This summer has given us two super heroes worth rooting for. Earlier this season, Wonder Woman burst on the scene with a noble heroine. Spider-Man: Homecoming brings us a second noble hero in Peter Parker. While Wonder Woman is an icon that stands for pure good, the Spider-Man of Marvel’s latest outing is a kid aspiring to be something greater. It’s a fun take on the teenage coming of age story. The teen just happens to have super powers
Spider-Man: Homecoming has a charming hero, a strong supporting cast that includes one of the best Marvel Cinematic villains in Michael Keaton’s Vulture, and thrilling action sequences, but it is far from perfect. It gets a little long and the pacing is off. But it’s still one of the stronger Marvel films in recent years.
With Great Power…
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker struggles to balance his desire to be an Avenger with the normal, everyday awkwardness of high school. Fresh from his encounter with the super heroes in Captain America: Civil War, Peter aches to be a global hero like his unlikely mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). So when he stumbles upon Adrian Toombs’ (Michael Keaton) alien weapons trade, he dives in head first despite his inexperience. Along the way, he learns that being a hero has…well, great responsibility.
Homecoming’s greatest asset is Holland. He is seemingly born to play Parker, as he is equally awkward and charming. He doesn’t have the quippy one-liners that the character is known for, as he creates comedy physically or with a natural wit. Unlike the previous incarnations of the character, this film understands that Parker is a kid, so his jokes never sound like they’re the product of a thirty-something with a degree in perfect comic timing.
But most importantly, the Peter Parker of Homecoming is a hero in the making, a good kid trying to do the right thing with his powers. He aspires to be something greater, but he struggles to understand what that really means. Parker’s need starts selfishly, but eventually he becomes believably selfless. It’s a fun but inspiring journey to get to that point, and much of that is due to Holland’s performance.
On the other hand, Homecoming gives us the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best villain since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. When he gets past the over the top “Hey, I’m from New York, ovahere!” accent, Michael Keaton is excellent as the Vulture. He goes from threatening to charming in a way only Keaton can do, and while he does chew the scenery occasionally, this is one of the deeper villain portrayals Marvel has produced. Like Spider-Man, he operates at the “ground level,” and has a grounded motivation: Family. And while he has a violent temper, he also has a sense of honor. The leap from an angry working class contractor to a murderous super villain is a little underdeveloped, but we get enough backstory to at least see his reasons.
The rest of the supporting cast is great as well. Jacob Batalan is great as Ned, Peter’s best friend who wants to be his sidekick, or the “Guy in the Chair.” Laura Harrier is the idealized high school sweetheart to Peter, but Zendaya has some very funny moments as the deadpan Michelle and quietly steals her fleeting moments on screen. Robert Downey, Jr. is his usual charming self as Tony Stark and he has some great chemistry with Holland. Stark is uncomfortable with his mentor role and it adds some humor and surprising emotion to the two characters’ dynamic.
Despite the film’s obvious strengths, it still has a significant flaw. Homecoming has a strange pace to it, where it feels like the story is stopping and restarting at odd moments. Homecoming is refreshing in many ways because it doesn’t fall into that infamous Marvel trap, where movies exist simply to set up the rest of the cinematic universe, but it does try to do too much at times.
The narrative often feels like there are several stories weaved into one. Whenever it concentrates on Peter and his journey, it verges on brilliance (And often achieves it), but the second act sags and it bloats the running time. This is a odd complaint for me, as it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what doesn’t belong. The academic decathlon in Washington, D.C. feels extraneous, but it also provides the best action sequence. The Stark-Parker dynamic suffers from some issues that simple communication solves, but it also provides some of the great drama in the movie. It just feels like too much is going on, as though the narrative couldn’t just concentrate on the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
In general the action is great. An agile and acrobatic hero like Spider-Man requires the use of CGI and Homecoming utilizes it nicely. The sequence at the Washington Monument and the fight on the ferry boat are excellent examples. But there are times when the action becomes too frenetic and it becomes hard to keep track of what is happening. The very first fight between The Vulture and Spider-Man is confusing and dark. And while the final confrontation in the skies over New York City is exciting, it becomes hard to see what is happening.
Heroes of the Summer
Homecoming is another movie from this summer that proves what these movies are truly about. Wonder Woman succeeded because it realized what was important: The heroine herself. She is a noble warrior who stands up for humanity, and we love her for her innate goodness. We love Spider-Man for different reasons. He is the under dog, the guy who aspires to be the best hero he can be, but he sometimes can’t get out of his own way. Homecoming and its charismatic star show us this hero in its own, imperfect way.
SCORE: 8 OUT 10