Though it is tempting to say “third time’s the charm,” Spider-Man: Homecoming is not quite the great Spider-Man movie fans might be waiting for. At the same time, it is a lot of fun and very vibrant.
Light spoilers follow …
Right at the top, though, I should mention my bias. I am not a fan of Peter Parker. I like Miles Morales, I like Spider-Gwen and I adored the Superior Spider-Man. But I’ve always found Peter a little inaccessible. As consequence, I’ve always felt the Spider-Man films to be an obligation. To a happy extent, this changed with Homecoming thanks to a simple, but necessary addition to his story: a best friend.
Set after the events of The Avengers and then the events of Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming follows Peter (Tom Holland) as he returns from the Berlin battle and attempts to prove himself to Tony Stark. Desperate for legitimacy as an Avenger, his eagerness allows his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) to learn his secret. Together, they make a winning duo at school and in battle against villains.
The by-play between Holland and Batalon makes for a lot of the film’s charm. They feel like buddies. Or maybe it resonates for me because I had friend just like Ned growing up. But the presence of Ned also serves a great narrative function as Peter finally has a sounding board. In his previous screen worlds, he was dependent on obtuse conversations with Aunt May or overwrought scenes with his love interests; leading to scenes that were more about the weight of being Spider-Man than Peter getting any actual help. With Ned, he’s on more equal footing. The two get into a lot of scrapes together. Also, Ned presents a new screen idea: someone who is excited to see Peter as Spider-Man.
It also helps that Batalon gives Ned such a winning, unruffled personality that you want to watch scenes with him.
Which is great as Homecoming shifts between a high school plot and — for lack of a better word — a Marvel plot with gleeful frequency. In the high school plot, Peter must come to terms with his commitments there and his affection for Academic Decathlon Team Captain Liz (Laura Harrier). In the Marvel plot, Spider-Man must unravel the mystery of a group manufacturing weapons based on stolen Chitauri tech.
In both plots, Holland continues to be the most genuine Peter Parker/Spider-Man to date. I was a fan of Andrew Garfield, but that was mostly because of the chemistry he had with Emma Stone. His Spider-Man scenes lacked. Conversely, Tobey Maguire had the quips and the thwips down as Spider-Man, but was an aggressively unsympathetic Peter Parker. Holland manages to excel at both speeds, becoming a character I want to see defeat his opponent.
And boy, does he have a great opponent here.
Michael Keaton gives Adrian Toomes such a lived in quality that it feels like he’s been lurking in the Marvel shadows forever. In fact, the movie suggests that’s exactly what he’s been doing since the Battle of New York. In the opening moments, we discover his role in the clean-up after the Chitauri attack and why he turned to crime. Thanks to Keaton’s performance, his decision makes complete sense. Not since Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock has Spider-Man faced such a legitimate and sympathetic foe on screen.
Which leads to a fairly compelling final act when Keaton invades the high school plot.
But the film is not perfect. It’s overly long. Clocking in at 2 hours and 13 minutes, there are plenty of obvious places to trim. Jon Favreau is great as Happy, but too many of his moments hit the same beat. There’s a needless extra man claiming to be The Shocker. And while the Staten Island ferry sequence — glimpsed in the trailer — is a tour-de-force of effects animation, direction, and storyboarding, it could be lifted right out of the film with its narrative weight easily shifted to an early sequence in the film. In fact, it is surprising no one involved in the production noticed how similar the two sequences are.
Narrative bloat has always been a hallmark of the Spider-Man films, though. And like its predecessors, Homecoming is eager to fill space with extra characters, cameos and a number of set-ups for subsequent films. The film may feature the most interesting Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) to date, but he still feels unnecessary. I love the notion that Damage Control has been in the MCU for the last six years, but the film has no time to explore why Tyne Daly is part of it.
Meanwhile, Robert Downey Jr. appears as Tony Stark for the exact right amount of time.
Spider-Man: Homecoming may be the best Spider-Man movie ever made. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great movie. Full of funny and fresh moments, the film is weighed down by an overly-long runtime and a few too many cameos and set-ups. At the same time, it is filled with a boyish energy that almost overcomes the traditional Spider-film bloat. It is a fun mix of teen comedy and Marvel Cinematic action that will definitely satisfy fans of Peter Parker.
Hey, it almost made me a fan of Peter, so that has to count for something.