Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Peter Parker is a high school sophomore in Queens. He's also Spider-Man and has just returned from a trip to Germany, recruited by Tony Stark/Iron Man to help in a superhero conflict against Captain America and his Avengers faction, as seen in Captain America: Civil War. [Note I'll try to steer clear of spoilers in this review but I'll of course have to say something about the plot to do a review...]

This dichotomy, between the big and the little, is at the heart of Homecoming. Peter wants to be an Avenger. However, Tony Stark keeps him at arm's length. One gets the sense that Tony is perhaps rethinking the wisdom of having brought a kid into the super-powered big leagues.

While waiting in vain for "the call" Spider-Man is keeping his friendly neighborhood safe. He stops bicycle thieves and carjackers. But he soon discovers some ATM thieves packing some superscience hardware.

In parallel to Spider-Man's street level tale we have that of Adrian Toomes/the Vulture. In the opening scenes of the film we have a flashback of Toomes running a cleanup crew in aftermath of the Battle of New York in the first Avengers film. But his crew gets the boot after Stark's Damage Control subsidiary takes over the cleanup. Toomes however secretly keeps the superscience gadgets he's recovered and gets into the business of acquiring more. In this, the Vulture has a double-meaning - he has a flying suit, but he is also a vulture, scavenging alien technologies. Michael Keaton, no stranger to comic book movies, is superb as Toomes and the Vulture. He's not an evil world conqueror. He can be ruthless but he is also loyal to his men and his family. He is like Peter in a number of ways - he hides his double-life from his family, he feels he has been left behind by Tony Stark.

Peter really is a teenager. Yes, he is played by Tom Holland, in his early twenties, but Holland plays a believable 15-year old. He has a high voice. He is earnest. He is excited. He sometimes screws up but he wants to do what is right. Neither Homecoming nor Civil War rehash the origin story (bit by a radioactive spider, didn't stop a crook when he could, said crook kills Uncle Ben, great power, great responsibility). It's clearly part of his background - both in his conversation with Tony Stark from Civil War and in Homecoming when Peter never hesitates about doing what is right, even when stepping aside would be safer. And Peter gets overwhelmed - both in navigating his life at school and his life as a superhero. He gets terrified when he is nearly killed in a battle. He gets awkward when talking to Liz Allan, a girl two years ahead of him who he has a crush on.

Peter has a great supporting cast. His high school setting, a techie-oriented magnet school, is quite believable. Flash Thompson is still there, still a bully, but more the intellectual kind. I'd already mentioned Liz, who is captain of his school's academic decathlon team. His best friend is Ned Leeds, though Ned seems strongly inspired by Ganke Lee, best friend of the Miles Morales of the Ultimate Spider-Man universe. Early on Ned becomes Peter's secret keeper (hopefully I'm not giving anything away - this was straight out of the trailer) and he geeks out about Peter being Spider-Man as much, if not more so, than Peter. Zendaya plays another classmate, Michelle. who is incredibly snarky, brilliant, observant, and a delight to watch. The supporting cast is very diverse, though I have to admit I'm hoping someday to see the Miles Morales Spider-Man make his way to the big screen. This is to take away nothing from Tom Holland who totally owned the role - he could be cocky, brilliant, vulnerable, foolish, selfish, and caring - all within a one-minute window. As a parent of a 12-year old and a 15-year old, I can totally believe that.

His adult supporting cast fits in wonderfully as well. Marisa Tomei plays Aunt May - quite a bit younger than most Aunt May's - but she is a believable early-50's woman, which seems to be a realistic age to be Peter's Aunt. She takes a lot from the Ultimate version of Aunt May, a bit of an aging hippie. There's great chemistry between Peter and May - she's aware there's something going on in his life but she doesn't quite know what it is. She's fairly recently widowed but is moving on with her life (and catches the eye of many men, from the staff at a Thai restaurant to Tony Stark).

Robert Downey, Jr. has been playing Tony Stark for nearly a decade and was born to play the role. But here he has an unusual role - that of mentor. He acknowledges he might not be so good at it, what with him having his own distant father. He feels responsible for Peter and, as I mentioned, while it is never said outright, I sense he regrets taking Peter to Germany. Not out of any lack of respect for Peter, but because he remembers that Peter is still just a kid and learning.

Homecoming fully brought Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to Marvel and Sony coming to a new agreement on the rights to the character after Amazing Spider-Man 2 misfired. His placement in a larger universe was used well - the legacy of the invasion in The Avengers was able to drive many plot points without the need to create new MacGuffins and both Spider-Man and the Vulture feel left behind by Tony Stark. Yet the film is not buried under continuity - the greater universe serves to enhance a story told at a smaller and more intimate scale.

Family note - daughter Jasmine, aged 12, mainly a DC girl, enjoyed the movie a lot, though she still prefers Wonder Woman. Her and I both noticed that Zendaya's Michelle really captured Jasmine's personality...


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