Spider-Man: Homecoming

This review contains spoilers!!!

It has barely been three years since Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spider-Man 2.  The painfully long roll call of Spidey flicks is as follows:

  • Spider-Man (2002)
  • Spider-Man 2 (2004)
  • Spider-Man 3 (2007)
  • Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
  • Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The first installment of Sam Raimi’s trilogy introduced the web-slinger to the big screens and raked in the megabucks.  It made us believe, for a fleeting moment, that a young man could possess the proportionate abilities of a spider.  For that reason, many will remember Tobey Maguire as their Peter Parker.  Then came Spider-Man 2, which was decent.  It had emotional drama and character development. The final Raimi movie devolved into a convoluted, steaming mess.  I have an unfortunate memory of Sandman, Venom, Green Goblin and Spidey in one Royal Rumble-esque cluster-F.

Just five years later, Mark Webb’s competent reboot gave us the eminently likeable and charismatic Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  Amazing 2 however failed to live up to its predecessor, simply going through the motions and leaving us with the feeling that it was, at best, meh.  It was not surprising that the third instalment was cancelled.

The upshot of this is that there are really way too many Spider-Men.  Of course, being a sure-fire, bankable headliner of the Marvel Universe, our wall-crawler had to make a swift appearance on the cinema screens.

And so, in 2015, Sony and Marvel Studios announced that they would get into bed, divvying up the production and other duties.  The straw that broke the camel’s back was quite likely the lukewarm ticket performance of Amazing 2.  One can envision Sony executives scrambling to get Kevin Feige on the phone, pleading with him to take back the #1 son of the Marvel Universe.

Marvel Studio’s marketing acumen is sharp as ever.  Featuring Holland in a supporting cast role in Captain America: Civil War was a safe play and a great testing ground.  And once the welcome reviews were out, the studio could confidently go full-steam ahead with Homecoming.

Better yet, the central role of RDJ in Homecoming was an obvious move.  With the established Hollywood and MCU stalwart front-lining the film, many will flock to be entertained by ol’ shell-head.  From the audiences’ perspective, it is not purely a Spider-man movie, but also an Iron Man flick.

To build the anticipation, the studio’s marketing team went all-out with their viral/guerilla campaign, placing Spidey in the NBA Finals as well as featuring him in a Starbucks prank video.  It got people talking and built up the excitement.

So here we are, faced with a too-soon reboot.  Much has been explored in the previous five Spider-Man films (including the origin story and the power / responsibility theme), so Messrs Feige & Co have their work cut out for them.  The challenge is in bringing in new elements to the hero for a weary audience.  And they’ve managed to pull this off to some extent.

Many would agree that there are a number of good things about this film.  I’ll start by addressing some of them.

The good

Tom Holland

Holland’s awkwardness and youthful exuberance make him much more Ultimate Universe Peter Parker (R.I.P.) than 616’s Dr Parker.  It’s a good casting and the 21-year old Holland is quite convincing as a teenaged Parker.  He balances enthusiasm and exuberance with naivety.  We are given a mercurial prodigy with just the right dash of emo-ness, and a vulnerable kid with a good heart.  All in all, he’s a very likeable kid.

RDJ

Downey Jr, the reigning superstar of the MCU, does what he always does – deliver snark with perfect panache and mesmerize adoring audiences.  It is interesting to see Tony Stark taking on the mentor role.  What we have now is a hip, snarky sensei for the millenials.  This certainly ain’t yer daddy’s Unca Ben.

New direction

The producers knew that yet another origin story may well cause some unpleasant déjà vu, and there is a clear effort to steer the film towards a new path.  That does pay off.

This Spider-man movie dovetails nicely into the greater MCU, with countless references to events and people in the other movies.  We have chitauri tech, ultron armor and Stark Tower, just to name a few.  The production house’s universe-building grand plan is put to good effect here, as we see how our hero is but a part of a greater whole.

There is also the whole tech theme, which is pretty refreshing.  Both Spidey and the Vulture are now teched-out.  And of course, the technology don himself, Tony Stark, is a fixture in the movie.  Troglodytes, step aside.

The high-tech element is a unique take on the wall-crawler.  Older comic book readers will recall the umpteenth instances of poor old Peter running out of web fluid, as he plummets from a high-rise to his seeming doom.

The new suit is easy on the eye, in particular the expressive buggy eyes, which remind us of John Romita Senior’s classic design.  I also released a small gasp at the v.2 spider armor hanging in the new Avengers facility.  Quite the pretty, shiny thing.

The Vulture armor is also well-designed and quite menacing, from the predatory, archangel-like wings to the feet claws.

Themes

One of the lessons Peter learns is not to grow up too fast.  When he overrides the aptly named Training Wheels program, he ends up biting off more than he can chew, and is unable to cope with the array of complicated features installed in the suit.  Sometimes, simple and stupid is good.  This ties in nicely with the related “back-to-basics” theme.

