Great power used to come with great responsibility. Now it seems to come with a safety net and a large amount of whining. Gone are the life lessons of the humble Uncle Ben and in their place is the arrogant bravado of Tony Stark. This makes sense for the Iron Man-centric MCU, and for this iteration of Spider-Man, but that does not mean it’s a good decision. What makes Spidey such a great character is his relatability, and unwillingness to give in when life is at its worst. He’s a superhero but he’s also juggling a career and a personal life. He barely scrapes by on rent, he has arguments with his girlfriend and he also loses those closest to him. Whether it’s Uncle Ben, Aunt May or Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man is plagued by loss but he doesn’t let the grief define him. Not everybody can be saved but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.
Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up with 15 year old Peter Parker shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War as he awaits his next mission from Tony Stark. When disgruntled salvager Adrian Toomes begins selling alien-powered tech to criminals, Peter goes behind Tony’s back to deal with it himself. Whilst this iteration of the titular character is not perfect, he is a very decent mixture of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Previously there was Tobey Maguire, a great Parker, and Andrew Garfield, an amazing Spidey, but they were each better at one aspect of the character than the other. Tom Holland manages to find a happy medium. His Parker is a lovable goofball and a genius but he lacks the understanding of basic concepts like how Hotel rooms work. His Spider-Man is quick witted and good in a fight but is driven by a determination to impress Stark instead of to help people. Holland is at his best when he is bouncing off of Jacob Batalon’s Ned Beatty. The screen lights up whenever the pair interact with a friendship that is clearly more than just acting. A particularly nice touch is the secret handshake that they have developed off-screen that they don’t even have to watch to know they’re doing it correctly.
A hero is only as good as the villain and Toomes’ Vulture is one of the best in the MCU. Micheal Keaton provides a chilling yet lovable performance as the character who, after appearing in the script for the unfinished Spider-Man 4, is enjoying a resurgence with another portrayal in PS4’s Spider-Man. Toomes is a working class man whose very secure job as a salvager was ripped away by the intervention of the Stark funded Department of Damage Control, which has led to a life of crime. In a lot of ways he is similar to Scott Lang/Ant-Man, but where the two differ is in their morals. Lang takes from the rich and gives to the poor while Toomes steals from the rich to make himself richer by selling to criminals. His motivations are understandable but it’s his actions that make him a villain.
The confrontations between him and Spidey are tense. The build up of their respectful relationship is handled masterfully and is elevated by Micheal Giacchino’s score. He always brings a vibrancy to his work, allowing the heroic moments to feel bombastic and the quieter moments to be somber. Having previously scored The Incredibles, and Mission Impossible III, Giacchino is no stranger to composing for heroes, and is himself a hero of the audio variety. His score is evocative of the 1980’s films it pays homage to and the orchestrated version of the classic Spider-Man theme brings chills.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a beautiful coming of age comedy when it’s allowed to be, but the necessity to tie into the larger MCU is inherently restrictive. Tony Stark is ever present, whether it’s in person, over the phone, through Happy Hogan, as a topic of conversation or as the motivation of the villain. He is literally holding Peter back by giving him a high tech suit with training protocols embedded into the system and then taking the suit away when Peter hacks through those protocols, but he is also holding the film back from being its own thing. Stark tells Peter that if he’s nothing without the suit then he shouldn’t have it, which is an act of hypocrisy so massive, it wouldn’t fit in The Grand Canyon. In actuality, it is Stark who is nothing without his suit – it just so happens that he is a billionaire so he can do whatever he wants regardless. He keeps Peter out of the loop on issues that he raises and, worst of all, he has the hots for Aunt May. The disrespect to Uncle Ben is astounding.
Part of the MCU connection is the buildup to events that are still to play out as I write this. Toomes survives, as does one of his henchmen with a scorpion tattoo, which is a clear nod to Marvel character The Scorpion and a set-up for The Sinister Six. This villainous team will make an appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home although it seems like they have gone in a completely different route so hopefully this set-up will still lead somewhere. There’s also a reference to Thor’s magic belt Megingjörð, which has never made a physical appearance, and a gag about Happy carrying around an engagement ring for Tony and Pepper since 2008, which is a cute little meta moment. The most interesting aspect is where this film takes place in the larger MCU timeline because it isn’t entirely clear. Title cards state that the events of Homecoming take place 2 months after Civil War in 2016 and 8 years after the Battle of New York in 2012. The writers have since stated that audiences should ignore the “8 years later” title card but it’s a fun little peek behind the curtain of this supposedly well oiled machine that is the MCU.
Despite its several glaring flaws, Spider-Man: Homecoming is highly entertaining. The characters and story are compelling with a cracking soundtrack to boot but, much like Ant-Man, it is the requirement that it fit a larger narrative that lets it down. This is not something that is going to improve in future movies but that’s a discussion for another time.