets with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and mooning over his debate team captain Liz (Laura Harrier) to do some minor crime fighting - itself difficult in modern New York, where one of the worst things he encounters in bicycle theft.  Still, he keeps Stark's right-hand man Happy (Jon Favreau) both informed and annoyed with his proceedings.  His luck changes one night when he happens upon two of Toomes's men, Jackson Brice (Logan Marshall-Green) and Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine) using their tech to break into a bank's ATMs.  He interferes, almost getting a local shopowner killed in the process, and receives and order from Stark to let the matter go.

In fact, every opportunity he takes to be a superhero results in him making a mess of things, right down to crawling into his bedroom (on the ceiling) in front of Ned, who is both curious and wanting to shout the fact that Peter is Spider-Man to everyone in earshot.  He especially tries to hide it from his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who is deathly afraid of him getting caught in the middle of all battles between good and evil that happen on a regular basis.  He is successful in keeping Ned from blowing his cover, but his frequent habit of disappearing starts getting the attention of his teachers and fellow students.

Still, Parker can't let go what he is stumbled into, and when he encounters Jackson and Herman trying to unload merchandise on local gang leader Aaron Davis (Donald Glover) he pursues them, only to be almost killed when Toomes shows up in his vulture suit, resulting in Stark using one of his drones to rescue him.  Again told to back off, Parker doubles down, removing the tracker from his suit with Ned's help as well as getting past the software that has been blocking his Stark-designed suit from living up to its full potential.  Awkward with it at first, he is able to use its capabilities to rescue his friends when a piece of alien tech being carried by Ned results in the elevator at the Washington Monument going haywire.  Emboldened, he decides to track Toomes's crew to find out what they are up to next, which appears to be an arms deal aboard a Staten Island Ferry.  He shows up to save the day, almost resulting in the death of everyone on the ferry, with Stark once again having to bail him out.  Frustrated with Parker's actions, he takes the suit from him and breaks off their association.

Parker, stripped of his alter-ego but still stuck with his natural enhanced powers, attempts to go back to being a normal student and mending fences with his friends and family.  His attempts to live a normal life come to a screeching halt when he finds that Toomes may be much more closely associated with him than he thought, leaving him caught between taking the his offer to let things go if Parker lays off or stopping a major heist of Stark technology that Toomes has planned.

Director Jon Watts intended Spider-Man: Homecoming to resemble a John Hughes movie rather than just copying the same Marvel formula, and it is not a stretch to say that he has managed to make things feel fresh again.  Tom Holland may not be the 15 years of Peter Parker, but at least he was under 20 when making this movie instead of pushing 30 like most actors tasked to play high school kids.  His awkwardness and uncertainty are much more realistic than square-jawed determination.  While we are thankfully spared the whole origin story, we get a much more important one: the beginning of maturity and the realization that bad decisions have major consequences.  Yes, there is a quote from the other Spider-Man films that sums it up, and thankfully it isn't uttered here.  Still, Peter Parker finds himself learning it throughout, which is much more effective than slipping the point into some ham-fisted dialogue.  Holland is good at walking the line between the man that Parker will become and the boy he still is.

While Holland has the starring role, Michael Keaton gets to be the villain.  Not a god, not a megalomaniac trying to destroy the world and definitely not some extraterrestrial evil force, he is merely a man not making the best of life choices, but making profitable ones both for his immediate family and his associates.  The one time he actually kills someone,is not out of some fit of evil but simply because even he is confused a bit by what he is selling and grabs the wrong gun.  Every other situation where someone almost dies is, unfortunately, due to Parker's misguided attempts at trying to stop Toomes, who out of desperation is forced more and more into doing things beyond his own level of comfort to make up for the losses that Parker has caused him.

In all honesty, Spider-Man frequently causes more chaos than the Vulture ever does.  Although Tony Stark is involved as Parker's mentor, the other wise thing Watts does in this movie is to avoid shoehorning in other Avengers just to remind us they are there.  I think he learned a bit from Deadpool that sometimes keeping the cameos to a minimum, or not at all, is a good thing, even if in Deadpool it was more of a budgetary decision.  Homecoming benefits from one relatable villain, a decent henchman in Bokeem Woodbine and a focus on Parker growing up, which also necessarily concentrates as much on his non-superhero life as it does on his attempts to become an Avenger.

Finally, something that works in this movie that barely works sporadically in the other ones is the humor.  Since this was supposed to be somewhat of a tribute to John Hughes's body of work, humor was necessary, and it works as part of the movie itself rather than feeling like something that got added by the committee of writers at the very last minute. 

Yes, I do see some flaws at times, usually in the effects department, but at least this isn't full of slow-motion battles and horrible filters.  Instead, it's my usual complaint about the rubbery quality of CGI.  There are many things that computers still can't get to look real, which is why stuntmen haven't completely been put out of work yet.  Also, Ned can be a bit annoying, but at least he's not useless. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Time: 133 minutes
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei

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