Film Review

'Spider-Man: Homecoming' wins big by
staying small

By Leigh Monson

   Spider-Man has had a bit of a rough decade in film, as Sony first torpedoed the original trilogy by interfering with director Sam Raimi's creative vision, then rebooted the franchise entirely on a lower budget as a dark counterpoint to Marvel Studios' growing cinematic universe, only to have it fail spectacularly.  
    Now Marvel gets play with their favorite web-slinger again (under Sony's "supervision") in a joint effort that incorporates Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, cheekily calling it Spider-Man: Homecoming as a nod to that bit of corporate intellectual property management while textually drawing focus on Peter Parker as a high schooler. So how does it fare? Well, it's no Spider-Man 2 in terms of raw quality, but Homecoming might just be the Spider-Man movie to most faithfully translate the character to the screen while offering a 21st century spin to aspects of the mythos that are starting to age poorly.
     The genius of Homecoming lies in its tone, which seems to beg the question, "What if John Hughes were really into comic books?" All the trappings of a high school comedy are present; from concerns about a quiz bowl championship to ruminations on detention and the titular dance, this is a film specifically targeted at the teenage crowd, but it still pulls from a pool of universally empathetic experiences to draw in those of us a bit older and more jaded. All of this is set against a refreshingly and technologically modern and racially diverse backdrop that actually reflects what a school in Queens would look like, which makes for a welcome update to tired tropes of both the high school comedy and the Spider-Man mythos.
     But what of the Spider-Man portions of this Spider-Man movie? Well, Tom Holland is about as perfect a distillation of Peter Parker as has ever been put to screen. With all apologies to Tobey Maguire, Holland embodies a teenage innocence that constantly belies his struggle between his newfound powers and his responsibility to his friends and family without ever having to actually say the iconic phrase. But what Homecoming seems to understand better than any of its predecessors is that Spider-Man is a hero who works best on a small scale, fighting street-level crime with extra-natural enhancements while quipping and cracking wise. Peter may spend the runtime pining for the days when he can be an Avenger, but his growth comes from learning what exactly it is that makes him uniquely heroic.
     Special mention must be given to Michael Keaton as the Vulture, who goes down as one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's best villains, embodying a combination of working class angst and charismatic malice that acts as a jaded counterpoint to Peter Parker's youthful hopefulness.
It would have been easy for Marvel to emulate the operatic scope of the Raimi trilogy or to make the same overstuffed mistakes of the Amazing Spider-Man films, but they correctly decided that scale was the anathema of what Spider-Man is about, particularly when he exists in a world where literal gods and aliens rain from the sky. By embracing a tighter, more personal story, Marvel proved that they are not only the ones best suited to telling a Spidey story, but they are capable of telling stories with lower stakes than the cataclysmic apocalypses that have dominated recent years of superhero film. The fact that those stakes still carry the requisite weight is what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so impressive.

4/5 stars

Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.