Once Peter is shorn of the Stark suit, he is able to return to his core; a good kid with a huge heart.  As Tony reminds him, “if you’re nothing without the suit, then you don’t deserve the suit.”  So, as Cap would probably remind us, kids, it’s what’s inside that really counts.

In that connection, it was a nice touch to see the Vulture himself showing some grudging respect for Peter’s grit.  And that true grit is exemplified in the buried-alive-in-rubble scene, a clear nod to the famous Spider-man #33. Pete shows us that within his small, lithe frame exists the heart of a lion.

And while the words “power” and “responsibility” are not uttered, we are shown that in the course of his growth, Peter has slowly come to learn his most important and character-defining lesson.

Supporting cast

Happy Hogan is a hoot.  Our favourite gruff billy is back with his tough love, adopting a chaperone-type role for our young protaganist.

Jacob Batalon’s Ned is also quite hilarious, tending to go ape-shit at almost everything.  He is the stand-in for the viewer. While I thought there was a risk of him being nothing more than the funny fat friend, Batalon actually works out well. He’s likeable, sincere and a fitting companion to our protagonist.

Zendaya and Abraham Attah probably get the best lines.  And with Zendaya’s “call me MJ” moment, we will certainly see more of her.

The ending

It’s a shrewd move on the studio’s part to have Peter turn down the Avengers invite.  I’m pretty sure most people in that position would have gleefully grabbed the shiny v.2 suit.  I know I would.

By choosing to stay solo for now, our wall-crawler acknowledges that he needs to learn and grow, until he’s finally ready to play with the big boys.  A nice character development.  It’s smart of the producers to settle on that ending, because Pete’s decision grounds himself at the friendly neighbour-hood level, but also keeps the option open for the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to call on him on an ad hoc basis.  He will certainly feature in the upcoming Avengers movies while being able to helm his own solo outings.

Cameos

A few nice easter eggs were slotted in.  The obligatory Stan Lee appearance is there.  Also, don’t blink or you might miss the reference to the Howling Commandos’ Jim Morita – there’s a picture of him in Principal Morita’s office.

And of course, when Toomes’ merry men make reference to one “Gargan”, I had to turn to my buddy and nod “Scorpion”.  I do like Michael Mando (so excellent in Better Call Saul as Nacho Varga) in the role, and it looks like we will definitely see Scorpion’s pointy tail appear in future.

My favourite cameos were probably Chris Evans’ quite meta appearances.  In each clip, Cap is tongue-in-cheek cheesiness, and the final ending credit scene is certainly not your typical MCU post-credit clip. Quite a lot of mileage for Cap’s short screen time.

The not-so good

So, having discussed what was refreshing and positive, it’s time to turn to a few issues which I felt the film suffered from.

The plot

Yes, this is a superhero movie.  But, there are a few things that are just a tad incredible.  On the ferry, the alien thingamajig just so happens to carve the vessel clean in half.  A little too neat. And very symmetrical.  This is, no doubt, to set us up for that dramatic scene of Spider-man straining to hold the boat together.

And, after the alien gizmo zaps the ferry, not one poor soul is cleaved/vaporised.  Quite the miracle.

And then, Tony flies in to solder the ship back together.  And fortunately all is well (save for a verbal spanking for young Parker).  Quite the feat of engineering genius. I’m not quite sure how that ship was put back together so easily. Thank goodness for that state-of-the-art Stark tech.

I also noticed that the villain pow-wow just so happened to take place in Maryland, and at the same time that the nerd tournament is taking place in DC.  So, it’s pretty convenient that Peter can hitch a ride on the school bus.

And, another alien gizmo in Ned’s bag just so happens to start going thermonuclear during the visit to the Washington Monument.  Of course, that is all meant to set up the exciting scene of Spidey scaling the obelisk and engaging in some shenanigans with the elevator.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the plot I had was with Liz’s dad turning out to be Toomes.  A coincidence indeed.  Was this simply to set up the awkward kitchen and car scenes between Toomes and Parker, as well as to allow the villain to ascertain Spidey’s identity?  It certainly looks like it. I can think of a number of neater and more logical ways to reach those plot points, and I felt that the Toomes reveal was not particularly well thought-out by the script-writers. As one of my buddies asked, “remind me how many people live in Brooklyn / Queens again?”

Character development

Gone is the kindly, wizened Aunt May.  The ageless Marisa Tomei is now repackaged for the younger generation.  There is a not very funny scene involving the word “larb”, and it is fun to see an expletive-uttering May.  But unfortunately, there isn’t much time given to her character development.  All you will probably remember is that May is quite the hottie, with numerous suiters.

Liz is also unfortunately just a pretty face, and a plot device for the Parker-Toomes showdown. Job done, she is conveniently sent away at the end of the show. Seems a waste.

The baddies

With the numerous arachnid films that have come and gone, Spidey’s stable of villains is quickly running dry.  This time, the Vulture and Shocker get to have their day out.

In my view, the Vulture has a middling ranking in the stable of on-screen Spidey villains.  My favourite might be Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock.  Willem Dafoe, while not a bad casting, was a tad too campy and OTT for Green Goblin.  The Lizard was forgettable, while Electro was terrible.  And let’s not forget the utterly miscast Topher Grace as Eddie Brock (yay, Tom Hardy).  Ugh.

