Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

"If you're nothing without this suit, then you shouldn't have it." - Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.)

First things first: what’s up with the glaringly obvious MCU timeline error toward the end of the cold open of Spider-Man: Homecoming? We see Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his construction/salvage crew cleaning up the mess left behind in New York following the events of The Avengers (2012). Once Toomes finds a contract voided due to the presence of alien weapons and materials in the wreckage — the government steps in and hands the contract to Stark Industries instead — the screen flashes a card that says “8 Years Later.” As in, eight years after 2012 — otherwise known as 2020, or three years after the release of 2017‘s Spider-Man: Homecoming. It seems like a really odd mistake to have made, particularly since Spider-Man: Homecoming actually takes place two months after 2016‘s Captain America: Civil War. We are even shown “home movie” clips of Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) trip to Germany to fight in the airport battle. It’s very strange to me that the script didn’t say “4 Years Later.”

Clearly, some signals got crossed. I’m guessing this is an unfortunate byproduct of the well-intentioned but ultimately tenuous and uneasy partnership between Disney and Sony that made incorporating Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe possible. Generally speaking, the MCU has been helmed by Marvel‘s head honcho Kevin Feige, who has received sole producer credit on 18 of the first 23 MCU movies (and has received producer credit on all 23). On both Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), former Sony chairperson Amy Pascal — she was effectively fired following the North Korean hack of Sony in December 2014 that exposed some very unflattering email exchanges — serves as producer along with Feige, but make no mistake, this is a Sony movie. To audiences, Marvel is Marvel, and the MCU is a Disney thing, but Spider-Man is and has always been a Sony property ever since they acquired the rights from Marvel in the 1990s.

spider-man tries to hold the ferry together

I was in 8th grade when the original Spider-Man was released in 2002 and became the first movie to ever gross more than $100 million in its opening weekend. I wasn’t all that interested in watching it at the time; instead, I went to see Star Wars: Attack of the Clones at least three times. When I finally did see Spider-Man on DVD a year or two later, I remember not being particularly impressed. It wasn’t bad, but it was nothing special and I really didn’t see what the fuss was about. When Spider-Man 2 hit theaters during the summer of 2004, I went with my brother and my dad to watch it in theaters. We all thought it was a first-rate action movie — as good as that kind of popcorn entertainment (i.e., lightweight fluff) gets. When Spider-Man 3 kicked off the summer movie season of 2007, it was an enormous disappointment. With a mind-boggling budget of $258 million, director Sam Raimi tried to do everything and failed pretty miserably.

Was it the full-scale disaster that Batman & Robin was in 1997? No, not really. Spider-Man 3 was still, all things considered, a functional and competent movie, whereas Batman & Robin was not. But it really did not work and was deeply misguided, featuring too many villains, interminably long action sequences, uninteresting subplots and downright embarrassing stretches of Peter Parker in emo mode. (A quick aside: a while ago I watched all three Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies in 4K. I’d give the first movie an 8, the second movie a 9, and the third movie a 3. All three movies look great in 4K and have wonderful Dolby Atmos soundtracks too, so if you feel like taking a trip down memory lane, the audio/visual specs are top notch.) Batman & Robin killed the Batman franchise for eight very long years, and while I suppose the fallout from Spider-Man 3 wasn’t as bad in absolute terms — another Spider-Man film did arrive five years later — it really took nine years for the Spider-Man character to re-enter the movie-going zeitgeist when his appearance in Captain America: Civil War took everyone by surprise.

spider-man leaves happy another voicemail

The ins and outs of The Amazing Spider Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) can mostly just be glanced over — as far as I’m concerned, they’re pretty much irrelevant. When Sony announced the release of The Amazing Spider-Man, I was initially under the impression it would be a continuation of the first trilogy, just without Tobey Maguire. After all, Michael Keaton was only Batman for two movies. Instead, The Amazing Spider-Man was a full-scale reboot, treading over the same old origin story beats we’ve long since grown tired of (most notably, the murder of Peter’s Uncle Ben). There was a different villain (The Lizard) and even a different love interest in Gwen Stacy — Mary Jane Watson did not exist in the rebooted film universe. (Stacy, lest we forget, was actually a character in Spider-Man 3 as well.) I had not planned to see The Amazing Spider-Man when it arrived in theaters, but I actually saw it in an IMAX theater with my brother and sister-in-law when I was visiting them. To my surprise, I found it rather pleasant, though of course it wasn’t anything special.

