Welcome Home(coming) Spider-Man

THE FOLLOWING IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW:

 is a triumph and welcome home for the Wall Crawler back into the safe (albeit gigantic) hands of  and the . This film was done with flair, with fun and with the weight that encapsulates Spider-Man. This film has done the honor and the care that makes the character so wonderful.  was first published in August of 1962 and 55 years later so much changed in our world. World events, technology, activism and many factors have shaped how teenagers interact with the world. And yet, this Spider-Man continues to be the same relatable character we have seen for over 5 decades. The gawky, awkward, sympathetic and heroic teenager has finally been honored in a way that eclipses his predecessors.

One of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s greatest strengths is that it skips the origin story. We don’t spend the first 30 minutes exploring who this character is and setting up for future villains. Instead, we jump right in starting from the first  film that sets up the villain, Adrian Toomes (). This takes maybe eight minutes of screen time. Then we get to watch Peter Parker filming his experience in Captain America: Civil War on his cell phone, which should relate to today’s youth in a spunky, fun way. After those events,  (Robert Downy Jr.) gives Parker the suit that he made for him and puts him in a type of hero apprenticeship program.

 (Tom Holland) is already Spider-Man; Marvel assumes that audiences have an idea how he got his powers and his backstory with . The first 15 minutes is pure introduction and we get right into knowing who this character is. Far too often we see how heroes gain their powers and in sequels we see them conquer new challenges. Very rarely have we ever seen an entire film dedicate to a person becoming a hero. That’s one of the gems in this film; we see probably the truest origin story. No, it’s not about how he gains all the powers of a spider but rather how be translates that into being a hero. When Spider-Man takes on a bunch of two bit crooks, he struggles to really put them down; he doesn’t have the experience to take out 4 adults very easily. He messes up in just about every action scene. Either something is not done smoothly, is done clumsily or Peter stops paying attention. In fact, the only scene where something goes according to plan would be the Washington Monument scene. Every fight against  ends in something terrible happening whether it’s a plane careening in the sky to getting locked in a weapons storage safe, Spider-Man just can’t seem to fight well. And that makes sense. He’s a 15 year old kid who, like most teenagers, feels that he is much more mature and experienced than he actually is.

But what I really love about this film is how entertaining the Peter Parker (and not Spider-Man) scenes were. Tom Holland is now the definitive Peter Parker. When you look at the all-around performance we are privileged to seeing a kid who actually looks like a teenager play a teenager. Holland was 19 when he was cast and is now 21. His youthful look blends him into the high school setting seamlessly. But it’s more than just the look. Tom Holland has provided us the greatest incarnation of the character to date. He is an awkward socially inept teen just trying to get through high school. He’s on the Academic Decathlon team but needs to choose between his extracurricular activities and duties as Spider-Man. Seeing Peter Parker watch the clock, his charming bumbling self talking to his crush in addition to how he and his friend, Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), try to be cool all feels like a John Hughes film. Michelle (Zendaya), is a rebellious teen without a care in the world yet she always pops up to bring Peter and Ned back to Earth with her laugh out loud one liners. But Holland is not only the star but knocks all the emotions out of the park. He is subtle with his looks, his laughter and his charm. I wanted to see him on screen as Peter just as much as I wanted to see him swinging around New York City. Holland also carries the weight of the world on his wisecracking shoulders. The subtly of that is felt throughout; there is a definite weight that he carries, both known and unknown to the audience, and we feel that. Holland’s relationship with Ned is probably the standout in this film; and these guys are completely relatable and you activity root for them because they are just good people. Anytime the Lego Death Star made an appearance or whenever they were working on Spider-Man stuff in class were some of the best in the film.

Then there’s Michael Keaton portraying Adrian Tooms, also known as the Vulture. Vulture was actually the second villain introduced in Spider-Man lore. Keaton, famous for starring in Birdman (2014) and Batman (1989), has experience playing a hero with Academy Award acting chops to boot. He is the most complicated Marvel villain in years and most of that has to do with his performance. He plays a blue collar middle class worker whose salvaging company is screwed over by the richer Tony Stark. He is forced into a life of crime to keep up with his middle class lifestyle for him and his family. He also goes from being a goofy, joking dad to a scary, homicidal villain. The real switch comes from his monologue to Peter Parker which is impressive and scary at the same time. Keaton’s acting chops really came to play and result in an empathetic, relatable and scary villain.

Spider-Man: Homecoming brings us back to what we like about Spider-Man. He isn’t dealing with a world ending crisis, he’s not dealing with a magical or cosmic being. He’s dealing with an arms dealer. This arms dealer also is pretty small, isolating himself to New York City. That’s what Spider-Man deals with; he’s a hero in his own neighborhood and the audience needs to feel that. Seeing Spider-Man help old women and a bike burglar reminds the audience that Spider-Man deals with small issues as well as bigger ones.

Not only does Homecoming bring a lightness and love for the character, it also treats the audience like knowledgeable people. We leave the tropes of Spider-Man behind. Over the course of 5 films in 16 years there are certain things we always see in Spider-Man films. Uncle Ben is so prominent, as he rightfully should, in the films. It was his death that spurned on Peter Parker to becoming the hero. However, Uncle Ben is never mentioned by name in this film. There isn’t even a character named Ben in this film. This movie avoids it like the plague, we get only one brief, fleeting mention of Uncle Ben in this movie and it is better for it. The movie feels like it does not need him and it also did not need to spend an unnecessary amount of time dedicated to a love story. Liz and Peter were not head over heels in love nor was their romance the crux of the film. It was not used by the villain as a way to get to Spider-Man, the damsel was not in distress. This film avoided these tropes like I avoid clothes shopping. By avoiding these tropes, Homecoming feels like a fresh introduction to the character.

Yet, this story is not perfect. There are some real problems with this film. There are two moments in this film that could have tipped it over the top. There was all this wonderful buildup to the Vulture and his motivations. Yet, when we get to the climax where Vulture and Spider-Man have their final confrontation, the film whiffed on making a major choice and illustrating the complicated situation that Adrian Toomes is put in. Toomes is doing what he’s doing because the system of the rich becoming richer hurt his small business. He is doing this to provide for his family and the small price for that is for Spider-Man to ignore it and let him do what he’s doing. This could have led to Spider-Man referring back to his past, that the last time he “let someone go” innocent people got hurt, crushing other lives, so he cannot allow Toomes to continue his illegal operations. This is one example of how to really illustrate the complications of a man where the system hurt him and now he must work outside the system to live. This allows us to see our hero make a choice, a moral choice, where he must rise above ourselves to do the right thing. That’s what makes a very compelling character. Yet this film did not make this a moment and made it instead fleeting.

The other moment that could have pushed this film to a new level was a moment of truth for Spider-Man. They could have harkened back and make a real emotional connection for the character but instead just echoed a phrase we heard earlier in the film with a person who does not have the same emotional weight as others.

Those moments could have made a really, really fun film into a truly great film. Yet, it is not fair to criticize a well done film for things that are not in it (especially when it’s only two things). If that’s the worst that this film has to offer makes it the best Spider-Man film to date, with the best Peter Parker and the best Spider-Man. This film brings so much fun and charm that it is one of the best Marvel films to date. It is a wonderful homecoming for Spider-Man into the MCU and there are plenty of better adventures to come.

Rating: Worth TWICE the price in theaters!

What did you think of Spider-Man: Homecoming? What was your favorite part? What was your favorite performance? Comment below!

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