It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Spider-Man made his first appearance on the big screen, even harder to believe it’s been almost a decade since Jon Favreau kicked off the MCU with 2008’s Iron Man, and yet here we are. Since Tobey Maguire first donned the suit in 2002, the ol’ Web-Head has had a rocky relationship with audiences. If you ask 100 people their opinion on the original trilogy, you’d get 100 different answers, and the same can be said for Marc Webb’s duology. So as Spider-Man: Homecoming was teased, announced, and promoted, a common response was, “Again?” No, not “again”: finally.
Make no mistake, despite the obvious and glaring flaws present in both Raimi and Webb’s Spidey flicks, I love all of them, I watch all of them, and I constantly lament on how much better they could have been while still enjoying them for what they were. However, it doesn’t take long to realize there is something different with this recent outing. For most, Maguire is the preferred Peter, while Andrew Garfield is the preferred Spider-Man. There was always a disconnect once the mask was put on or subsequently removed, though, because something wasn’t quite right. But now? Now the prodigal son has returned.
Caution: Minor Spoilers Ahead
As I was sitting in the theater last night, with the film’s finale rapidly approaching, I was waiting for that moment. The same moment that has been present in the past five Spider-Man movies. The one of great loss. The one where our hero, despite his efforts, inevitably lets one slip through the cracks. Not because he’s a bad person, and not because he wants anyone to die, but because he simply cannot save everyone, and his character needs tragedy to trigger and fuel personal growth. It’s something that had become a bit of a cliché in his movies, but a forgivable one because it’s a core part of the character’s story.
Above all else, this is what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so different from any of the previous efforts. Because if you haven’t figured it out yet, this moment never came. It never came because it didn’t need to. It never came because that’s not really what the MCU is about. While I do believe the company’s anti-death stance can become a bit of a hindrance at times, having someone important die in this movie simply wouldn’t have made sense. By skipping Uncle Ben’s death, we no longer had a story that was reliant on tragedy. Instead, we had a story that understood failure doesn’t automatically mean someone has to die. Sometimes failure simply comes from inexperience.
Personally, this is probably one of my favorite elements of Homecoming. As an audience member, everything feels so fresh, so new, and this is something that is constantly expressed through Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. He has absolutely no idea what is going on. Before, he was just a kid from Queens, with no connection to any superheroes, and now he’s entrenched in something he doesn’t quite understand. There are rules, people know each other, and he’s trying to make sense of it all. He’s an outsider in a world that’s existed and functioned for years without him, so in that moment, Peter shares the same thought as every audience member: “How is this real life?”
Last year, there was this moment in Captain America: Civil War that sold Tom Holland for me, and it was something that came before we even saw him suit up for the airport sequence. As he was sitting on his bed, talking to Tony, he said something that legitimately makes me tear up whenever I think about it:
When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen… They happen because of you.
It seems inconsequential, just another superhero claiming he has a duty to help people, but it’s more than that. It’s a sign of an actor and a creative team who truly understand who this character is, because for those who have never read a Spider-Man comic in their life (change that immediately), that one sentence encapsulates everything that is Spider-Man. I’m not talking about the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing, though that does get repeated ad nauseam. No, I’m talking about someone who literally blames himself anytime someone dies because he couldn’t get there in time. A character who will mentally beat himself up for months because, although he has superpowers, he’s still human, and he still makes mistakes.
To bring it back to an earlier point I was trying to make, I mention all of this because the overall theme of Homecoming is inexperience. It’s about showing what it would really be like if a 15 year-old was given the power and the means to help those in need. It isn’t pretty, not everything is going to go his way, and unfortunately, he is going to overextend himself because he still doesn’t have a full grasp on his power. He still hasn’t gained the mental ability to keep a level-head when the proverbial shit hits the fan. While he may understand a situation is serious, he still reacts like a normal teenager, which means he is going to fail. A lot.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, just like in the hundreds of comic books, Peter Parker’s biggest fault is he constantly feels the need to do more. It’s one thing to be the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, stopping petty thieves and helping lost old ladies, but it’s another thing entirely to stop a group of criminals who are stealing classified alien weaponry and selling it on the street. The sentiment’s the same, but the scale is different. The adults tell you not to involve yourself, to keep a low profile, but since when has a teenager ever listened to an adult?
It’s classic teenage angst, rebellion, and hormones, only this time it has a fresh coat of paint because, well, we’re talking about a kid with the proportionate strength and speed of a spider. Again, the sentiment’s the same, but the scale is different. When a normal teenager rebels, he wrecks his parents’ car. When Spider-Man rebels, a boat filled with people gets split in half, he almost drowns, and the top of the Washington Monument gets destroyed. While no one dies, he still fails, and he still gets chastised for it.
