Warning! This review does contain spoilers!
Following the unfortunate critical and commercial failure of the underrated Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014), Sony and Columbia Pictures decided to cancel their plans for a third film and numerous related spin-offs that would form their own shared cinematic universe. The plus side to this was that negotiations and talks opened up between Disney/Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures which saw Spider-Man be recast and incorporated into the massive, unstoppable media juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo, 2016). To capitalise on the success of Civil War and the popular reaction of Tom Holland’s youthful, wise-cracking portrayal of the character, Marvel Studios rearranged their scheduled list of films to allow for a solo movie to truly integrate the character into their shared universe.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017) opens moments after the conclusion of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012) where salvage expert Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton…I’ll say that again, Michael Keaton!) and his crew are screwed out of their contract to salvage the remains of the battle between the Avengers and the Chitauri by Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Junior) newly-formed clean-up team, Damage Control. Out of pocket and against the wall, Toomes and his crew reverse-engineer Chitauri tech to construct an elaborate flying harness and wing rig and create weaponry they can sell on the black market.
Eight years later, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is taken to Berlin by Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) after being recruited by Tony Stark; once there, he is given his spiffy new Spider-Man costume and participates in the new-iconic airport battle seen in Civil war. Being dropped off at home by Stark, Parker is promised that the team will be in touch with him soon with a new mission. However, eight months later, he has heard no word from Stark or Hogan, despite leaving them numerous messages, and is getting frustrated with being nothing more than a “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man”.
A chance encounter with Toomes’ gang, who wield advanced, retrofitted Chitauri weaponry, brings Toomes’ activities to the attention of Spider-Man. Angered that his eight-year operation, which has remained under the radar of the Avengers and the police, Toomes kills Jackson Brice (Logan Marshall-Green) and passes his signature weapon, and self-appointed alias of “the Shocker”, on to Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine) and vows to kill Spider-Man for interfering in his work.
When Peter’s attempts to bring Toomes’ nefarious activities to Stark’s attention apparently fall on deaf ears, he and his incredibly enthusiastic friend friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) unlock the full potential of Peter’s spider-suit and he takes matters into his own hands. However, when his over-eagerness causes catastrophe, Stark takes the suit back and reprimands his reckless actions.
Humbled and disheartened, Peter attempts to focus on the school’s annual homecoming dance and his date, long-time love interest Liz Allen (Laura Harrier) only to once again forced into a deadly confrontation with Toomes in his Vulture persona.
Spider-Man: Homecoming, much like Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) is a welcome breath of fresh air in the Marvel Cinematic Universe primarily because of its dramatic shift in focus from worldwide, earth-shattering, universe-spanning events to simple, yet still dramatic, issues at a more grounded level. The film cleverly showcases that the actions of the Avengers have far-reaching consequences; every time they battle an advanced enemy, they leave behind chaos and remnants that, in this case, birth an entire gang of criminals in possession of advanced weapons. With the Avengers focused on bigger threats and fighting each other, it’s up to street-level superheroes like Spider-Man to stand up for the everyman in the street.
Unlike other depictions of Spider-Man, Holland is young and fresh; he rarely takes the mask off, never shuts up once the suit is on, and embodies the youth and enthusiasm of the character’s Ultimate incarnation in spectacular fashion. Additionally, he is young enough to still be in high school and realistically dealing with the problems that come with this situation: constant berating from the loud-mouth Eugene “Flash” Thomson (Tony Revolori), trying to fit in with the more popular kids, and living up to his responsibilities to the academic decathlon team he is a part of. Add to this the fact that he is hiding his duel identity from his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and desperately trying to prove that he has what it takes to be an Avenger and you have a very nuanced performance full of heart and humour.
Spidey goes up against one of his traditionally lamer villains; the Vulture has always just been an old guy with wings who robs banks and does very little else. The same goes for the Shocker, who was turned into a walking recurring joke in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. Here, though, teamed up, they present a formidable threat to the fledgling Spider-Man; within the first ten minutes of the film, Toomes is made relatable and his motivations are completely understandable. He may well be one of the most layered and ruthless villains not only that a live-action Spider-Man has faced but also in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The best part is that the film not only features Phineas “The Tinkerer” Mason (Michael Chernus) but, more interestingly, introduces an associate of Toomes, Mac “The Scorpion” Gargan (Michael Mando), who alludes to a team-up of the villains in the future. This promises that Spider-Man will, hopefully, face new onscreen enemies in future films rather than rehashing the same villains we’ve seen before.
The film does have some negative points, though; I get that Marvel don’t want to go through Peter’s whole origin again as it’s been done to death by now but I would’ve liked to have seen a quick recap of it over the opening titles just so we can see how this version of Peter dealt with that time of his life. An unfortunate by-product of this is that there’s only subtle allusions of Uncle Ben and the great mentor figure in Peter’s life is Tony Stark (however, Stark and Iron Man feature sparingly throughout the film and in no way take the spotlight away from Spider-Man).
Also, I’m not sure why they chose to have Toomes figure out Spider-Man’s secret identity as it didn’t really factor into the film in a meaningful way. Finally, Spidey’s super high-tech suit stretches believability quite a bit as his suit is skin-tight and form-fitting, so it’s hard to believe that it’s packed full of Iron Man-esque tech (I would’ve liked to have seen the Iron Spider-Man suit used as an alternative to this).
However, these are extremely small, minor nitpicks; the film is incredibly funny, packed full of action, and never falls into unnecessary drama. As a coming-of-age story that teaches Peter his place in the wider scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeded spectacularly and I fully expect any minor issues to addressed in his future appearances.
Recommended: Highly, it’s Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
Best moment: A fantastic recreation of a sequence from The Amazing Spider-Man issue thirty-three, in which Peter is trapped beneath some wreckage and must will his way out through sheer brute strength.
Worst moment: The lack of exposition into the origins and motivations of this new interpretation of Spider-Man.