Throughout its development and shoot, practically everyone on the Marvel Studios team would talk about how Spider-Man: Homecoming would a John Hughes-styled high school movie with the bonus of superheroics.
Everyone involved somehow managed to make that thought reality. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a unique mix of John Hughes and Marvel.
The first big plus of Spider-Man: Homecoming is that we don’t get the umpty-umpth regurgitation of Spider-Man’s origin story. Finally, it seems that the Marvel Powers That Be realise that we don’t need it anymore.
While we follow antagonist Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) as he’s erased from a contract to help clean up New York after the Chitauri invasion by Damage Control’s officious chief (Tyne Daly) – Marvel’s equivalent of Amanda Waller, and decides not to hand over material he’s already collected. Instead, he reverse engineers it and blends it with his own ideas to create potentially devastating weapons that he’ll sell to the highest bidder.
At the same time, we are also following Peter Parker (Tom Holland) as he figures out his powers, deals with minor crooks and tries to not freeze any time Liz (Laura Harrier) is around (boy’s got it bad…).
We also meet Peter’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) – who finds out Peter’s spider-Man through Peter’s carelessness and keeps trying to get Peter to let him tell everyone because IT’S SO COOL.
Eventually, we see Toomes using a vulture-like flying suit and alien technology to steal more; while Peter practices with the school science decathlon team – and meet a sarcastic young lady (Zendaya) whose name we don’t learn for the first hour of the film.
We also get a section where Peter is trying to learn how to use all the gizmos included in a Spidey suit that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) made for him (under the auspices of the Training Wheels Protocol, overseen by Peter’s very own female version of Stark’s Jarvis – whom he refers to as ‘Suit Lady’) – something that takes us out of the story for a bit and ignores the fact that Peter is a genius, himself, and would eventually create several (not all) of those gizmos (like a Spider-Tracker) on his own.
Peter’s efforts to master his suit – and failing spectacularly – almost make up for the sheer wrongheadedness of the concept, but not quite. It’s also jarring the way Stark and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) keep telling Peter to just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and leave villains like the vulture guy to others (not the Avengers – he’s obviously not at their level – but other heroes).
A running gag with Peter constantly calling Happy (his assigned ‘point man’) leads to a boy who cried wolf situation – easily the best part of this side of the film. (Even Iron Man’s appearances feel shoed in to show that Spider-Man is now in Marvel cinematic Universe rather than organic plot points.)
The subsequent Staten Island Ferry gag – seen in all the trailers (way to spoil the surprise, guys!) – also feels like it was inserted to make fans forget the train sequence in Spider-Man 2 (still the best Spider-Man film).
Unlike previous Spider-Man films, Homecoming gives us a look at Peter’s fellow students, especially Flash (Tony Revolori), the lowest man on the decathlon totem pole and the crabgrass on the lawn of Peter’s life; Liz, the captain of the team and very tolerant of Peter’s inability to function normally around her; Ned, whose enthusiasm for Peter being Spider-Man nearly equals Peter’s.
The big thing about Homecoming is that, yes, it leads up to the Homecoming dance – very much a John Hughes kind of thing – before it heads into the big finish.
While the action sequences are all entertaining – and an essential part of a superhero film – there’s so much more here – while Peter has to learn to deal with travel in the suburbs, Toomes is trying to maintain a good life for his family; while Stark is convinced Peter isn’t really ready to be a superhero (despite his contributions during Captain America: Civil War), Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is teaching Peter to dance so he won’t embarrass himself at the Homecoming dance.
There’s also the way that characters interact – some nicely handled surprises there make things very complicated.
Jon Watts directs from a script with six credited writers and, while he never quite integrates the unnecessary MCU elements smoothly into Spidey’s adventure, he does the cinematic equivalent of keeping a lot of balls in the air with a much greater degree of success than I was expecting.
Spider-Man: Homecoming works because Holland and the young cast bring a feeling authenticity to the high school story and Keaton gives Toomes a scary intensity and quick intelligence that makes him a match for Spider-Man.
There are two cool tags to watch for – one suggestive of what’s to come; one that is a fun callback to earlier in the movie.
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