Despite all of this, though, Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t a thrilling movie, and it isn’t even all that intense. There is destruction and a handful of engaging fight scenes, but there’s never any fear. I never feared for Peter, I never feared for the civilians, and I never really feared for the antagonists, either. While some could see this as a negative, for a first entry, I thought it was great, though I do believe there needs to be some stakes incorporated in future films. We need to see his failures have some real consequences, otherwise you’re doing a disservice to the character, in my opinion.
At best, this film is an action comedy with a superhero skin. Sure, some people might get hurt or mildly injured (most notably Peter himself), but you’re not there to see people die, you’re there to have fun and laugh. That’s Spider-Man’s shtick, right? He’s lighthearted and funny. Well, let me tell you something, for the past nine years, Marvel has been trying to incorporate comedic scenes into movies for heroes that aren’t inherently funny, so now that they have the guy, they held nothing back.
Because–and this isn’t an exaggeration–Homecoming is a riot. I probably wouldn’t need all ten fingers to count the number of scenes that didn’t result in me laughing at some point, and this is coming from the guy who often finds the MCU’s brand of comedy to be cute at best, cringe-inducing at worst. But there is a fine line when it comes to telling a Spider-Man story, because Peter is just as important as Spider-Man himself. If you spend too much time in either space, things get thrown off balance, which is why this movie works as well as it does.
Although I can’t say with total certainty, for me, it felt like this was the most I’ve seen of Spider-Man in any Spider-Man movie to date. There were still plenty of scenes where Peter was being Peter, sure, but these mostly felt like vehicles to get to the next set of circumstances that called for him to suit up as Spider-Man. Where other Spidey flicks failed, however, is where Homecoming excels most: the transition from Peter to Spider-Man is flawless. I had just as much fun seeing Holland as Peter as I did seeing him as Spider-Man, as he manages to perfectly capture both personalities with seemingly no effort at all.
As Peter, Holland is an intelligent, bumbling idiot. He’s one of the brightest kids in the school, though he still has personality, and you often have the feeling that his other-ness is a construct of his own mind, as the only person who seems to truly dislike him is Flash Thompson. As Spider-Man, he’s quick, energetic, and, well, a bumbling idiot. He’s trying to make the most of his powers, partly because he’s never been able to help anyone before now, and partly because he wants to be part of something greater than what we can only assume was a previously monotonous life.
It’s a dichotomy that is executed beautifully by Holland and I never got tired of seeing him on screen. He’s someone who bleeds personality and his chemistry with the other cast members is undeniable. Whether we’re talking Favreau’s not-so-Happy Hogan, or Donald Glover’s Aaron Davis, or even the young Jacob Batalon as his best friend Ned, whenever Holland was on screen with someone, it was almost like clockwork, as it was only a matter of time before someone did or said something that had me smiling and laughing like a small child on Christmas.
Honestly, I could gush about this movie forever, because I’ve come to the realization that I never made any points regarding the plot, and I’m already approaching 1,700 words. Before I go, though, I do want to say that the film isn’t without its faults, even though almost all of them are minor, nit-picky comic book stuff. However, my biggest gripe came from the Adrian Toomes reveal at the start of the final act. Although Laura Harrier was only ever referred to as Liz, it’s obvious she’s supposed to be Liz Allan, yet because of this ambiguity, Jon Watts and co. took creative liberties to alter personal relationships to create a “Wow!” moment that didn’t quite sit right with me.
As I said, though, even something like that is kind of nit-picky, so it’s probably not going to be a big deal to 95% of the people who choose to see this movie. While most of my personal issues stem from these small details, some of my favorite moments come from these same minor details, like the brief inclusion of Mac Gargan and Aaron Davis, which opens the doors for characters like Scorpion and Miles Morales, respectively. Scorpion could easily be the main antagonist in the second or third film and we could get a Miles Morales movie sometime after Holland’s trilogy.
There’s no telling where Marvel and Sony are going to choose to take future installments, but there’s one thing I can say for certain, and it’s that Spider-Man: Homecoming is special, and what we have here is easily brighter and more exciting than whatever Marc Webb was trying to set up with his series. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Spider-Man is where he belongs now. This is where the character is meant to be and where he should have been from the get-go.
You know, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say going into this, but here I am, almost 2,000 words later, feeling like I haven’t said much of anything at all, so let me end it with this. Maybe my hype glasses are on too tight, maybe this movie is really a huge piece of garbage, I don’t know. All I know is, as I’ve been drowning under the weight of my life these past few months, this has been the lighthouse in the distance, giving me a reason to push forward, and it was everything I wanted and needed it to be, which is all that really matters at the end of the day.
So to everyone involved, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. For everything.