Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Fifteen years ago, a ‘little’ superhero film reminded me why it was so cool to be a comic book nerd — that film was Spider-Man (2002). Helmed by a lesser-known horror director, Sam Raimi, this moderately budgeted Spidey adaptation was highly inventive and just plain awesome, the movie featuring some truly stunning, never-seen-before visuals. Watching the costumed avenger swing his way through a tan-tinted New York City was worth the price of admission alone. Moreover, the screenplay, by David Koepp, really understood the character of Peter Parker — a youngster burdened by real-life problems. Parker, played by an on-target Tobey Maguire, was your everyman, embodying the titular hero and his boyish counterpart to a tee. He was somebody that viewers could really relate to.
Spider-Man also gave us iconic moments such as Mary Jane Watson’s (Kirsten Dunst) upside-down rain-soaked kiss (which she shared with the masked avenger), a scene that reminded women (of all ages) why they clung onto the fantasy of being swept off their feet. The picture was also populated by an array of memorable characters — J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson being an absolute scene-stealer. Honestly, Spider-Man reminded me why I loved going to the movies. I wanted to be Spider-Man — I’m sure everybody else did, too. And, with the flick finishing up on a semi-cliff hanging note, the inevitable sequel couldn’t come any sooner. I can totally understand why worldwide audiences flocked to theaters, moviegoers embracing Spider-Man wholeheartedly. To say it was an instant classic is an understatement.
So, those calling Homecoming ‘the best Spider-Man movie ever made’ need to re-evaluate their early reactions, because this film kinda blows. It doesn’t help that the property and character — created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee way back in 1962 — are overly fatigued. To think, Homecoming is the sixth time that audiences have been presented with a Spider-Man film, this joint Marvel-Sony venture the third time the franchise has been given an all-out reboot in under twenty years. Why not opt for a Silk or Spider-Gwen picture instead, these stories very much in line with the spirit of the spandex-wearing web-slinger. And didn’t Sony have plans for an evildoer team-up in the form of a Sinister Six flick, which followed the Andrew Garfield-starring The Amazing Spider-Man saga (2012-2014), the halfwits over at Sony deciding that it’d be a good idea to scrap the series altogether (at the midway point, mind you) and restart all over again. Talk about disrespecting the core fans! Haven’t you heard the saying, ‘finish what you start’?
Unfortunately, to keep proceedings kinda ‘fresh,’ the suits have chosen to altar some of the fundamental aspects of the Spidey story, making Homecoming an out-and-out misfire. With that said, the film’s Avengers tie-ins are actually quite solid, even if the Spider-Man stuff, ironically, isn’t. Let me explain. Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in the aftermath of The Avengers (2012), New York City still devastated from the catastrophic clash between Earth’s mightiest heroes and the invading Chitauri army. Adrian Toomes (played by an excellent Michael Keaton) is a local salvage company owner heading the large-scale cleanup; though, that’s until the smug, newly formed ‘Department of Damage Control’ drives the contractors out, the D.O.D.C. informing Toomes and his crew to seek alternative employment. Enraged over losing the gig, Toomes decided to take matters into his own hands, recruiting his co-worker pals for a secret operation. Keeping the alien technology they’d collected, this shady scheme pushes Toomes and his blue-collar buds into a life of crime, the men secretly hijacking shipments of recovered alien debris and then using it for their own criminal agenda, Toomes weaponizing the tech then selling it on the black-market.
With Oscar nominee Michael Keaton, Birdman (2014), embodying The Vulture — a character who, interestingly, collects scraps just like the large-winged scavenger — it’s no so surprise to find that this bird-of-prey is Marvel’s best, and (funnily) most down-to-earth, antagonist since Iron Man 3’s Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). For one, The Vulture is actually humanized, Toomes given solid motivation; the 65-year-old Keaton making the ‘bad guy’ a character whom patrons can (to a certain degree) empathize with — Toomes is simply a man trying to survive in a post-Avengers world. And look, it’s awesome to see Keaton don a ‘Birdman’ getup, post-Birdman — ingenious! Aiding Toomes in his crooked venture, we have Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine) and Jackson Brice (Logan Marshall-Green), who portray different incarnations of The Shocker, and Phineas Mason (Michael Chernus), whom Marvel fan-boys might recognize as The Tinkerer, this band of felons wonderfully realized by the respective support cast.
