Spider-Man finally swung home. Back in February of 2015, I wrote about why Spider-Man swinging back to Marvel Studios would be a good thing for the famed webslinger. Now, two years later, we have Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sixth Spider-Man film that actually feels like the first. The film, which stars Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Michael Keaton as The Vulture, is exhilarating, extremely well-made and most excitingly of all, refreshing. It shows how you properly reboot a character like Spider-Man, cementing Kevin Fiege and Marvel Studios as creative powerhouses who truly care about these characters. Let’s take a look at why Homecoming was the perfect Spidey reboot – and what’s in store for him after this.
To understand why Homecoming works so well means investigating why the last couple of movies didn’t. That’s why over the last few weeks I looked back at the previous six Spider-Man films ranging from Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man from 2002, to its two sequels in 2004 & 2007, and of course Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man reboots. Sam Raimi’s first two movies are classics of the genre, and they still hold up today. The third film is where things start to go awry, and Marc Webb’s films are somewhat of a convoluted mess. There was some hesitancy and concern from fans on why a second Spider-Man reboot in three years was even necessary to begin with. FirstShowing’s editor-in-chief, Alex, even expressed some of his hesitancy when Marvel Studios and Sony first struck a deal back in 2015. However, Spider-Man: Homecoming finally gets the Peter Parker character absolutely right.
In a refreshing twist, Marvel Studios and director Jon Watts get Spider-Man right in a way that is totally different than how he’s been portrayed in the previous six films. At the same time, Homecoming is still remarkably faithful to the spirit of the character.
It’s really telling when, after thirteen moves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (so far) and six different Spider-Man films, Spider-Man: Homecoming can still feel like a breath of fresh air. Homecoming is actively trying to be a different kind of Spider-Man film, while never really feeling like it is trying too hard to separate itself from the previous incarnations of the character. It doesn’t add unneeded mystery or romantic sub-plots. It doesn’t make itself feel pointless by setting up future films. It just tries to be a good story first and utmost, which is partly why the last three Spider-Man movies failed. Spider-Man: Homecoming truly succeeds by feeling like a Spider-Man story about what makes Spider-Man great. Spider-Man (as in the character, the superhero) is whimsical yet grounded, youthful yet wise, and overall, simple yet effective.
That is exactly what Homecoming is able to absolutely nail when the film is at its strongest. A good Spider-Man story takes us back to feeling like a kid again, but still reminds us that growth is necessary. Peter Parker doesn’t have to actually be a youth to get this across, but it’s the best way if it can be done well. Homecoming does this so fundamentally well. Tom Holland is wonderful as Parker and Spider-Man. He feels so natural in the role, as you genuinely like him right away and can relate to him. Homecoming illustrates and balances those two elements so well. It makes us understand what great power and in result, great responsibility, means without ever having to utter the phrase. We’re with Peter the whole movie and we feels what he feels – whether it be the joyful release of getting to suit up as Spider-Man, asking a girl to the homecoming dance – or facing a very deadly, tense, and dire situation against a very real enemy.
Speaking of the devil, there have already been plentiful kudos given to Michael Keaton for his performance as Adrian Toomes and The Vulture. Keaton does a great job in the role, and it helps that Toomes is a fully formed character with real motivations, actions, and perspective. Every time he’s on screen, whether it be commanding a scene as Toomes or terrorizing one as The Vulture, he has your full attention. Marvel Studios has been criticized for creating lackluster villains, apart from Loki, in their movie. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Jamie Foxx’s Electro wanted "to be seen" and Harry Osborn wanted Spider-Man’s blood. Not great character work there. In The Amazing Spider-Man, The Lizard just wanted to turn all New Yorkers into… lizards. The Vulture, however, works so intrinsically well because he’s not aiming for world domination or to reptilize the human race. At the end of Amazing Spider-Man 2, Electro’s actions felt meaningless and the consequences of his actions acted as a mere nuisance for Spider-Man. Besides wanting to "be seen", Electro doesn’t have much in way of character development besides his obsession with Spidey. Toomes, on the other hand, is just simply trying to provide a better life for his wife and his daughter, making the stakes real and personal. I’d argue that Keaton’s Vulture is one of the best superhero villains in a long time, because his motivations are believable and his actions carry significant thematic weight.
