Spider-Man: Homecoming has had a long, twisted path to coming to fruition.
After the mediocre and somewhat ill thought out Amazing Spiderman movies starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, many thought we would never see another Spider-Man movie that actually would thrill us, much as the original movie starring Tobey Maguire did in 2002, or even as much as the superior sequel, in my mind still one of the best superhero films of all time.
However, rational thinking (not to mention the dancing images of bags upon bags of money) brought Sony and Columbia Pictures to their senses, and they joined forces with Marvel Studios to bring this most recent iteration of the superhero to the big screen.
This latest episode in this iconic hero’s story takes place fully within the Marvel Universe. The beginning scenes show New York city in tatters, recovering from the events of the first Avengers movie. To recall, a horde of aliens, lead by Loki, destroyed much of Midtown Manhattan (with the Avengers aiding in the destruction). In this environment, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is setting up shop, cleaning up and recovering the alien remnants of the attack. He is quickly shut down by forces of big government, forever building an innate resentment against all the major forces of power that, in Toomes’ eyes, keep the common man down.
It is within this world that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) grows up. He is a child of the post-Avenger era (in many ways, echoing how many children in New York are the children of the post-9/11 era). Growing up with only his Aunt Mae (comically portrayed by Marisa Tomei), Peter is simply another Sophomore in high school, dealing with the daily rigors of all teenagers…except for the fact that he is a superhero.
Thankfully, there is no origin story; no spider bite, nor replay of what happens to his Uncle. In fact, the entire origin story is only referred to in passing.
What is replayed, however, is how Spider-Man joins the Marvel Universe. An extensive, hilarious vlog of Peter’s involvement in the events of Captain America: Civil War is shown, and does a beautiful job introducing us to this version of Peter Parker: a younger, more immature, and more fun version than we have seen in the movies before. His relationship with Tony Stark, from those initial encounters to the end of the movie, are simply fantastic, as a pseudo-parental bond forms between Peter and maybe the most irresponsible playboy on the planet.
The expected high school companions remain an important part of the story, including Ned Leeds, his geeky sidekick; Flash Thompson, always the bully in every version of Spider-Man; Liz Allen as his current crush, and a sardonic Michelle, who has some of the funniest lines in the movie. Numerous other small characters provide Easter eggs for comic book fans, from everyone from the Principal of the school to some of Peter’s high school teammates, and even to a common criminal Spider-man encounters, who has a famous nephew… I will leave up to you to dig more on these characters…
Keaton’s Toomes (who eventually becomes the villain Vulture) is quite fantastic, in a way that other big baddies in the MCU have not. He slowly builds a team of workers that builds bigger and more dangerous weapons based on alien technology, and that finally brings him to the attention of Spider-Man. Like Peter’s high school companions, this group of criminals is also littered with characters familiar to comic book readers, from the Tinkerer to the Shocker. But it is Keaton who steals most of the scenes; he seems always to be a cold, unemotional threat that lingers throughout the movie. His growing threat to Peter’s world grows slowly, steadily, and methodically, that allows the movie build up to its final climax.
Sony Pictures and Marvel clearly played a balancing act in this film. Sony wants to retain the rights to Spider-Man into the future, so they didn’t want the character to become wholly enveloped by the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). They do allow enough that this feels to be a wholly natural installment in the larger storyline the MCU is trying to put together, as we move forward into the next big installments, Avengers: Infinity War.
But this entire movie was enjoyable from the first moments, where they used a new version of the old comic book Spider-Man theme song, all the way to the last end credit scene with Captain America. They never take themselves, or their characters, too seriously. They give them an ability and flexibility to remain familiar, while these new versions of these characters clearly can grow in ways we have not seen in past movies.
In the Spider-Man movie anthology, I think this movie ranks up near the best. I still believe Spider-Man 2 with Tobey Maguire is among the best superhero films of all time; this movie isn’t quite there, but it was as fun as other superhero movies this year, including Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It has shaped up to be a pretty good year for Science Fiction movies…hope that trend continues for the remainder of the year. This movie is definitely worth your time and money, and I am anxious to get to see it again.