So here we are. After years of hoping and dreaming, Marvel fans finally get to see Spider-Man return home to the MCU. With Iron Man in tow and a fresh coat of paint – can this first joint venture between Sony and Marvel deliver the goods – or does this film swing straight into problems?
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very different beast to the previous Spidey outings. Where those movies were grand in scope and played heavily into the Manhattan setting, Homecoming is a much smaller affair. The stakes never really get that big in the grander scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, instead homing in on Peter and his day-to-day life. There’s no Infinity Stones or world altering events occurring here – and the movie is mostly better for it.
It’s a major strength in that it provides Tom Holland an excellent canvas upon which to expand his iteration of Peter Parker. Being dumped back in Queens after the events of Captain America: Civil War – we see his character grow frustrated. His mentor Tony Stark seemingly keeping him at arm’s length, away from the major action. Instead this Spider-Man must deal with petty crime, beat down bike stealers and ultimately become a local celebrity. He wants more, but is told that he can’t have that. It’s only dumb luck that leads him into a much bigger situation – one that begins to impact on his personal life.
I’d argue that Homecoming works best when it focuses on Peter’s personal life. The attempts to give this version of Parker more grounding lead to an interesting character – balancing commitments, expectations and ambition. It’s the latter of these that drives the central conflict of the movie – he wants to be seen as an Avenger but in chasing this, burns a lot of his personal life in the process. He catches the bad guys, but can’t attend that party he wants to go to. He gets a step closer to uncovering The Vulture’s plans, but misses an event that annoys his entire social circle. Every step forward is a step back in another area – and it’s this conflict that really makes Holland’s performance feel all the more grander.
Because Holland carries this movie effortlessly. Spurting one liners and delivering the kind of emotional nuance that elevates the whole. He laughs awkwardly in social situations. He gets nervous around love interests. There’s one moment in particular when an awkward car ride leads to some of the best facial acting inside the MCU. It’s a scene built entirely on the awkwardness between him and Michael Keaton – with both sides clearly relishing in the performance offered up.
Speaking of. Keaton’s performance – on the whole it’s fairly good. It would have been easy to ham up his character – but there’s a sincerity to his actions that makes his Vulture endearing. I wouldn’t say the Vulture is perfect by any stretch (He doesn’t actually do much outside of smuggle weapons to cause the audience to dislike him) – which makes the ending all that much better. But it’s the human side of his character that draws the eye. From the opening scene through to post-credit scene – that human motivation makes his character. But it does also highlight one of the movies bigger issues – its limited stakes.
This lack of grander stakes does create something of a problem for the movie – in that we never truly feel Peter is in danger. His adventure doesn’t have the same impact as other MCU outings or even other Spider-Man movies. While smuggling alien weapons is a clever extension of the events from other movies, Michael Keaton’s Vulture feels very much like a small time player. He’s a villain without bite, one that doesn’t invoke the kind of specter of destruction that Superhero movies kind of need.
Take the ending sequence at the endwith the helicarrier. It was impressive visually, but didn’t really pack the punch or scale that it should have. The final conflict is arguably the films weakest moment – saved by a great character moment from Spider-Man himself. The Vulture just never feels like a sturdy villain – he just turns up to beat on Spider-Man briefly before disappearing. His menace is limited – and in a film clocking in at over two hours – there isn’t enough reason to care.
It should also be noted that Tony Stark is used exceptionally sparingly. Compared to the bombastic way the movies promotional material placed him front and center (almost to detriment of Spider Man) the movie barely grants Downey Jr. screen time. He shows up at the start and makes an impressive appearance at the end of the movies second act – otherwise he’s pretty much gone from proceedings. It’s a wise choice, extending the relationship established in Civil War without smothering the movie in Iron Man’s shadow. But it does leave the film with a slight feeling of “Iron Man could have probably wrapped this up in one Sunday Afternoon.”
Overall though, the whole thing is generally joyful. There’s enough highs and lows to keep audiences engaged – with a great cast of secondary characters to compliment Holland’s performance. Is it the best Spider Man movie? I think it’s too much of a different beast to say that, but it’s a great “origin” for this version of Spider-Man.
Hopefully future outings for the character yield more impressive stakes – or at least give audiences a reason to fear for Peter’s safety. He’ll make you laugh throughout the film, but leave you wishing the movie had made more of a lasting impact.