by Patrick Bromley
The sixth Spider-Man movie in 15 years finally finds your friendly neighborhood wallcrawler back home where he belongs, fighting crime alongside Iron Man and namechecking Thor, Hulk and Captain America as part of the full Marvel universe. Well, not right alongside them, actually. Whereas we were first introduced to this new Spidey (now played by Tom Holland, completely winning and making the role his own) during the great airport fight in Captain America: Civil War, Homecoming brings him back to Queens, where he scoops up purse snatchers and helps old ladies with directions while longing to live in the Avengers tower visible across the East River. This is the Spider-Man I grew up loving: the one who's on the ground, not so much saving the world as helping the little guy. Homecoming is one of the smallest-stakes Marvel movies to date, and that's one of the things I love about it.
Truth be told, there's quite a lot about it that I love. See, Spider-Man is my favorite superhero from as far back as I can remember. I grew up reading every Spidey book I could find, desperately trying to watch his live-action exploits, whether it was in the Nicholas Hammond TV movies or as short sketches during The Electric Company. When the original Spider-Man was coming out back in 2002, I put myself through the uncanny valley nightmare that is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within just to catch a short teaser. My wife was counting down the months until the film was released with little Spider-Man-themed gifts, culminating in an engraved Spidey watch I still have to this day. We left work early to see the movie, then went back and saw it again that night. Spider-Man has always been a big deal for me. Homecoming rewards my devotion to the character. I'm not sure I can ask for more than that.
Yes, this is the Spider-Man movie that skips over his origin story, thank goodness. There's a line of dialogue that acknowledges "everything Aunt May has been though" and another brief conversation about what it feels like to be bit by a radioactive spider ("The spider's dead, Ned," Peter explains), but that's it. Otherwise, Homecoming drops us right into the day-to-day of being both Spider-Man and Peter Parker: doing homework, competing on the school's academic decathlon team, getting a date to the dance. If I have to take any issue with Homecoming's screenplay (credited to no less than six writers, usually the kiss of death on a movie this big), it's that in bypassing Peter Parker's life before being Spider-Man, it misses out on getting to know him better as a regular teenager. For as much as director Jon Watts is using the John Hughes teen comedies of the '80s as his template, I found myself wishing for a bit more teen movie. A lot of screen time is devoted to Peter being all "I gotta follow that guy" or "I'm gonna go get that guy!" and it sometimes sells the larger story short. By the end when the Vulture's motives are revealed, however, Peter's two lives dovetail beautifully in the span of a single car ride. It's a great scene.
Ant-Man or the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in tone than anything else Marvel has done. There is a willingness to go for comedy while never pushing too hard for the jokes; the humor comes from the characters and the situations, not from everyone stopping to crack one-liners and speaking in the same voice. The little details are delightful, like the way everyone reacts to Aunt May or how Peter's friend Michelle (teen star Zendaya) is basically playing Ally Sheedy from The Breakfast Club down to her reasoning for sitting in detention. The supporting cast is amazing, too, with one actor after another that we're happy to see show up: Donald Glover, Martin Starr, Logan Marshall Green, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael Chernus, Tony Revolori. It's a comedy cast, but no one is used explicitly as the comic relief because everyone gets to be funny. They're just not only funny.
Much of this movie's raison d'être is to bring Spidey into the larger Marvel cinematic universe, but as excited as I am to see that happen (as a fan of the MCU and an even bigger fan of Spider-Man), I'll admit that I had my concerns that this would be another Iron Man 2 situation, where the story being told keeps getting interrupted so Jon Favreau or Robert Downey Jr. could show up to remind us that, hey, this a Marvel movie. And there absolutely is some of that. Most of the MCU fabric is woven into the film in a really fun way, though, whether it's Captain America's PE class cameos or a history teacher talking about the Sekovia Accords or an Ultron head being discovered and tossed away or even the first appearance of Damage Control, the fictional superhero cleanup crew that was introduced in a late-'80s limited series (which I bought as soon as it came out but didn't necessarily love). This is a movie that exists inside the Marvel Universe without having to kill itself trying to establish the Marvel Universe, which is a nice place to finally be. It's there on the fringes, just like Spidey himself.
Doctor Strange credit for sidestepping). I love how Spidey and the Vulture work as mirrors of one another and I love Keaton's performance, but the big fight at the end is where Watts really lets the movie get away from him. There's an action set piece on the Washington Monument that's cool and another on the Staten Island ferry that's cool, so I know Watts can handle action in a way that's at least serviceable. The final fight, though, just doesn't work. This is a phenomenon that dates back further than even the first Iron Man almost 10 years ago; even the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies dealt with a similar issue. The good news is that Spider-Man: Homecoming quickly recovers with a series of delightful surprises, an amazing punchline and probably my favorite post-credits scene ever. Watts and company have their eye on the ball until the very last frame.
So yes, I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming. It's lacking a bit of an emotional component present in some past Spider-Man movies, but makes up for it with sheer fun and entertainment value -- this is a movie that had me smiling the whole way through. It's a corner of the Marvel universe in which I'm happy to live, surrounded by characters I love and real-world conflicts (well, real-world enough) that don't involve a blue light shooting into the sky. It also presents one aspect of the web slinger to which I've always been drawn, which is that it's hard to be Spider-Man. This Spidey gets banged up, he makes mistakes, he falls down, he cries. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, there is a visual tribute to one of the most iconic Spider-Man images so specific and beautifully constructed that I knew just how important it is that Spidey is now home and that everyone involved with Homecoming genuinely knows and loves Spider-Man. I love Spider-Man, too.
Welcome home, Spidey. Come back soon.