Written by David Holland
We are taking a brief break from the interdimensional, intergalactic shenanigans of Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy to come down to Earth. Spider-Man got his backdoor entrance into the MCU in “Captain America: Civil War”, but now he is making his first solo appearance!
Let’s talk about the Spider-Elephant in the room: Sam Raimi’s three Spider-Man movies came out in 2002, 2004, and 2007. Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2 came out in 2012 & 2014. This film came out in 2017. That’s a LOT of Spider-Man. And of course, as with Batman movies, the internet is overflowing with people who believe that they know exactly who was best in the role and if you disagree YOU’RE STUPID! I’M NOT STUPID, YOU’RE STUPID!
Sony, who owned sole rights to make Spider-Man movies, didn’t plan to let him join the MCU. In fact, they wanted to create a whole cinematic universe in the style of the MCU focused around Amazing Spider-Man, with plans to spin-off Venom, Black Cat, and the Sinister Six. But Amazing Spider-Man 2 underperformed, and Sony decided it would be more profitable to allow the webslinger into the MCU. Spider-Man’s arc is ultimately a high school coming-of-age story, and director Jon Watts decided to pay homage to the master of those stories, John Hughes. Watts made the cast watch a marathon of well-known Hughes films, including “The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, and “Pretty in Pink” and sprinkled references to Hughes films throughout. In terms of casting, Michael Keaton kills it in his dual roles as Vulture and protective dad, creating a villain who is sympathetic – a working class guy who thinks he deserves a break because he’s just trying to provide for his family. Jacob Batalon is an understated and utterly fantastic supporting character, and personally I think Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker of the three, even though I know that just saying that has enraged all of the Maguire stans.
How Does it Hold Up?
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” does not include an origin story. Honestly, that by itself is enough for me to like this film. I’ve said before that we don’t need every hero’s origin, and thank the Marvel Gods (Kevin Feige?) that we don’t have to watch Uncle Ben die again. Instead, we’re given a quick reminder of the events of “Civil War” from Peter Parker’s point of view, and then we fast-forward to the present in which he feels out of the loop.
Instead of going through the plot points one by one, I want to highlight three things about this movie that I genuinely love. For number one I’m going to cheat and split it into 1a and 1b. As I mentioned before, Ned Batalon is a rockstar. He is the perfect non-powered sidekick, the Xander to Spider-Man’s Buffy, the “guy in the chair” to use the movie’s term. Item 1b is Zendaya as Michelle (who we learn at the end is “MJ”). Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson seemed like an attempt to bring the comic book character straight to the screen, and the character was written as a pretty uninspiring, mostly damsel-in-distress figure. Michelle is quirky, funny, and a bit… off-putting? Parker is friends with her first, not obsessed with her like Maguire’s Parker to Dunst’s MJ. She’s different from what we expect out of MJ, much more three-dimensional, and there’s a clear space for her to grow into her own in future installments.
Number 2 is Vulture. Vulture is a different kind of villain. He’s not Wilson Fisk or Justin Hammer pulling strings in the dark or throwing around money. He’s not the Joker, causing chaos. He’s just… a guy. In a lot of ways he’s more normal and relatable than Spider-Man. He just wants to keep his head down make his way in the world and if that means that by extension a few people die who wouldn’t have died otherwise, that merely puts him in the same category as Dick Cheney.
Finally, Tom Holland. I’m repeating myself again, but Tom Holland is a great Spider-Man. He makes Peter Parker’s awkwardness believable, he does Spider-Man’s classic mid-battle banter, but above all he hits the two most important emotional moments in this film out of the park. The first is after his failure with the ship in which Iron Man has to save him. Seeing him be crushed by the emotional weight of disappointing his hero/father-figure is absolutely wrenching. The second is watching him struggle in the warehouse after it looks like Vulture has beaten him. Tom Holland sells us on the fact that in this moment Spider-Man believes not only has he failed, but that he is about to die, and he displays his emotions in that raw way that only teenagers can. That’s why he’s the best Spider-Man.
Theme: Growing Up Too Fast
In this movie Peter Parker is fifteen years old. If you’ve ever interacted with a high school student (or frankly been a high school student) you know that they are stuck in an in-between space. They are not children in the sense that they can largely take care of themselves, they don’t need to be babysat, they typically want to take on more responsibility, and they want to be treated like adults. But they are also not adults, and teenagers frequently make terrible, self-destructive decisions because they don’t have a realistic sense of how dangerous a situation is to them. That’s the situation Parker finds himself in. Spider-Man had a taste of the major leagues in “Civil War” and now he feels trapped back in the minors. He wants to be trusted, he wants to help, and he feels stifled by the adults in his life. Then the Vulture and Damage Control show up and he seizes the opportunity even when he’s told not to. If you have adolescents or you have worked with them, you’ve probably had that moment when you told them that something wasn’t a good idea. Then they do it anyway, and they crush it. Even though you told them they shouldn’t, you’re a little bit proud of them. That’s where we end with Spider-Man at the end of this film – he was out of his depth, he was told not to do it, but he did it anyway and he killed it.
Also, he had an awkward homecoming dance, which is totally relatable. Not because my date’s father was a supervillain, this was purely because of me.