Spider-Man, AGAIN‽

Spider-Man Homecoming, 2017, 133 minutes D: Jon Watts

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Do we need this? Since 2002 we have seen 3 Tobey Maguires, 2 Andrew Garfields, and now this sixth movie, Homecoming, shows yet another take on the character, but it’s not exactly news. Sony has owned the rights to Spider-Man films forever, and it took a crazy deal with Marvel and Disney to get Spider-Man into the Avengers series, also known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. X-Men, Deadpool, Fantastic 4, and weirdly some other Spider-Man characters (Venom) still do not exist in the Disney-sanctioned MCU, due to licensing issues. This is why X-Men movies have nothing to do with the Avengers movies despite the characters coming from the same fictional universe.

So how does Spider-Man function now that he is back in the Avengers fold? Tom Holland was introduced as Peter Parker, and Spider-Man, in an extended subplot in Captain America Civil War, which shows Iron Man recruiting the young high schooler to help out with the battle against the more libertarian half of the Avengers. It is a charming sequence, but ultimately, his appearance in the film did not add a whole lot other than 15 minutes, and people saying “Oh! It’s Spider-Man!” The movie was very long, and Spider-Man’s appearance feels tacked on, and unnecessary.

So, a year after Civil War briefly introduced us to the character, do we need a full-length movie? Let’s look at some history. In 2008, Iron Man came out, and it took the world by storm, because it is an absolutely amazing film. It is a perfect introduction to the character of Tony Stark, his motivations, and his vices. Iron Man, also, is remarkably self-contained for it being the first of 16 films, to date, in essentially one giant film franchise.

Since then, we have seen 2 more Iron Men, 2 Thors, 3 Captain Americas, 2 Guardians of the Galaxys, 2 full-blown Avengers movies, and 3 other standalone movies. So Homecoming is the 16th film in a mega-series that has outlasted even the most hopeful nerd’s dreams. The movies’ quality has been remarkable, all are “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, and though some are better than others, it does feel like Marvel really nailed down the formula for success by the time Avengers 1 came out.

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But that’s part of our problem. Formula. This film definitely feels like they are all checking off all the boxes that these films seem to require. Two superheroes get in a fight and one of them kinda quits? Check. Cameo from a character that plays a bigger role in a different movie? Check. Light tone, zippy humor, and kind of annoying back-and-forth between characters? Check. I don’t expect a company like Disney to take a lot of risks, but some of the better films have done just that, particularly Captain America The Winter Soldier, which largely eschews the tedious cameos, banter, and franchise-building scenes and instead functions more efficiently, as a slick spy picture. It’s the best movie in the series outside of Iron Man 1, and that is largely due to it focusing on two characters instead of a thousand, and the relationship between the two of them.

Which brings us to Spidey. Spider-Man Homecoming is a lot to take in. The film features the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the Vulture, played by Michael Keaton, doing his best hardened criminal. His illegally acquired alien artifacts have allowed him to create out-of-this-world weaponry, which are insanely, crazily powerful, and truly terrifying stuff.

The first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, with Tobey Maguire, succeed largely because Spider-Man’s relationship with the villains starts out as a mentor-mentee relationship, and evolves into an adversarial role. Both Norman Osborn and Otto Octavius sort of took Peter under their wing, and he had to take them down after he realized the evil they had been doing. This is my big problem with Homecoming, and the relationship between Peter and Vulture’s alter-ego Adrian Toomes, is that they do not meet as civilians until long into their conflict, and so Peter freaks out and gives himself away by acting twitchy and awkward. This builds some tension, for a minute or two, but if he met him beforehand, and they had built more of a relationship early on, it would have been a more powerful moment. I’m not saying I want them to follow the same formula, but Peter’s internal conflict would have been more powerful had he and Toomes had an established relationship.

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Tom Holland, generally, does a great job, as does his best friend, Jacob Batalon. They play high school geeks, who nerd out together over alien artifacts, Spidey Suits, Iron Man, and other awesome things. They don’t have many friends except their academic decathlon buddies/adversaries, but they’re kind of ok with that. The high-school focused scenes are very playful and light, especially in contrast to the heaviness of the high school scenes in both the Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield films.

