It was just over two years ago that Sony Pictures swallowed its pride entered into a deal with Marvel Studios that would bring Peter Parker into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Three creative misfires by Sony were finally enough to make the studio cry uncle — or, more specifically, Kevin Feige. In short, Marvel Studios’ president saved Sony from itself and delivered a film worthy of its $117 million opening weekend domestic haul.
Spider-Man: Homecoming presented director Jon Watts and writer Jonathan Goldstein with two challenges. They first needed figure out a way to make the character feel fresh since audiences have experienced five go-rounds beginning with Sam Raimi’s 2002 classic Spider-Man. The second task was to seamlessly integrate the character into the expansive MCU started with Iron Man in 2008.
The first problem was solved by bringing in actor Tom Holland to play Peter Parker and giving him a script that captured the essence of a John Hughes film. Robert Downey Jr. — the keystone to the MCU — took care of the rest by reprising his role as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark.
Unlike previous Spider-Man films, Homecoming makes a conscious and prolonged effort to explore Peter’s high-school experience. The plot revolves around his struggle to be a normal teenager navigating social mine fields while also swinging through New York City as its “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” One of his patrols, however, brings him into contact with high-tech robbers who ultimately change his relationship with friends, family, and mentor Tony Stark.
Perhaps the ace in the hole for Sony, aside from Holland exhibiting the “it factor” of a young Michael J. Fox, is Michael Keaton as villain Adrian Toomes (aka, The Vulture). The man who gave the world an iconic turn as Batman returns to the superhero genre as a blue collar man who salvages scrap metal, and he does so with the same piercing glint in his eyes.
“Peter, you’re young. You don’t understand how the world works,” Toomes tells the hero at one point. “How do you think your buddy Stark paid for that tower or any of his employees? Those people, Pete? Those people up there — the rich, the powerful — they do whatever they want. Guys like us? You and me? They don’t care about us. We build their roads and we fight all their wars and everything, but they don’t care about us. We have to pick up after them. We have to eat their table scraps. That’s how it is. I know you know what I’m talking about.”
Early on in the film, Keaton’s character nearly loses everything when a Stark-run company elbows him out of a job after the events of The Avengers (2012). Technology gleaned from the wreckage of an alien invasion, however, allows him to (illegally) make up for huge financial losses. His anger and rage at “the rich” ferments into the kind of evil that births The Vulture.
Perhaps the only real downside to Homecoming is the apparent trend of superhero films to needlessly live up to a PG-13 rating. Families who bring young children to see Spider-Man might be annoyed when “Penis Parker” and “porn” jokes are delivered, and there are random expletives used to reach “edgy” teenagers. The moments do nothing to move the plot forward or substantively add to characters like Ned (Jacob Batalon).
Overall, Homecoming is a winner. Holland shines as Peter, Keaton is a solid foil, Robert Downey Jr. is charming as always, and Zendaya plays a better-looking version of Judd Nelson’s character from The Breakfast Club. See it if you want a dash of 80s nostalgia with your summer blockbuster superhero fare.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
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