2 hours, 13 minutes
I can remember a time not too long ago when the concept of a Spider-Man movie seemed completely out of reach. The technology just wasn’t there, and even if it was, what studio was going to put that kind of money into a big budget kiddie movie? Superman and Batman were serious superheroes, but Spider-Man? That’s just goofy. Even James Cameron tried to crack it and couldn’t get it going.
And now, here I sit, barely 15 years later, writing my sixth Spidey review in the midst of a superhero movie trend that’s so popular and profitable that it shows no signs of slowing. It’s true, 2000’s “X-Men” started this current trend, but without the massive hit that was Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man,” none of the rest of it would have happened. That first movie was from Sony Pictures, with no connection to the larger Marvel Universe that’s become so ubiquitous, nor were any of the five films to follow.
It’s ironic that Marvel Comic’s most iconic superhero would take so long to come home, but he has and in a big way. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is great, and quite possibly the best of the bunch.
When Sony finally agreed to partner with Marvel after the poorly received pair of films starring Andrew Garfield as the titular webhead, the decision was wisely made to forego a third telling of Spidey’s origin story. Instead, our hero is introduced as a small part of the epic Captain America/Avengers film “Civil War.”
“Homecoming” opens brilliantly with a starstruck Peter Parker’s home movie of his actions during that film. Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s put-upon aide-de-camp, ferries the 14-year-old Peter Parker to Berlin to fight Captain America and after, is put in charge of making sure Parker doesn’t do anything crazy. After all, Peter is a kid. Brilliant, but a kid nonetheless and even Tony Stark isn’t about to start recruiting child soldiers.
Peter is having trouble readjusting to a life of Spanish quizzes and Homecoming dances after the brief glimpse of the life of an Avenger. Prior to meeting Iron Man, Peter had crafted his own homemade suit out of red and blue sweats, but Stark’s much upgraded and technologically advanced version is what he keeps in his backpack now and how he spends his free-time after school patrolling the streets of Queens, doing his part to stop the purse-snatchers and bank robbers that are too small for the big guys to deal with.
But Peter really wants a big mission, and despite warnings to stay out of trouble, barely hesitates when he catches a crew of low-rent ATM thieves using high-end alien tech. Turns out someone is selling weapons of mass destruction, supplying the low rent criminals of the eastern seaboard with some decidedly high-end hardware. Tony Stark may not think Peter is ready for the big-time, but Spider-Man is through waiting for permission.
The villain of the film, Adrian Toomes, aka The Vulture, is played perfectly by Michael Keaton, is a great example of why I think these Marvel films work so well. This is a grounded character, with a believable arc and understandable motivations. Keaton plays it just right — bad, but with relatability. This is not the character that John Malkovitch would have played, when he was being courted for this position years ago.
And as much as I like the original “Spider-Man” and it’s sequel, those stylish affairs are not sustainable for the long haul. Look what eventually happened to the iconic and artsy vision that Tim Burton had for Batman. The Schumacher versions are the inevitable extension of that. That’s why these Marvel films feel so even and consistent, despite the criticism of “sameness.” Everyone in “Homecoming” feels real — heightened, certainly, and fun, but not big and splashy.
Tom Holland completely owns this role in a way that even Tobey Maguire couldn’t do. Maguire plays as too old and, in comparison, is nowhere near the nerdy Everyman that defines Spider-Man that Holland is. Setting this film primarily in high school, almost John Hughes-esque was a stroke of genius. Not only does it make Parker more relatable, but it also does a good job of showing us the Marvel Universe through the eyes of everyday people.
There are so many brilliant little touches in this film, and being a high school teacher, I really appreciated the attention to detail, from the morning announcements “news show” to the hilarious federally mandated “Captain America” videos that the poor gym teacher is required to show to his students. With such a big playground, the writers of “Homecoming” are able to pepper the film with references and asides about the entire Marvel series, without it ever feeling forced or confusing.
The director of this film, Jon Watts, who previously directed a little movie I really enjoyed called “Cop Car,” does a great job of fitting in with the rest of the MCU, without turning in film devoid of personality. The movie is funny, sweet, and is paced beautifully.
It’s a understatement to say I liked this film. It doesn’t hurt that Spider-Man was always my favorite superhero. It also doesn’t hurt that I was able to see this film in London, at the largest IMAX theater in all of Great Britain. I don’t mention that to show off, but … OK— yes I do. But I will say that the film played in 3D and, while I still don’t prefer that format, this was one of the few films I’ve seen that didn’t look too dark and muddled. Granted, this experience isn’t an option for most, but I know I would have loved the movie regardless.
The film is already a huge hit, so I know I’ll have plenty more opportunities to enjoy this version of the character. The Marvel Cinematic Universe just regained its favorite son and what a homecoming it is.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for comic book violence and language.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.