The movie’s ending is where it lost me. I generally liked it up until the last 15 minutes or so. Like a lot of these MCU films, there was a good ending buried in there somewhere, but then they felt the need to add a pointless epilogue that did little more than set up both the sequel and Spidey’s role in Avengers 3. It is getting really exhausting seeing these movies, only to have each one’s ending go on an extra 10-15 minutes simply to set up the next movie. This movie’s ending isn’t exactly as egregious as Avengers 2′s ridiculous passing-of-the-torch ending, but it’s close. Also, Gwyneth Paltrow is here, in a very brief role. Which is only notable because she hasn’t appeared in a Marvel movie in 4 years, and her part here was so pointless and stupid. There’s also another moment with Zendaya, in the ending, that is so egregious and horrible, it almost ruined the movie. It’s just as bad as in Dark Knight Rises when Joseph Gordon-Levitt says, “My real name is Robin.” That is seriously one of the worst moments in that whole trilogy, and Zendaya’s last line is one of the worst moments in this movie.

The supporting cast is pretty good. Donald Glover appears, very briefly, as a petty thug, who will probably play a huge role in the sequel, Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr make very funny appearances as teachers at Midtown Tech. A lot has been made, at least in my circles, about the casting of Zendaya, who is… well I didn’t actually think she was that bad. She just kind of sits back, disengaged, and makes occasional sarcastic quips. It’s not exactly a great performance, but it’s also too small a role to have a large effect, overall. Again, she’ll obviously play a larger role in the sequel, but she should have played one here. If she’s supposed to be the main love interest, then we should care about her now, not just think about caring about her later. I want to see her and Peter flirt and have fun, not just bicker until the end when all of a sudden, they have a little moment.

That’s the problem with this movie. It’s overstuffed. Like all Marvel movies, it crams in so much that there’s no real breathing room, yet somehow many characters that are somewhat intriguing are left with little backstory, and nothing to do. If you didn’t know that a sequel was in the works, then Donald Glover’s character is completely pointless. Same goes with Zendaya’s Michelle, who does not really open up until the epilogue, but even then, it’s just setup for the sequel.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau as Iron Man and Happy Hogan spend the movie looking after Peter Parker, and their appearances, while not as extensive as they could have been, still exist mostly to remind you that this is not a complete movie. It’s almost like they’re in an offscreen version of Iron Man 4, and keep getting interrupted by our Peter. Homecoming, instead, feels like a relatively small story, Spider-Man playing watchdog to Queens while the real, full-time Avengers have been saving the world. It is frustrating, because this is not how a Spider-Man should feel. For all their faults, both previous series of Spider-Man films at least felt big. I guess being the 16th film in a series is going to make you feel small, but I feel like a bit less involvement by Iron Man and his associate would have been a bit better. I get that they have to tie this in with Avengers 3, but it makes this movie suffer.

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Marvel movies, by and large, suffer from this problem. Being one in a series of many, many more makes them feel unimportant. Unless the fate of the universe is at stake, then what is there to lose? If a character goes down, there’s a thousand more to take his or her place. Guardians of the Galaxy somewhat avoids this by being in space, which solves all of life’s problems (Right?). This movie, as a result, feels a lot smaller than previous Spideys. This isn’t all bad, as the movie has a personal connection to Peter himself, but it loses connection to the people around him. We don’t care about the women in his life, we don’t really care about Aunt May, nor his friend Ned that much. In both prior series, we had Peter, Aunt May, MJ/Gwen, and Harry to care about, and both prior casts did a good job at eliciting that care and sympathy, but this movie fails at that by being overly breezy with its relationships.

Spider-Man Homecoming is fine. It’s a lot of fun, but the fun is somewhat fleeting. It does nothing wrong, but it feels somewhat half-baked. Its relationships are not fleshed out very well, its villain not quite sympathetic enough, despite a wonderful performance from Michael Keaton. While it suffers from less of the Marvel Muck than many of these movies do, it still gets a little bogged down due to the presence of Iron Man and his best friend Happy.

Honestly, this movie wouldn’t seem so pointless had the Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield movies not existed. If there had not been a Spider-Man in 10 years, maybe it would be time for this, and it would be a little more exciting. But for now? I feel like I’m a little Spidied out.

These movies should be shorter, and more focused on telling individual stories. They are constantly referencing each other and building the future instead of trying to build themselves. The cast is, for the most part, delightful, and the movie is a good time. There’s a great movie buried in here somewhere, but as it is, we are left with a movie that is about 30 minutes too long, with the main storyline feeling as if it is constantly being interrupted by Iron Man 4 that takes place off-screen. It is too bad, as a more focused, tighter, and character-based version of this movie would probably top a lot of the better Marvel movies.

Grade: B-

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