I did not see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 until fairly recently, though I have already largely forgotten a lot of the details. Overall, I’d give The Amazing Spider-Man a 6 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a 5. They’re decent entertainment but are amorphous and pointless (not to mention blatantly mercenary). Interestingly enough, one of the details that has emerged about the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home (due Christmas 2021) is that Jamie Foxx is going to reprise his role as Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Alfred Molina is going to return as Dr. Octopus from Spider-Man 2. It will be interesting to see how these characters are introduced, but a solid bet is that the multiverse idea explored in the 2018 animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse will play a pivotal role. We saw 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home toy with the idea of a multiverse (falsely, as it turned out), and fellow Avenger Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) — who will appear in a Phase Four MCU movie called Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in early 2022 —  is slated to appear in No Way Home as well. It should be fun to see what Feige and co. have in store for us later this year.

peter parker visits the new avengers headquarters

Which brings us, after considerable preamble, to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, a movie that is quite unlike the first five Spider-Man films in many respects. Perhaps most noticeably, the film is not an origin story and completely dispenses with having us suffer through watching Uncle Ben get murdered yet again. In case you have forgotten — and, let’s face it, you probably have — Spider-Man 3 retconned the first Spider-Man to reveal the Sand Man as Uncle Ben’s actual killer, so really we have lived through this incident not twice, but three times already. Spider-Man: Homecoming wisely decides to ignore this event entirely. We also don’t see Peter Parker acquire his powers as a result of getting bitten by a genetically engineered spider. For better or worse (though I would definitely argue it’s for the better), the Marvel Cinematic Universe assumes we’re familiar enough with the Spider-Man character to realize these events have already occurred by the time Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) pays Peter Parker and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) that initial visit in Civil War. Uncle Ben is already dead, and Peter Parker is already Spider-Man.

I suppose some may argue the MCU cuts corners by doing this, but I think it’s pretty brilliant. Considering this is the third interpretation of the Spider-Man character in just fifteen years (with a fourth arriving a year later in animated form), I just don’t see how anyone can reasonably be against taking this kind of storytelling shortcut. By the time we get to Spider-Man: Homecoming, the character has not just been rebooted, but is already in full flight. The dynamics are also much different, with Tony Stark acting as a surrogate father to Peter Parker — an unimaginable circumstance all those years ago when the original trilogy was released. Peter not only seeks approval from Stark, of course, but also wants to be considered an actual Avenger despite being a sophomore in high school. Unlike Tobey Maguire, who was 26 when Spider-Man was filmed, and Andrew Garfield, who was 28 when The Amazing Spider-Man was filmed, Tom Holland actually looks like a high schooler. Why? Well, Holland turned 21 a month before Spider-Man: Homecoming was released, so he actually is younger. The rest of Peter’s classmates fit this mold as well; it seems a concerted effort was made to cast younger actors.

toomes drops off peter and liz at the homecoming dance

The exception is Peter’s love interest Liz (Laura Harrier), played by an actress more than six years older than Holland. Since Liz is supposed to be a senior, the movie almost gets away with it since we know she is supposed to look older than Peter, but upon closer inspection it becomes pretty obvious she’s much older than the rest of the cast. Harrier does all she can with what she’s given, but it’s not a particularly good role — seemingly half her scenes involve her being upset with Peter for disappearing on her. And he does this repeatedly: first, he shows up to her house party, only to leave after ten seconds to go do Spider-Man stuff. Later, he travels with the academic decathlon team (which Liz is the captain of) to Washington, D.C. where he proceeds to bail on her invite to go swimming at the hotel pool to go do more Spider-Man stuff. (He even misses the decathlon tournament, pissing her off further.) Even after these indiscretions, Peter successfully asks her to the homecoming dance (which Liz helps organize, being the good citizen she is), only for him to literally walk in the door and immediately leave her standing there on the dance floor. Say what you will about this version of Peter Parker, but he decidedly ain’t good boyfriend material.

What is he always leaving her to go do? Why to fight the movie’s villain of course! Michael Keaton, fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn as a washed up actor best known for playing a superhero in the 2014 movie Birdman, is a welcome addition to the MCU as Adrian Toomes aka Vulture. Toomes and his construction crew use the alien technology salvaged during the prologue to concoct all sorts of weapons, and Toomes himself is able to fly around, though I have to say his suit looks cumbersome and not particularly aerodynamic. In a pretty creative and remarkable twist, Toomes turns out to be Liz’s father: When Peter arrives to pick up Liz, a Black girl, for the homecoming dance, it’s Toomes, a White guy, who opens the door. It’s one of the best-executed twists in recent memory if you ask me and it’s really cool how they merge the love story thread with the villain thread. Unfortunately though, it still doesn’t change the fact that Liz isn’t a particularly great character, since she has to spend so much time reacting with disappointment and disapproval as Peter lets her down over and over.

michelle is named academic decathlon team captain

Liz is also outflanked by two superior characters in Peter’s orbit: his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his fellow classmate Michelle (Zendaya). These two are so good they steal virtually every scene they’re in, and it’s honestly kind of a head scratcher as to why Michelle in particular (who slyly grants herself full “MJ” status by movie’s end) is only given to us in such small doses. (It’s pretty clear even at this stage that she, and not Liz, is the better fit for Peter.) Ned finds out about Peter being Spider-Man pretty early on and offers a dimension that hasn’t really been available in previous Spider-Man films. In the Maguire trilogy in particular, the Spider-Man character was always portrayed in a rather insular way, and there wasn’t really anyone who knew what he was going through. Having Ned there as a foil really helps to draw out the Peter Parker character in directions we haven’t seen in either the Maguire or Garfield films.

