Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

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After over two weeks of pretty much just watching and reviewing indie films and obscure gems (and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), it was time to go bigger and more recent. I have been anticipating Spider-Man: Homecoming since it was announced a while back, and I have been eagerly awaiting it – I think Marvel has created something truly special with their Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they are certainly very deserving of the gargantuan popularity their franchise has received. There were so many reasons to desperately want to see Spider-Man: Homecoming, and as much as I don’t want to say it, this was a bit on the disappointing side. It did exceed my expectations, and it did give me what I wanted – but in a way that wasn’t quite satisfactory enough. Needless to say, it was still a good film in several ways – but just a bit too lacking, considering the tremendous work Marvel has done with previous character introductions such as Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Perhaps we need to have a bit of pity on Spider-Man: Homecoming, as it had a huge task at hand – it needed to be a new introduction to a character that we have seen introduced in two previous franchises that only began a mere fifteen years ago. The character of Spider-Man is one that is unfortunately difficult to get right, and even if Tobey Maguire did do a good job (terrible dancing aside), and Andrew Garfield was serviceable, I understand the difficulties with rebooting the character for the second time. Considering Spider-Man is Marvel’s most famous creation, and a character many people do care a great deal about, it was important to get it right. I won’t say that the strengths of Spider-Man: Homecoming lie in the fact that is is the best imaging of the character yet (even though it probably was), but rather it succeeded on the fact that, above all else, it was different. The best thing Marvel could do to make Spider-Man: Homecoming unique was making it as different as possible from the previous two franchise launchings.

How is Spider-Man: Homecoming different? First of all, it doesn’t serve to be an origin story. In all of popular culture, there are very few origin stories more well-known that Peter Parker’s transition into Spider-Man. The heavy lifting of introducing the character was done in Captain America: Civil War, which allowed Spider-Man: Homecoming to dive right into the character, without the need to explain who he actually is. I probably would’ve written this film off completely if it had dedicated its first act to showing the events that led to the creation of Spider-Man, but rather we received an opening act that neatly summarized the previous events, explained the character and let the plot be set off into motion without any unnecessary narrative. Marvel is good at trimming off the rough edges and useless parts of their films to create more lean and compact narratives. An origin story can sometimes be entertaining and informative, but when it is for a character such as Spider-Man, it is beyond unnecessary – that is one of the biggest strengths of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and perhaps why it is amongst the strong entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With any film that is a reboot of a beloved character, you need to strike the right balance with who you cast in the lead role. The titular role of Spider-Man would always be tricky – I did like Tobey Maguire, despite his constant histrionics. I personally was not a fan of Andrew Garfield’s more aching and “emotionally-complex” version of the character. Needless to say, Tom Holland is the perfect Spider-Man. Not only is he more age-appropriate than the others were, but he also seems to be a better fit for the role – Peter Parker is a strange and complicated character, and the decision to focus on him as a high-schooler was the best thing they could’ve done for the character. He is far more relatable than he was previously, and he is finally a superhero that children could aspire to be – flawed, irrational and normal (just as long as children managed to get bitten by a radioactive spider, which I think it somewhat vital). Holland is great – he finds every nuance of the character that makes him endearing and unique to other interpretations.

I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming on opening day. I have never once seen any superhero film on opening day. There is one and only reason that I made a concerted effort to ensure that I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming at the first possible opportunity, and believe me that it is as petty a reason as anything you can imagine. The reason I was so excited for Spider-Man: Homecoming was because of Michael Keaton. I have not made it a secret that I am an unabashed, slightly obnoxious fan of Michael Keaton. I will watch this man do absolutely anything, and I will stand by that until the end of time (unless he does a Transformers movie, but then again, I will still probably watch that). It has been glorious to see his triumphant ascension from the ashes of being a forgotten icon, stuck in meaningless supporting roles in subpar films, rising to a career renaissance that rivals any other great comeback. I have long wondered where his enormous success after Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) would lead – and perhaps the fact that he starred in two consecutive Best Picture winning films, and has become a highly sought-after actor isn’t enough – he needed to prove his true legend status by gaining the role of the villain in a Marvel tentpole film. Needless to say, I was beyond myself with excitement – considering Keaton made his career out of playing DC’s finest hero in Batman, the fact that he quite literally crossed over into a villain role in a Marvel film makes his entire career seem like it has come full-circle.

Having said that, we can’t just praise Keaton’s choices – we need to actually look at how he did in the film. Spider-Man: Homecoming was a great chance for Keaton to show off his talents in a way he rarely has, playing a villain. Adrian Toomes (also known as The Vulture, although he is never once called that in the film, strangely enough), is a character that I found to be quite pathetic and overly campy in the comics, but he was successfully made far more sinister and menacing in this film. The role suited Keaton like a glove – it was made for a veteran who had everyman sensibilities and a nasty streak that would make him a worthy adversary of our web-slinging hero. I would even say Keaton is amongst the better villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – in fact, I will blatantly state that he is the best. Consider all the other Marvel Cinematic Universe villains – they all want to destroy the world and enslave humanity. Adrian Toomes required a veteran everyman actor because of this reason – he is just a regular guy. He doesn’t want to destroy anything, all he wants to do is to survive. The world is changing, where people like Toomes, envisioned as a contractor originally given the chance to salvage the waste from the city but forced out of the job, are made to be redundant. Not only is he a normal person who just wants to make a living, he also is redeemable – he isn’t an otherworldly sinister figure. Keaton plays the role very well, and if Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds on the fact that is is a very different kind of Marvel film, then Keaton certainly succeeds on the same rationale, as he is a very different kind of character. We feel sympathy for him, and considering every other villain in every other superhero film has far more evil motives, Adrian Toomes is a breath of fresh air.

