The Good: Sense of realism surrounding the protagonist, Sense of consequence for prior films
The Bad: Unremarkable protagonist, Light on great or even interesting performance moments, Familiar character arc
The Basics: A painfully mediocre Marvel Cinematic Universe work, Spider-Man: Homecoming smartly explores the enduring consequences of the Chituari invasion by blandly blending that with the story of a teenager figuring out a super-suit he was given.
As a genre fan and a reviewer, Marvel films are pretty much a staple. So, it is a testament to how little enthusiasm I had going into Spider-Man: Homecoming that it took me until today (almost a week after its initial release) to actually make time to watch the movie. I have never really been a fan of the character and source material for Spider-Man, though I did like Andrew Garfield and thought he did fine in The Amazing Spider-Man (reviewed here!). Despite not feeling compelled to rush right out and see Spider-Man: Homecoming, when I sat down to the film today, I did so with an open mind and a general excitement to take the movie in.
Spider-Man: Homecoming slowly became a difficult film to review because it actually did much of what it set out to do well, but I quickly discovered how little interest I had in that story. Spider-Man: Homecoming is very much the story of what would happen if a teenage boy suddenly got into the super hero business and had to figure out his own way through developing his abilities using unfamiliar technology and no training. And Spider-Man: Homecoming did that well, but with so many other works - The Flash Season 1 (reviewed here!) and Daredevil Season 1 (reviewed here!) - where long arcs have been done showing protagonists slowly developing their skills, Spider-Man: Homecoming feels very much like it is coming late to the party.
That said, from almost the first frames of the film, Spider-Man: Homecoming is obsessed with fleshing out the consequences of prior Marvel Cinematic Universe works. In the process, Spider-Man: Homecoming further undermines Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and retcons S.H.I.E.L.D. to have been even more incompetant than it was overwhelmed. Like almost every Marvel Cinematic Universe work that followed it, Spider-Man: Homecoming explores the devastating consequences of the Battle Of New York from the climax of The Avengers (reviewed here!). When Peter Parker and Spider-Man were introduced in Captain America: Civil War (reviewed here!), there was a distracting quality to the boy's introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it set Spider-Man: Homecoming to leap over the traditional super-hero origin story. Unfortunately, while bypassing the origin, Spider-Man: Homecoming gets mired in the training phase of the super hero arc and mixes that with a banal teen drama story.
Following the Battle Of New York, Adrian Toomes and his business are poised to grow from salvaging Chitauri technology when the salvage operations are taken over by a Stark subsidiary. Facing ruin, Toomes steals an artifact and - with his employees - quietly refuses to turn over technology they already recovered. Eight years later, Toomes and his crew have developed weapons based upon Chitauri technology and have begun to dominate the black market in New York selling their hybridized weaponry to criminals. Around that time, Peter Parker meets Tony Stark and is recruited for the Berlin mission. Following that, Parker is put under the guidance and observation of Happy Hogan and generally abandoned by Stark.
Peter starts cutting out his activities so he can be ready for Tony Stark's call, but it never comes. Parker takes up the mantle of Spider-Man to help people and fight street-level crime. When he encounters criminals robbing an ATM using Toomes's technology, Spider-Man inadvertently creates collateral damage in the form of a bodega Parker loves getting destroyed. Parker begins to track Toomes's crew, but quickly discovers that Tony Stark has put safeguards and tracking devices into his suit. With the help of his friend Ned, Parker deactivates the suit's safeguards and tracks Toomes's supplies to Washington, D.C. There, he is put in a position where his classmates are in danger and he has to save them.
Facing a loss of his supplies and his business, Toomes sets out to eliminate Spider-Man by finishing the development of his advanced flight suit. Toomes and his newly-promoted associate are about to be taken down by the FBI when Toomes reveals his flight suit and manages to elude Spider-Man's capture. But while Spider-Man is able to save the nearly-destroyed Staten Island Ferry that the Vulture sliced in half to escape, that draws the attention and active involvement of Tony Stark in his attempt to stop the criminal enterprise.
