Review: Spider-man: Homecoming

I’m not going to get into all the details, but decades ago, Marvel Comics licensed some of its characters to Sony Pictures.  Characters like the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man were effectively “sold off” to Sony, who could maintain their licensing agreement by continuing to release films on those properties.  Since 2000, Sony has done very well with the X-Men franchise (some better than others…), has done very poorly with the Fantastic Four franchise, and has been a bit more spotty with Spider-Man.  The first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies are among my favorite comic book movies, if not movies, in general.  Spider-Man 3 (2007) was overly convoluted and had too many villains, though Raimi himself blames that on studio intervention.  After those three movies, Spider-Man was rebooted in The Amazing Spiderman (2012) for two movies, and neither of those exactly lit the world on fire.

Then, Marvel Studios was sold to Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.  Since that time, all kinds of movies and characters have been introduced and Disney and Marvel have made metric tons of cash.

But Spider-Man?  Couldn’t appear.  He was disallowed from being in any of these movies, because they were Disney properties, not Sony properties.

After one failed reboot of Spider-Man and other failing comic-based movies, Sony basically lent Spider-Man back to Marvel for use in the MCU.  It’s a limited-time deal, but while he’s over there, he’s appeared in Captain America: Civil War and will be appearing in the next few Avengers movies.

I say all this to set up the fact that this movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, has been an ordeal and the title “Homecoming” is actually meaningful on a few levels.  Getting Spider-Man into the MCU, a character that is synonymous with Marvel Comics, a character that took the ball that X-Men ran with and effectively put America on its course toward multiple-super-hero-movies-per-year, is finally back where it belongs.

So, is it good?

Absolutely, though with a few caveats.  The main one is that this movie is very different from the other MCU movies we’ve seen so far.  Director Jon Watts (who is best known for an unknown Kevin Bacon movie in 2015…) wanted his young actors to watch old John Hughes movies before filming so he could set up Breakfast Club archetypes from the beginning.  This is a high school movie much more than a “super hero” movie.  This is also a distinct change of pace from the earlier Spider-Man movies, as they may have started in high school, but within literal minutes, Peter Parker is thrust into college and/or adulthood, so you don’t really get to see his character dealing with typical high school angst, which was actually a pretty important part of the comic early on when it was introduced.

So yeah, it’s a coming of age film much like something John Hughes would have made back in the 80s.  The difference is, this one has super powers.  And thankfully, they didn’t go through Spider-Man’s origin story yet again, ’cause we’ve seen it twice in film in the past 17 years.

Tom Holland was selected as Peter Parker for Captain America: Civil War and he still exudes perfect casting.  The audience can easily tell that he wants to be there.  That he’s having fun with the lines, with the costumes, with the other actors, and so on.  He doesn’t have to be particularly athletic, as the Spider-Man scenes are almost entirely in CG, but he looks good in the suit and he sounds like a shy kid who’s got a lot on his plate and doesn’t know how to handle everything.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has taken him under his wing, much like in Civil War, but this time, he’s a bit more of a “distant father figure.”  He acknowledges that he doesn’t have parental experience, and it shows, but Parker still seeks his approval.  Aunt May is Peter’s sole support at home, but Marisa Tomei takes the role in a more, let’s say, “modern interpretation” of that particular character (in the comics and previous movies, Aunt May was always substantially older than Peter…here, she’s older, but more trying to be “the cool aunt”).  The character of Ned (Jacob Batalon) is mostly new for the franchise (though he’s been kinda pieced together from other comic characters that have appeared over the years), and he serves as a comic side-kick for Spider-Man.  He’s certainly more fun to have around than Harry Osborn

Lastly, we have Michael Keaton, playing Adrian “The Vulture” Toomes. I was a bit skeptical of Keaton playing a MCU villain, mostly because I know him more from his comedy and from playing Batman, but as he was underestimated back in 1989 for his superhero role, I underestimated him for his supervillain role.  He did a great job making the audience at least feel sympathetic for his views, though obviously not his methods.  He also provided some fatherly advice to Peter on occasion, so he kinda showed Peter the other side of Tony Stark’s coin, to a degree.  Still, Keaton was a delight and surpassed many of the other villains we’ve seen in these movies.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I’m not sure I like it more than Spider-Man 2 yet, but that movie came out at the right age for me and also built upon a foundation built in its previous movie. This one’s just very different.  I look forward to seeing it again so I can tease out the other elements I may have missed.  Overall, it’s a successful movie on many fronts and leaves me wanting more.

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