A fresh take
Review by Michelle Sinclair
How many times can you sit through a reboot of the same superhero story and still be entertained, even moved? I had thought I was at my limit for Spider-Man movies, but after a little taste of Tom Holland’s joyous teenage web crawler in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, I knew I’d want to see what he could do in his own movie.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Holland—and the filmmakers around him–don’t disappoint. Peter Parker wants to stop big crimes and be a part of the Avengers so badly and yet Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man isn’t wrong when he puts Peter’s spider-suit in “training wheels” mode. Underneath all that earnest dedication, Peter is just a 15-year-old boy—albeit a smart one with the freakish abilities of a radioactive spider—but still in the thick of high school, and certainly not ready to shoulder the psychological toll some of this superhero stuff can deliver.
So did the world need a new Spider-Man movie? Absolutely not. Is this one better than the others anyway?
And of course, like any other 15-year-old boy, Peter ignores the experienced adult’s advice and goes out a-villain hunting anyway.
The filmmakers made a deliberate effort to avoid many of the typical Spider-Man origin story plot points, which makes for an incredibly fresh viewing experience. You certainly don’t need to know a thing about Spider-Man (though prior viewing of other Avengers-related movies will enhance your viewing experience) to enjoy Peter’s journey. Many of the hallmarks of the better Marvel movies are here: lots of humor, with and without references to prior movies, intelligent casting decisions, and well-developed characters. But Marvel did themselves one step better by subverting many classic character tropes. Kindly old widowed Aunt May, Peter’s guardian, is now youngish, cool, single Aunt May played by Marisa Tomei. Peter attends a science magnet school where all the cool, rich kids are on the academic quiz team–and he’s still considered a loser. There’s even a girl who trolls adults and students alike with funny little one-liners. Imagine that: a girl given the funny bits.
Best of all for the story and Peter’s own character growth, Michael Keaton’s villain is not just a two-dimensional megalomaniac alien but a flesh and blood human with the kinds of wishes, dreams, desires, and motives that anyone can understand. Keaton’s Toomes is an outstanding foil to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, with roots that go back to the first Avengers movie in 2012.
I continue to appreciate the way Marvel’s writers have taken the wholesale destruction of midtown Manhattan in the first Avengers film and mined many conflicts from that fallout. The wanton destruction of buildings and public spaces in so many summer blockbuster action movies has always bothered me—if I’m supposed to believe in this world, then those buildings would not be vacant. If a skyscraper falls to the ground, people die, and yet the main characters in almost all of those films celebrate their victory at the end with no real need to look at consequences. For all its faults, Marvel has steadfastly refused to let the consequences go, and the payoff both in realism and conflict has been substantial.
So did the world need a new Spider-Man movie? Absolutely not. Is this one better than the others anyway? I’m inclined to say yes. It just goes to show that when you take time to develop a character and make audiences care about him and his own personal struggles, they’ll be willing to go along for just about any ride—even if it’s a ride they’ve taken many times in the past. After all, this is one superhero who takes the world with a little joy. A little bounce in his step. And a bone-deep goodness that no amount of villainy can erase. That’s the kind of story we can never exhaust.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments. It has some of the typical superhero movie violence, but the action is not relentless, nor does it overpower the actual story part of the movie.