Spider-Man: Homecoming

MPAA Rating: PG-13 | Rating: ★★★½
Release year: 2017
Genre: Action, Coming-of-Age, Superhero Director: Jon Watts

Spider-Man: Homecoming opens with a video diary–a vlog–from Tom Holland’s Peter Parker recording the events that happened in Captain America: Civil War, where the teenage superhero from Queens was called in by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) for an overstuffed airport showdown in Berlin. This humorous opening scene is indicative of the rest of the film. It works quite well as a teenage movie, a John Hughes throwback within the superhero genre; it’s Peter Parker’s Day Off. It’s pretty good as a Spider-Man movie; it’s better than the moody Andrew Garfield reboots and about the same level as the campy Tobey Maguire films. So it’s just disappointing when it becomes a commercial for the MCU or future Tony Stark/Avengers films. Just as Peter Parker tries to figure out his identity over the course of the film as a “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man,” the film itself waffles between these genre identities. It’s at its strongest when it’s a teen film with superhero themes, as opposed to a superhero film pretending to be a high school movie.

Tom Holland’s 15-year-old Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first filmic Spider-Man to truly feel like a teenager. The film thankfully isn’t a traditional superhero origin story (we don’t have to watch Uncle Ben die *again*), but it is a teen film origin story, focusing on the emergence of Peter Parker’s identity as he wrestles with how to reconcile his various roles– friend to Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Michelle (Zendaya), son/nephew to Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), student at Midtown School of Science and Technology, and “intern” to Tony Stark as an burgeoning superhero and potential Avenger. This is a bildungsroman with web shooters. Peter is frustrated by Stark’s boundaries and babysitting, as he doesn’t want to be treated like a kid any more. Yet Peter’s frequent lack of judgment, impulsive behavior, youthful idealism, and tech-savvy spirit reveal that he’s still got a lot to learn. It’s this kid/adult tension that plays out wonderfully here, as how he’s treated by various adults–especially Stark–portraying Peter’s navigation of adolescent identity formation as confusing as it is in real life. At one moment, he’s being called on by Stark to fight alongside the Avengers, particularly when it suits Stark’s needs and agenda; at another moment, he’s being told by Stark to go home, even stripped of the special suit as a sort of punishment (like a parent taking away the keys to the family car). (Side note: it’s worth noting that Downey Jr. played a bully in John Hughes 1985 Weird Science.) Stark’s father-figure mentoring is certainly dysfunctional and disjointed, yet I found that to be authentic to how many adults view and treat teenagers. Peter’s frustration and confusion is apt, and Holland imbues him with a nerdy charm and appealing sincerity that makes for a great high school protagonist. Between this film and The Lost City of Z, Holland is having a very good year.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a smaller story, and that’s a strength. The threat is local and the villain is, as Stark puts it, “below the Avengers’ pay grade.” Michael Keaton’s Vulture is menacing and the intentions behind his actions are understandable and personal, which makes him formidable, albeit a bit forgettable. The action sequences are primarily around the neighborhoods of New York, though a significant and thrilling sequence takes place on the Washington Monument. Though I’m not a local, the film feels like a New York story, celebrating the diversity of the city even as it hones in on Peter’s locale of Queens, even critiquing the suburban lifestyle beyond the city limits. The characters are wonderfully diverse in race and personality, and the supporting cast is strong, particularly Batalon and Tomei as Peter’s primary community and support. Homecoming takes human life and relationships seriously, especially the threat of death that comes with being a superhero. In an action scene on a ferry boat, Peter does everything he can to save individual lives, including the villains. Even in the final predictable CGI punchfest between Spider-Man and Vulture, there’s a notable emphasis on redeeming human lives rather than destroying them. In the MCU universe, where cities are frequently leveled and consequences are often overlooked or downplayed, Homecoming‘s smaller look at individual lives in the neighborhood felt refreshing, like the lighter, more hopeful side of Marvel’s Netflix show Daredevil. Even when some of the jokes and dialogue are awkward or don’t quite work, it’s understandable and forgivable. After all, Homecoming is a teen film. It’s a lot of fun and full of potential, yet there’s still some growing up to do.

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