Look, I’ll just go ahead and say that, for me, the superhero genre has yet to really top the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films (the first two, at least), and while I’d like to think that would never cloud my judgment on any further Spider-Man films, I can’t guarantee that. I loathed the Amazing Spider-Man films, and while I was confident Marvel Studios would deliver on their collaboration with Sony with Spider-Man: Homecoming, there’s still a part of me that thought there was no way that it could be as good as Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. That’s not the fault of Homecoming by any means, I’m just trying to get my possible preconceived notions out of the way, just so you know where I’m coming from.
And as far as Spider-Man: Homecoming is concerned, I didn’t love it. But don’t get me wrong, it’s fine, and when I’m in a great mood, I might even say it’s pretty good. However, as I left the theater, I had that feeling you get when you just consume empty calories – you think you had something worthwhile, but there’s really nothing gained at all. That kinda makes it sound worse than it is, so I’ll just get into more detail.
Before I get into that, though, some positivity! The movie is fun, really fun, and funny. MCU films are no stranger to humor, but this one in particular seemed more refined in terms of the kind of jokes they wanted to utilize, and there’s a good balance between keeping the jokes going, but never really letting it undercut the drama. There’s never a feeling that they’re just unloading jokes on you constantly. The action sequences were solid, sometimes awkwardly staged and shot, but they’re mostly effective and fast, and the fancy tech suit is always throwing something new for Peter to play with (sometimes to a fault, but I’m trying to be positive here).
And then there’s the cast. I loved the cast, everyone is just great. Tom Holland kills it as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, it’s clear that him and the filmmakers really understand and love the character, and you can feel it in every scene. But even with that, it’s the supporting cast that really shines through, if mostly for being a lot of newcomers. Jacob Batalon plays Peter’s best friend, Ned, and he has some fun moments with Tom (even if he is sort of stuck with the dreaded comic-relief-in-an-already-funny-movie role. Zendaya, despite most of her screentime being reaction shots and cutaway jokes, is an instant charmer, more of her please. Michael Keaton does the nearly impossible and makes a thoroughly compelling MCU villain. Marisa Tomei really brings it, and her back-and-forth with Tom feels natural and endearing. Then there’s all the older actors who make the most out of little such as Donald Glover, Hannibal Buress, Martin Starr, etc. Even when certain characters, on paper, might not have much to them, the actors inject just enough to make an impression, especially the younger actors, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering how well co-writer and director, Jon Watts, handled the young characters in his last film, Cop Car (which is fantastic, by the way, do check it out).
The main problem (and this is admittedly kind of a stretch for a “problem”) is that there isn’t much to the film. It lacks meat on its bones, it lacks ambition. It brings up interesting ideas, but never takes them anywhere, and I never felt like there was any significant growth in any of the characters. The film starts out with Peter going against Tony Stark’s wishes in taking on crimes that are bigger than he can handle, but this doesn’t change by the time the climactic confrontation happens. There’s arguably more destruction caused by Spider-Man’s interference in the final battle than there was during the sequence where Tony comes in to tell Peter that he done screwed up. Perhaps it’s not Peter who goes through an arc, maybe it’s Tony having to realize the potential in Peter to let him do what he has to do, but even that doesn’t really happen. Nothing in the characters seemed to have changed despite some of them saying otherwise in the closing moments of the film. The film starts with Keaton’s Adrian Toomes dealing with the loss of his job due to actions taken by Tony Stark, and at several points throughout the film, he’ll make some comment going on and on about some working class hero nonsense, but that never really goes anywhere. A reveal comes in the third act, which is the first time where they play with the coming-of-age aspect alongside the superhero element, but it’s used for one gag, and it never comes into play again. Maybe some of that thematic tissue got lost along the writing process, as there are six (!!!) writers on this.
This also marks the second tentpole this year that plays like an extended John Hughes homage, with Power Rangers being the other, but while Power Rangers riffed on The Breakfast Club, Homecoming is full on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, complete with a gratuitous cutaway to the film playing on someone’s TV while Spider-Man is running through backyards of a suburban neighborhood. Though the film does a decent enough job at capturing the adventurous and light-hearted tone of something like Ferris Bueller, it fails to capture the depth within the teen angst that Hughes always managed to dramatize, even in his most lightest films. Homecoming deals in adolescent anxiety in the most surface level way. What makes Hughes special is how he can take typical teen angst issues like school dances and high school crushes, and various other things that are treated as bigger deals than they really are because he is able to tap into that mindset. He took the problems that teenagers faced seriously because that’s exactly how a teenager would take it, and he was able to find meaning and humanity through that lens. Even though Power Rangers was terrible, it at least tried to dig into what made the characters tick instead of having them just stand around and tell jokes.
I also have a serious fanboy gripe with a moment that happens in the third act where (don’t worry, I won’t give any context/spoilers) they essentially recreate the iconic moment from Amazing Spider-Man issue 33 where Spider-Man is trapped under rubble. There’s a reason the moment is so iconic because it served as the perfect metaphor for what made the character so great – that despite everything the world throws at him, despite all the problems he is constantly facing, the mistakes he makes, the pain that he causes and the pain he feels, physically and emotionally, he still powers through because of everything his loved ones taught him. In Homecoming, the scene plays out so throwaway, so perfunctory, absolutely devoid of the emotional weight that made the scene in the comic a moment that embodies everything that makes Spider-Man such an enduring character. Turning what could’ve been a truly defining moment in the entire canon of Spider-Man on screen into a brief and impersonal obstacle left a serious bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the film.
Oh, and also Michael Giacchino’s score was very disappointing, which shouldn’t be that much of a surprise since barely any of the MCU films have interesting or memorable music. However, the film sets you up for disappointment by playing his orchestral rendition of the classic 60s Spider-Man theme during the Marvel Studios logo…and then never plays it again.
I should reiterate, Spider-Man Homecoming is not bad film, not even a mediocre one. A film can strive to be fast, fun, and flashy entertainment, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that at all (just don’t make it two hours and thirteen minutes long). I simply think the film had the ideas and the means (considering all the writers involved) to really make something that was more meaningful and resonant than the film that we got. There’s no reason that Spider-Man’s first outing in the MCU should feel this disposable. At the very least, there’s ample opportunity to explore more once the sequel comes around, whenever that may be. And hey, we finally got a passable Spider-Man movie for the first time in like…a decade, so that’s pretty cool.