Mr Toomes comes complete with cheesy baddie dialogue, as Michael Keaton growls, “the world’s changing. It’s time we changed too” and “he thinks he can tear down everything I’ve built“.  Ouch.

And then there’s a spiel about picking up scraps and whatnot, which is just run-of-the-mill and tired.  We don’t really know why the Vulture does what he does.  There are some brief proletariat, Marxist-type references about people on the ground versus the people up there, yadda yadda.  But then, we end up concluding that Toomes probably just likes arms-dealing because it allows him to buy a nice house and provide for his family.

Keaton is a first-rate thespian, with decades of acting chops (most notably in the brilliant Birdman).  He has been pegged to the movie ostensibly for brand name and star power.  Keaton does what he can with the pretty awkward lines, relying only on his natural charisma and general bad-ass-ness.  But, it doesn’t change the fact that some his lines were pretty terrible. I felt a moment of sadness for the actor when he growled to Pete in the car, “I’ll kill you dead”.  Sigh.

Oh, and the Shocker is a non-starter.  When the gauntlets pass on from Shocker #1 to Shocker #2, no one really cares.  Viewers who do not read the comics will very likely forget that the villain was even in the movie. It’s quite the waste of Bokeem Woodbine, who put in a memorable performance as Mike Milligan in Fargo.

CG

As my wife pointed out, the action and CG is not easy to follow.  Notwithstanding some creative elements employed, the ferry fight scene, Vulture plane heist and final battle are a bit too messy. And, in IMAX 3D, the confusion is magnified.

On hindsight, watching the film in Digital might well have been a better choice. There were also a few scenes involving Spidey and Iron Man where the effects looked just a little too fake, in particular, the post-Ferry telling-off scene by the armored Avenger.

Conclusion

Homecoming has been lauded by many as the best Spider-Man film yet, and to a significant degree.  I’m not entirely convinced.  Even if it is, it might not be by that big a margin. The movie certainly has its moments, but suffers from a few issues.

I don’t think many would dispute that it is highly entertaining and a breath of fresh air.  It has a good, talented cast, who are somewhat let down by certain elements in the script-writing.

All in all, it’s a good effort and highly entertaining, as has become the absolute minimum standard for MCU flicks.  I would not however contend that it is particularly mind-blowing or ground-breaking.

But, it does do what MCU flicks are supposed to do, which is: (a) evoke laughs, (b) have a feel-good vibe and (c) command in excess of $500m in small change.  I have no doubt that (c) will be easily satisfied.

Conclusion: B+

Speculation angle

Not much to say about Amazing Fantasy #15, our arachnid hero’s first appearance. Almost every comic collector will know its pedigree. And many whales will consider it their absolute holy grail. I don’t think the movie will really have an impact on the book, which will rise to astronomic heights in any event.

A friend once told me that if you have the spare cash, picking up AF #15 is better than buying gold. Looking at how the book has doubled, tripled, etc. over just a handful of years, it is hard to argue against that logic.

What is notable is the post-credit scene featuring the prologue to the Sinister Six movie. We now know that both the Vulture and Scorpion will feature in due course. Now might be a decent time to consider picking up their first appearances, in ASM #2 and #19, respectively.

A 6.5 copy of ASM #2 sold on Heritage Auctions for $2.6K in May this year. Further back, in November 2015, a 9.0 copy went for $5.7K on the same site. It doesn’t look like a terribly expensive book, and might be worth a shot if you have the spare change.

ASM #19 is even less pricey. In May 2017, 9.2 and 9.4 books went on Heritage for $717 and $1,195 respectively. The comic could be worth a small gamble, as we haven’t even see Mac Gargan don his shiny green armored suit (I’m certainly looking forward to that).

6 comments

  • Favorite scene in the movie…..the final one before the credits! Beyond that, meh. It wasn’t really good, it wasn’t really bad. Bottom line I think this was made moreso to get Spidey back in the MCU.

  • Brian W

    Great review! Very well written.

  • dpiercy

    Movie is good, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is exvellent. The villains, however, are excrement. Would it be that hard to have them resemble their comic book counter parts a little bit more?

    They should have got John Malkovich in a nappy green bird suit, nursing an army of baby vultures, yelling things like, “Peter Parker, I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE!”

  • Nice article and quality review. Have to say I thought the film was exceptional and a great addition to the MCU. My biggest gripe was with the goofball dork the cast to play Flash Thompson. In no High School is that boy picking on anyone.

    Lastly, Amazing Spider-Man 2 can tend to get incredibly pricey haha. I’m not sure who has 2.6k laying around to drop on a 6.5 copy. Awesome article though and good work!

    • Alexander Lee

      Thanks for the kind words, AJ!! I agree that the Flash casting is unusual – the rich brat rather than the beefy bully. He just seems pretty wimpy. And to think that Flash becomes Agent Venom in the books!

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