Regrettably, that’s about all I enjoyed in Homecoming. Well, that, and the fun Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos; as one would expect, Robert Downey Jr. oozes charisma as Tony Stark, Iron Man, thankfully, not stealing the limelight from the web-head himself; the righteous yet rigid Captain America (Chris Evans) pops up for a handful of hilarious Public Service Announcements, which are televised at Midtown High School; and Gwyneth Paltrow is smokin’ in her brief scene as Pepper Potts. So, contrary to the terrible advertising campaign, Homecoming is not Iron Man 3.5. Granted, Peter’s red-and-blue spandex-y suit has been given an Iron Man-style upgrade, the ‘armor’ now complete with its very own JARVIS-esque AI interface, whom Peter names Karen (voiced by Jennifer Connelly, wife of Paul Bettany), retractable eyes (which I dug) and state-of-the-art gizmos and gadgets. Okay, let’s go with Iron Spider instead.
With the movie jumping (some) eight years forward, we are re-introduced to a 15-year-old Peter Parker — following his excellent debut into the MCU in Civil War (2016) — a hormonal teenage boy gifted with spider-like senses, Tom Holland — who, admittedly, makes for a pretty ace Spider-Man — reprising the role. Here’s where things start to go south. Firstly, with no real ‘origin’ stuff, director Jon Watts (who?) throws audiences right into the deep end, expecting that every man and his dog has seen (at least) one of Sony’s other Spider-Man films. So, in essence, this movie relies heavily on prior knowledge. Talk about alienating? And, with no concrete backstory, there’s little insight into Peter Parker’s abilities, these very much undefined — is it the suit (courtesy of Tony Stark) that gives him his power or is it just (mostly) him? Parker’s strength is also inconsistent — one minute he’s being dragged across town by baddies in a van, then later he’s strong enough to hold a ferry from splitting in two; Peter gets a concussion from bumping his head in a wagon, then he’s okay after an entire building collapses on top of him.
Much like the peppy Spider-Man who stole the show in last year’s Civil War, Peter Parker is witty, jovial and really quite sure of himself. All he wants to do is become an Avenger, Peter having little in the way of motivation outside of this. The last time I checked, Peter Parker was created to be identifiable, a kid with real-world problems. Being an Avenger is far from what I’d call relatable. Besides, wanting to join the Avengers is not what being a hero is all about — sure, Homecoming tries to address this issue in the third act, but (in my eyes) it’s a case of ‘too little, too late.’ Also, where’s Pete’s interest in taking pictures, journalism or the school paper?
Furthermore, Parker, as seen in the comics, is depicted as a ‘nerdy’ high-school-aged adolescent struggling to make sense of the word around him; he’s an outsider desperate to fit in with his surroundings and peers. Yes, this version of Peter is ‘geeky,’ intuitive and intelligent (check), but he hardly feels vulnerable. See, rival ‘Flash’ Thompson (Tony Revolori) is simply not threatening; he’s a dweeby bench warmer on the debating team, a team that Peter happens to be star of — so, how is he imposing? The ‘Flash’ I know is a bulling jock, not some rich-kid jerk. Peter seems to be pretty good with the ladies as well, landing a date with senior Liz Allan (Laura Harrier) almost right away; but why wouldn’t he? He’s an athletic, good lookin’ white-boy attending a Middle American high school. And when Peter does run off to save the day — ditching his scholastic and personal duties at the drop of a hat — there are literally no repercussions — he basically stands Liz up at a house party then, the very next day, she falls right back into his arms. I wish my high school life were as tough as this guy’s.
So anyway, Peter wants in on the Avengers, so much so that he becomes a serious thorn in the side of Harold ‘Happy’ Hogan (Jon Favreau), Stark Industries’ former head of security (now Tony’s driver and personal bodyguard) who is given the tedious task of baby-sitting the almost-Avenger. Living with his aunt in Queens, NY, Peter engages in small-time ‘neighborhood’ crime fighting, his F-bomb dropping surrogate-mother, May Parker (Marisa Tomei), totally oblivious to his extracurricular activities. Hold up, the Aunt May I remember was a frail and elderly widow. Why has she been reinterpreted, May now a beddable MILF! Yes, Marisa Tomei is hot, but she adds nothing to proceedings bar sex appeal, this version of May not a character that Peter confides in. What’s her purpose then? (Surely, the Aunt May spin-off, probably already in the works, will have all the answers.) And where is Uncle Ben? Is there even an Uncle Ben?
