Directed by Jon Watts
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth Spider-Man film in fifteen years, featuring the third actor to play Peter Parker and squeeze themselves into the tights. Homecoming is also the third time the franchise has started from the beginning. Let's put this in some kind of cultural perspective - in the past fifteen years there have been five Bond films featuring two actors slipping on the tuxedo, Tool has released one album, and Apple gave us the iPhone and the iPad. Star Wars ended one trilogy in 2005 and started another in 2015. Star Trek ended one series in 2002 and began another in 2009.
There was a lot of gnashing of the teeth and pounding of the keyboards when Spider-Man was rebooted only five years after Spider-Man 3. A lot of words were sent out into the ether, a lot of adults spent an awful lot of energy complaining about turning around a franchise so shortly after the last film. And here we are again, this time only three years removed from the last time Andrew Garfield slipped on the tights in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Normally I would join in on the gnashing of the teeth and the bashing of the keyboard and the complaining about rebooting something that was in the multiplex only three years ago but I'm older now, and a tiny bit wiser and, honestly, I don't care that much.
And after that short tangent, let's get to talking about Homecoming, shall we.
What we don't see in Homecoming is more telling about the film than some of what we do see. We don't see the spider. We don't see Uncle Ben's murder. We don't hear those lines about power and responsibility. Instead, we get shorthand. The end of a conversation about the spider. A reference to the hardships that Peter's aunt has had to face. The cornerstone of Peter's motivation for why he does what he does. It's inspired and is a refreshing way of telling a story that has been repeated a couple of times with varying degrees of success.
What else is inspired and works well is the film's use of John Hughes as a touchpoint. The school that Peter attends might as well be called John Hughes High. Most of the humour, both physical and verbal, has a pacing and a style that is right out of the John Hughes playbook. His shadow looms large and tall over Homecoming. There are references, some subtle, some not, to Ferris, Sixteen Candles, and Breakfast Club. Zendaya plays an updated version of Ally Sheedy's Allison. The soundtrack is a compilation of new, hip pop and hip pop oldies. There's even a song by The English Beat. It's not March of the Swivelheads, but, hey, it's still a band associated with Shermer, IL. All that's missing is a Psychedelic Furs' song playing over the credits.
It's the grounded moments of Homecoming that work the best. The relationships feel real. Tom Holland brings a clumsiness to his portrayal of Peter Parker. He plays him as a believable fifteen year old. His voice travels octaves depending on his nervousness and it never feels forced. Whenever his crush talks to him his voice travels up and up, nearing chipmunk altitudes. When Spider-Man has to talk to people he know, he lowers his voice and ends up sounding like a teenaged kid's idea of an adult voice with a Brooklyn twang as the icing. He's charming and eager to please. He makes catastrophic mistakes that turn the expected hero moments on their head. Mr. Holland really is the heart of Homecoming. The performance we saw in Civil War wasn't a mistake, the actor really is that charming and funny.
Michael Keaton is one of my all-time favourites of ever and ever, so I'm not even going to pretend to be objective here. The man is damned treasure and we are lucky to share this time with him. He could show up in a film, read a few excerpts from Travels With Charley and I'd be happy. His performance as Adrian Toomes is really about a guy just trying to do right for his family. There is none of Willem Dafoe's insanity or Alfred Molina's grief or whatever happened in the other films. Seriously, they were very, very forgettable. Mr. Keaton's Vulture is a villain and he's doing bad things, some very bad things, but really, it all comes down to providing for his family. It's greed, pure and simple greed, but it's understandable greed.
But, of course, this is a modern superhero movie and the studios, two of them for Homecoming, have to ensure that the movie hits all of their bullet points and, in the end, when the credits are over and the lights are on, Homecoming is fine. It's worth your money, it really is. But it's not great. The shadow of the Sam Raimi films is too large and too tall for Homecoming to fully escape. And maybe it's the extra cast and what they bring to the film that weighs down Homecoming. It's always nice to see Robert Downey, Jr and Jon Favreau, but sometimes they drag the film, slow it down just when it needs to keep the pace up. The wind gets sucked out of the sails and it takes a few beats for the film to get back up to speed.
Some of the action scenes work great. The ones that are smaller in scope, the ones with some personality, the ones where we aren't reminded of the ones and zeroes that are at work to bring the moment to life. A fight with some thieves trying to steal an ATM, a chase in the suburbs, the Staten Island Ferry moment that is all of the trailers. There is a set piece on the Washington Monument that is just wonderful and tense and funny. But… The director, Jon Watts, is seriously out of his comfort zone when it comes to the larger action pieces. Things are fine when it's Spider-Man trying to get to the top of the Washington Monument, all daylight and real locations. Where things fall apart is when the action becomes too large, becomes unwieldily and there are too many ones and zeroes to deal with. The climax of the movie is a mess, never any sense of what is going on, where things are happening.
The film hits too many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe bullet points a little too predictably, and it has that generic look and score that is becoming a bit too bland for its own good. Those are things that I can usually ignore when watching one of these movies. I mean, they do what they are supposed to do and Homecoming does that with taps on. But when you can feel the director being overwhelmed by his movie, these things become obvious. I really wish Marvel and Sony had just let Jon Watts make the film he wanted to make. The grounded parts of Homecoming are, in a word, amazing. It's too bad the rest of the movie is creativity by way of board room.