Worth noting, of course, is that Peter Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn of the Maguire trilogy and Amazing Spider-Man 2 is nowhere to be found here. This is for the best: Peter could never tell Harry who he really was because Harry wanted to avenge his father (the Green Goblin in the original movie) by killing Spider-Man. Ned’s presence offers a considerably different dynamic; he actively participates in helping Peter. Not only is this fresher since it’s different from the dynamic with Harry, but it fits the larger story structure as well. In the original trilogy, Spider-Man was on his own; there were no other heroes not just in those films, but at the entire cineplex. Spider-Man was essentially the first notable superhero film of the CGI era. This necessitated a me-against-the-world approach, which eventually led to a dead end in the form of whatever that emo angst was supposed to convey in Spider-Man 3. Spider-Man: Homecoming takes the opposite approach: Peter Parker is just one of many, many heroes in his world (and at movies theaters in general), and the angst he does feel is directed toward wanting to participate more, which is only natural.

vulture rises out of the plane crash

All things considered, the movie is pretty solid. It reaches for a lighter tone with more emphasis on humor and succeeds. Marisa Tomei is perfect as Aunt May (talk about casting younger), the kids are all great, and it’s fun to have Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau around. As I watch the movie more, though, the bad guys stand out as being a bit weak. Even though the twist I mentioned earlier is great, I never really find myself caring that much about what Vulture and his crew are trying to do and overall I find the main plot to be fairly run of the mill. Every time Peter leaves all his friends behind I kind of wish the story would stay with the kids. (Of course, in Far From Home the balance tilts much more in the direction of being a teen comedy where the superhero stuff is almost incidental.) It also seems like there are one or two too many action sequences, especially toward the end. On the other hand, I guess if I were in charge of the studio and I knew the audience reaction to the prior three Spider-Man movies had been a collective “meh,” I’d spend the extra money too, but the movie does tend to get a tad exhausting in the third act.

That being said, the never-ending climax — and it is never-ending, transitioning from a fight in the parking lot among the school buses to a fight in/on/around an airplane thousands of feet in the air to a fight on the Coney Island beach — does ultimately bring the story’s other major narrative thread to an effective and satisfying close. Earlier in the film, Stark takes back the suit originally he made for Peter for the airport fight in Captain America: Civil War after Peter’s continued insistence on punching above his weight endangers both himself and others one too many times. When Peter protests and says, “You don’t understand! This is all I have! I’m nothing without this suit!” Stark replies, “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it, okay? God, I sound like my dad.” (And make no mistake, the scene is just as parental in nature as it sounds.) Well, during the climax, Peter manages to take on Vulture and his minions using his original homemade suit. In the resulting denouement, Stark essentially offers to convert Peter from an intern to a full-time Avenger employee in recognition of passing this test, and presents him with a newly redesigned suit.

the new spider-man suit

If you’d like to read about how Spider-Man: Homecoming looks and sounds in 4K, I would suggest reading the review of the 4K Blu-ray disc on Blu-ray.com. I agree with the review that the movie looks good but not great in 4K. Considering Spider-Man: Homecoming was reportedly shot digitally at either 2.8K resolution or 3.4K resolution (depending on the scene) and then finished on a 2K digital intermediate, it isn’t particularly surprising that the upscaled 4K image isn’t a stunner since at every stage of the filmmaking process the source was below 4K. Another issue likely lies in the photography itself. Many scenes, including most (if not all) of the action set pieces, take place either during the bright sunlight of midday or the pitch black of night. Even with Dolby Vision HDR enabled — incidentally, this is the first MCU film to feature Dolby Vision in addition to HDR10 — the image never quite reaches “wow” territory, even if it’s certainly solid. Sound, on the other hand, is another matter entirely: the Dolby Atmos track on the 4K Blu-ray is about as good as home video soundtracks get and sounds terrific on my Atmos-enabled sound bar.

Summary
By adding Spider-Man to Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony completely re-contextualizes the character and is able to bring Marvel's most definitive superhero back to relevance after a decade in pop culture purgatory.
Good
  • The decision to cast younger actors (nearly) across the board pays off and keeps the school scenes fresh
  • Having Iron Man mentor Spider-Man provides a seemingly inexhaustible well of fun
  • The heavy emphasis on keeping things light via comedic touches is mostly very successful
Bad
  • Even though Vulture is a pretty good villain (and Keaton is more than game), the "bad guys" portion of the plot always feels like it's just going through the motions
  • The Michelle character stands out as being criminally underutilized
  • The lighting frequently is pretty uninspired; the night scenes are too dark and the day scenes tend to feature flat mid-day sunlight
8
Great
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