Hanging out with his best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon) — who’s funny for about 5 minutes before turning the ‘annoying’ dial up to eleven — Peter tries to navigate the rebellious, angsty terrain of being a teen (which he seems to be doing awfully well), whilst balancing his elusive ‘Stark internship’ duties, all this while trying to keep a lid on his altar-ego. Well, that’s until he seizes an opportunity to prove to mentor Tony Stark that he has what it takes to battle intergalactic threats alongside the big boys, Spider-Man muscling in on an Avengers-sized job, attempting to stop The Vulture, whose alien artillery begins to wreak havoc around his peaceful suburban district.
Written by a committee of six scribes (one for each pre-existing Spider-Man film), Homecoming (the sixteenth feature of the ever-growing MCU) is a sheer slap in the face to real Spider-Man aficionados, the script straying way too far from the much-loved source material. Okay, some of the action is mildly entertaining, but Homecoming’s been blessed with a multi-million dollar budget, so I’d be gobsmacked if the effects, and sheer wow-factor, were outright abysmal. A VFX-heavy rescue atop the Washington Monument is a highlight, Peter evading local authority in a race-against-the-clock to aid his periled friends, who are trapped in a plummeting elevator after some unstable Chitauri tech goes boom. And a set piece featuring the Staten Island Ferry is pretty good, too, with the malfunctioning of an alien thingamajig tearing the vessel in half, Spider-Man’s recklessness endangering the lives of the onboard passengers and crew. Some of the trial-and-error stuff is also fun, the wall-crawler tinkering with his doo-dads and doohickeys, having varying degrees of success. With that in mind, there’s nothing in Spider-Man: Homecoming that’ll truly get the spider senses tingling. The final confrontation, regrettably, which sees Spidey (fitted in his homemade outfit) face off against the villainous Vulture on a D.O.D.C. aircraft, is an incomprehensible mess, the murky night-time photography and dizzying CGI robbing the sequence of any tension or excitement.
Now, let’s talk about casting. If filmmakers wanted to make some sort of a statement, why not cast a person of color in the title role? Instead, our protagonist is aided by a band of mixed-race ‘minority’ friends, who (as I mentioned earlier) really don’t put him in a difficult spot. On the contrary, Peter seems like a fairly popular dude, he’s a thrill seeker with (literally) no inner torment. And why is almost every character a different ethnicity to the one presented in the comics. Why has everything been re-jigged?
And this, my friends, leads me to my biggest gripe — one that cost the film an entire star — and that is Zendaya’s Michelle. For starters, who the heck is Zendaya and why does she only have one name? Secondly, I found this character to be utterly, utterly unlikable, the Freaks and Geeks type outsider poisoning the screen with her constant snarkiness. Every time she showed up, I just wanted her to go away. It’s criminal that Australia’s Angourie Rice was given limited screen time (playing classmate Betty), yet yahoo Zendaya has been plastered all over the film. And wait for it, *Spoiler Alert*, Michelle is actually MJ! Yes, Michelle Jones. What the actual f*ck! Zendaya looks absolutely nothing like the ‘timeless’ MJ, her character less than desirable, and the polar opposite of who Mary Jane is supposed to be. Call me a traditionalist, but some things should never be messed with, it’s like redesigning the Spider-Man suit, you just don’t do it; you just don’t reinterpret MJ. So thank-you, Homecoming, thank-you for ruining MJ, the strawberry-haired girl-next-door, who just so happens to be my all-time favorite Marvel babe. Please reboot this property now!
The audacity of Marvel, trying to pass this codswallop off as some sort of homecoming — a subtitle that refers to both Peter’s high-school dance, and the fact that Spidey has, at long last, joined the ranks of the Marvelverse. Please! This exasperating do-over now stands as my least favorite title in the MCU, Marvel-boss Kevin Feige and Sony’s Amy Pascal taking a huge-ass dump on the Spider-Man legacy. And don’t even get me started on the eardrum-rupturing credit song, the Ramones’ 1976 track, ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ — Hey ho, let’s … NO! Enough said. Time to dust off the Sam Raimi trilogy.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by S-Littner
Spider-Man: Homecoming is released through Sony Pictures Australia