Spider-Man: Homecoming gets some things very right, primarily not relying excessively on special effects to make the movie work. Instead of being a fairly gross explosion of CG-effects, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to be comparatively grounded, focusing more on the characters and the plot than big special effects sequences. And Toomes is a villain who manages to stay just on the right side of being over-the-top when he finally suits up to become Vulture.
The thing is, the pacing and tone of Spider-Man: Homecoming, having Peter Parker fumble through his early training while desperately waiting for Tony Stark's call and getting fobbed off on Happy Hogan makes the first hour and twenty minutes of the film feel like a particularly lame Iron Man spin-off. But right around the point where I was bored enough to not care, Spider-Man: Homecoming actually presents an effective reversal in the plot. When Peter Parker picks up his date for the school dance, he gets a decent surprise and Spider-Man: Homecoming finally presents a villain who is not outwitted by a fifteen year-old boy.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man: Homecoming rapidly develops a decent climax - which essentially puts Spider-Man and Vulture in a fight for a plane full of Stark Technologies crates that Happy was moving from Stark Tower to the Avengers facility in upstate New York - and then attempts a second "surprise" reversal that falls flat and feels desperate (much in the way putting "Robin" into The Dark Knight Rises felt forced).
Spider-Man: Homecoming is dominated on the acting front by Michael Keaton. Keaton plays Toomes and right off the bat, Toomes fits into the very pragmatic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The grounding aspect of the MCU has been that characters are often limited by real-world aspects - Tony Stark making a clunky prototype suit with discarded missile pieces in a cave, the weak Steve Rogers not having any chance to join the traditional military, Scott Lang getting fired from Baskin-Robbins when they learn he is an ex-con, etc. - and Toomes starts right there. Toomes is looking to provide for his family and is willing to do anything he has to to take care of their needs. Toomes makes sense and his leap from trying to play by the rules to black market arms merchant needs no drawn-out transition. Toomes is a pragmatist whose sense of identity is maintained throughout Spider-Man: Homecoming and Michael Keaton does a good job at playing the villain, especially in a key moment when the character's sense of understanding is played entirely through Keaton's facial expressions.
For as good as Keaton is and as sensible as Toomes is as an adversary, he is not enough to save Spider-Man: Homecoming. Tom Holland plays Peter Parker as bland and Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Zendaya and Tony Revolori all outshine Holland in the school scenes they share.
The biggest issues with Spider-Man: Homecoming come from its continuity in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. How did Toomes and his crew avoid falling victim to the microbes that were on Chitauri technology in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "FZZT" (reviewed here!)? While the "Department Of Damage Control" seems like a pretty thin veil for S.H.I.E.L.D. teams recovering Chitauri technology in New York City, how is it that S.H.I.E.L.D. - before and after its fall from grace - never detected Toomes and his crew using Chitauri technology. While it is reasonable that a city as large as New York City would have multiple groups - Hammer Technologies, Toomes's salvage business, the New York Fire Department, and at least one privateer - that might end up with Chitauri technology, the more that new groups are retconned into having that technology, the more incompetant S.H.I.E.L.D. is made. In past Marvel Cinematic Universe works, S.H.I.E.L.D. had shit locked down - it took one man, Coulson, to investigate Thor's hammer falling to Earth and getting that (and Thor!) completely contained. Obviously, New York City is much larger and the Chituari invasion was much more massive, but the dependence within the Marvel Cinematic Universe of that invasion turning so many new-to-the-narrative characters bad reduces the effectiveness of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the magnitude of other attacks, like the Dark Elf attack on London.
Ultimately, Spider-Man: Homecoming is more forgettable than it is bad. Spider-Man: Homecoming does a decent job of exploring how big events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have had consequences that resonate for years, but the teenager stumbling through using technology he was handed progresses with minimal flare and a comparatively low "wow" factor, making for a less-impressive cinematic outing.
For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Transformers: The Last Knight
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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