is a Tangled Web
of Amazing Spectacle
By Matthew Arcilla
Fifteen years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and we’re on our third incarnation of the character. By all rights, we should be exhausted, our arms folded and our eyes rolling in their sockets. But something changed in the years since then: superhero movies are mostly better than they’ve ever been.
Sure, there is a sense of genre fatigue, but for the most part they’ve become confident and thoughtful. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the culmination of that growth. It also features a hero (and actor) who is much younger than any of his previous incarnations. Star Tom Holland was 19 when he filled the part for Captain America: Civil War and he’s 21 now.
Yet Spider-Man: Homecoming has the most grown-up attitude of the Marvel movies, outside of Iron Man 3. It acts to elevate the Marvel Cinematic Universe – largely seen as the standard bearer for the genre – by showing us a future beyond the superhuman geopolitics and oh so serious macho posturing.
But more importantly, Spider-Man: Homecoming has a great script and a broader appreciation of the Spider-Man character. Homecoming does away with star crossed romance and abandonment issues in favor of something better: the wonder of youth, and the desire to spend it wisely when you’re growing up with great power and great responsibility.
Michael Keaton’s Vulture is like an ultimate reinvention.
Marvel villains like Ronan and Malekith have been derided for their one dimensional desire to see the world, the galaxy or the planes burn. But the Vulture is a relatable villain whose motivations are far from grandiose: He’s just a low level guy salvaging high tech scrap from fat cats like S.H.I.E.L.D. and Tony Stark. Michael Keaton channels a smoldering resentment such that when he says he will kill you and everyone you love, it’s like a guy down the street putting a gun to your face.
Tony Stark’s presence never wears out its welcome.
The most troubling aspect of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s marketing was how much Iron Man / Tony Stark was in it. He’s in the trailers, on the poster, and on the social media. But while Stark plays a key role throughout the Peter’s personal arc, he’s wonderfully absent from most of it. His presence is felt, more than it is seen. That gives Peter a lot of breathing room to highlight his enthusiasm, his resourcefulness and his immaturity. And when Stark does show up, he makes those minutes matter.
Peter’s origin is mercifully glossed over.
We’ve said it before: Great power, dead uncle, great responsibility. Peter Parker’s origin has been played out often enough that it hardly needs repeating for all but the most pop-culturally-unaware. Spider-Man: Homecoming wisely eschews the genre formality of an origin. It’s a welcome decision that strips the moral and ethical guilt complex that drove past origins to focus on a good-hearted kid who wants to prove himself.
Growing up is tough in a world after the Battle of New York.
Spider-Man: Homecoming gives us a great depiction of Peter’s high school, Midtown High, that feels like it belongs in a living, breathing modern day New York. Genre stereotypes like smug jocks and mean girls are thankfully absent, allowing us to focus on what’s going inside Peter’s mind. He’s not preoccupied with the high school pecking order, but is struggling instead to fit into the small world of pop quizzes and prom after briefly stepping into the larger world of the Avengers.