Also, Keaton is a part of one of the most extraordinary twists in Marvel history. If you haven’t seen this film, do not read anything about Keaton’s performance. The twist left me utterly shaken.

Marvel always attracts prestige to their casts – Robert Downey Jr. reprises his iconic role of Tony Stark/Iron Man, and I was surprised to see how subdued he was here – I always felt Spider-Man: Homecoming would be far too reliant on Iron Man, because Downey Jr. is a box-office draw and pretty much the main reason the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so successful. I wouldn’t say he was underused, rather he was used carefully and creatively, and the fact that he was used so sparingly was actually a welcome surprise because it allowed this film to focus on its titular protagonist, while still tying it neatly together with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Other than Downey Jr, Spider-Man: Homecoming features a great performance from Zendaya, who is on her way to becoming a far more talented actress than most other ex-Disney stars. Playing Michelle, the quiet loner who has a crush on Peter Parker, Zendaya is a scene-stealer. I would definitely hope she has a long and prosperous career because if what we have seen from her in the recent past indicates, she is a star in the making. Marisa Tomei is as wonderful as ever as Aunt May, and Jon Favreau makes a great return to the role of Happy Hogan, developing him into a far more complex character than in previous films. Donald Glover is also a welcome presence in a small but pivotal role. Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be the most dazzling film in terms of its cast, but it certainly knows what to do with everyone.

Spider-Man: Homecoming continues the tradition of previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films to create something that has a legitimate sense of humor. Superhero films are tricky because they aren’t supposed to be utterly emotional and bleak (looking at you, Christopher Nolan), nor are they meant to be over-the-top excessive and campy (looking at you, Joel Schumacher) – there needs to be a balance. The Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly does not lack a sense of humor, and Spider-Man: Homecoming is no different. It strikes a nearly perfect balance between action and comedy, and while it may be a very funny film at times, it is also a wonderful superhero film that avoids most tropes, even if it can’t avoid sometimes feeling a bit forced. It helps that the narrative was kept straightforward and clear, and that Holland actually played Peter Parker as a regular teenager, and managed to be very funny, rather than being an emotional wreck like the previous two versions of the character (although it would’ve been better if Holland had contacted Tobey Maguire for some dance lessons, it would’ve just made Spider-Man: Homecoming all that more excellent).

Spider-Man: Homecoming balances the action and comedy very well, and once again, the Marvel Cinematic Universe strikes gold with its blend of action-packed sequences and master filmmaking. Jon Watts is not a particularly exciting director, mainly because he is somewhat of a newcomer to mainstream film, so I was hesitant – but those fears were subdued by seeing Watts’ masterful control of the film, and how he crafted a film that may not have been over-reliant on special effects, but still visually exciting. This film finds the importance of the plot, and rather than many action films, that use the action to sell the film, Spider-Man: Homecoming builds the action around a well-developed plot, and even the most intense battle sequences are filled with meticulous detail. On this front, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a great success.

All I’ve done is praise Spider-Man: Homecoming – so how can I possibly say it is disappointing? Mainly, because this is a film that found itself struggling for an identity. It tries to be Marvel by way of John Hughes – but it lacks the sensitivity that Hughes had in his films. It wants to be a hip and trendy spin on the superhero genre but still strays into the same narrative stock-plot that nearly every superhero film falls into. However, I could nitpick and explain everything that was wrong with Spider-Man: Homecoming, but that would just be a waste of time, because the most disappointing part of this film was the fact that it is composed of so many incredible components, each one stronger than we have ever seen in a Marvel film before, but they fail to come together perfectly. In a way, there are so many great elements to Spider-Man: Homecoming, but they just don’t work in tandem. It sometimes feels out of place and a little too misguided. It doesn’t have the brilliance of Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers. It was always going to be a tricky film to get right, and while it is a great film, it just didn’t work as well as I had hoped, and I left the cinema a little bit too disappointed than I had hoped to be.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is not a film that will convert non-believers in the power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite the fact that it is a highly unconventional and very different kind of film than we have seen the studio make before. However, for those who are fans of the genre, Spider-Man: Homecoming will not be a disappointment. It is a strong reboot of a classic character, and the cast is led by a capable actor who turns in arguably the best performance of the character yet. Spider-Man: Homecoming is certainly worth seeing – Holland and Keaton are wonderful, and the film itself is good. It may not be the perfect Spider-Man film, but it is definitely close. It is just the imperfections that prevent Spider-Man: Homecoming  from reaching its full potential – but hopefully with a little work, the inevitable sequel will fix these flaws and give audiences the Spider-Man film we have been waiting for.

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