What also separates Homecoming from the pack is how it understands the character of Peter Parker in a different yet completely faithful way than the previous films. Both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were great as the superhero character, but Tom Holland brings a naivety and earnestness that ironically grounds Peter in a way we really haven’t seen before. It also helps that the film feels like a John Hughes movie, with its primarily high school setting and casting actors who are actually believable as high school students. Homecoming was the first time I actually felt scared for Spider-Man’s well being in a live-action film. There’s a brilliant scene involving the Washington Monument where Spider-Man actually feels scared. He looks down, and he panics. It’s a great moment, and it works so well because it is a genuinely believable moment. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is a kid who makes mistakes, but he learns from them. He acts just like a fifteen year-old kid would, echoing back to some of the greatest Spider-Man stories.
There’s a great article by Victoria McNally of Polygon that expounds upon this in great detail. In the film, the Vulture has trapped Peter Parker in his warehouse lair by crumbling the cement pylons around him. The Vulture leaves him for dead, thinking he will either give up or die. Here we find Peter Parker at his lowest point. Tony Stark has taken away his high-tech Spider suit, so he’s without any of the resources he’s had for a majority of the film. He doesn’t have the Avengers or Iron Man to help him out. He has to will himself to muster the strength, proving that he’s Spider-Man no matter what costume he wears. The moment works so immeasurably well, besides operating in a different context than a very similar moment from the comics, because Peter is earning his status as Spider-Man. He’s made mistakes, but he’s learning and growing from them. It’s the kind of character development we haven’t seen from Peter Parker since Spider-Man 2.
I can’t wait to see how this version of Spider-Man learns and grows from here. Kevin Feige has mentioned that he intends Spider-Man to have a starring role in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which starts with the release of the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming (and continues with Thor: Ragnarok). There are so many limitless possibilities, and characters that Marvel can utilize. It goes without saying that Uncle Ben was not mentioned once in Homecoming (besides a passing reference), which added to the movie’s refreshing vibe. However, there is an opportunity for Marvel and their filmmakers to work in references as Peter grows throughout the series. Aunt May is also a character that seemed to have somewhat of a minimal role. As the ending seemed to hint, Peter and May’s dynamic could enter unexplored territory in the sequel. There’s also the character of "MJ", or Michelle, and one hopes characters like Ned and Flash return as well.
Peter’s youthful zeal may lose its appeal over time, but I hope the character stays in high school for as long as possible. There’s so many experiences Peter has yet to deal with, such as going to prom (and maybe not leaving the girl, or assisting in having her parent arrested), continuing to disappoint friends or dealing with the complications of leading a double life as a high school student and a superhero. Homecoming only skimmed the surface of what’s still possible with this character. We’ve seen other characters like Norman Osborn or Otto Octavius in these movies, but there are added stakes if they act as true mentors to Peter. Yes, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock acted in mentor-esque roles, but imagine the heartbreak of being a sixteen year-old kid with no father figure and having your mentor literally turn on you. With Peter as an actual kid, there’s so much room to explore stories from different yet exciting avenues.
Which is saying something that despite existing in the cinematic lexicon for the last fifteen years, Spider-Man is just as engaging and entertaining and fresh as ever. Spider-Man’s next role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a supporting role in the next two Avengers: Infinity War movies. I’m really excited to see what role Spider-Man plays in the "war", and how he’s evolved as a superhero from Captain America: Civil War to Homecoming into Infinity War. I think watching this Spider-Man learn and grow over a series of movies will prove to be immensely entertaining and satisfying. Peter Parker will continue to make mistakes, and we will continue to be there opening night to watch him pick himself back up again.
So do you agree with all of this? Is Sony & Marvel’s Homecoming the perfect Spidey reboot?