SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING review by Mark Walters – a familiar Marvel icon gets a fresh take

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING review by Mark Walters – a familiar Marvel icon gets a fresh take

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I’ll be honest, despite being a big time comic book fan, and someone who pretty much loves all the Marvel movies (even the flawed ones), I wasn’t terribly excited about getting yet another Spider-Man movie. We already had three Sam Raimi films starring Tobey Maguire, and two Marc Webb films starring Andrew Garfield… that’s FIVE Spidey movies since 2002! And it didn’t help that those last two weren’t terribly strong in their execution, at times feeling like remakes of the Spider-Man movies we had already seen. Then last year, when Tom Holland showed up as Spidey in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, and completely stole the show with rather limited screen time, I started to think maybe another reboot could work. But as good as he was, I still just didn’t have much desire to see yet another solo film for the character. Regardless, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING was going to come out, so the question now was whether or not audiences could (once again) get hyped up about seeing everyone’s favorite web-slinger take over the big screen with a new actor in the lead.

The new film opens (several years ago) by introducing us to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a contractor with a team of fellas picking up the mess left behind in New York after the Avengers fought the Chitauri aliens who were assisting Loki… right from the start, you see this Spider-Man story is very much connected to the other Marvel superhero movies. Toomes is shut down by a new government faction called Damage Control, who insist on taking over since so much of the wreckage has alien technology. Little do they realize Toomes made off with some of his latest haul, and it sparks an idea in him on a new way to make money. Cut to a title card for Marvel, and then a more simple title card that says “A Film By Peter Parker”, which leads into a video blog of Parker (Tom Holland) taking a trip with Tony Stark’s right hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to assist in a fight against Captain America and some of the other Avengers… yes, this is a direct tie-in to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, but showing things from Peter’s perspective. It’s a very fun way to let the audience know what we’re about to see immediately follows those events, but also show how inexperienced Parker is at being a superhero, and further explains his working relationship with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who decides to let him hold on to the suit after the melee. We don’t have to sit through yet another origin story, this Spidey movie pretty much expects you know the origin by now, so we’re just taken directly into Peter being a high school kid who is juggling being Spider-Man on the side. Only now he’s constantly anxious and hoping that Stark will once again call on him for help. This “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” is a bit bored helping little old ladies and stopping bank robbers, until some of those robbers start using weapons with alien tech supplied by Toomes. Turns out Toomes now swoops around with a Vulture-esque flight suit, stealing leftover alien tech (while using alien tech to do it), and even worse selling some of it off to desperate criminals. As Peter tries to balance his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) learning his secret identity, and his affection for classmate Liz Allen (Laura Harrier), he sees the dangers in what Toomes and his men are doing, and hopes he can get a hand from his Avengers mentor… only Stark always seems to be just a little too busy to reach.

One of the absolute best things about SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is that it never tries to reinvent the wheel or do something overly spectacular. It’s just a fun story about Peter Parker finding his way and earning the Spider-Man persona, along with Stark’s suit. This outing is directed by Jon Watts (COP CAR), who really seems to get the importance of characters and just telling a good story. There’s an insular quality to the script that gives the story a more personal and controlled aspect, and in turn makes the whole thing feel more genuine. We’ve seen almost every iteration of a superhero tale on the big screen, so it’s actually quite smart to avoid some of those standard trappings and just have a good time with cool characters. And sure, comic book fans may take issue with some altered aspects on a few of the more notable names, but it all seems to serve a purpose and work in the grand scheme.

Tom Holland is excellent as Peter Parker, really (and in some ways finally) capturing the demeanor you’d expect of a high school kid gifted with these powers and responsibility. He’s cocky when expected, scared when needed, and just feels sincere. This film will surely make him a household name. In addition to that, Holland captures the physicality of the role, doing a lot of his own acrobatics and action, which is always admirable. I also really appreciated that Peter and Ned are played as nerds, outcasts in their school who are looked down on, but allow their friendship to sustain them. Jacob Batalon has some great moments as Ned, the supportive buddy who is also Peter’s reminder that he’s still just a kid in high school. Their chemistry together is one of the most entertaining aspects of the production. Michael Keaton is of course quite good as the villain, who in some ways has an almost justifiable reasoning for his actions, even if he is a bit unhinged. There’s some nice surprises with his character that add layers to the already well-crafted story. Zendaya fans might be let down at how little she’s in the film, though her character does have some fun moments as another outcast in the school, one who frequently reminds Peter and Ned how weird they sometimes appear to others. Without getting into spoiler territory, her character is very much here for a reason, but it’s not played out in this installment. Laura Harrier could have used a little more development as Liz Allen, but she’s a refreshing love interest for our hero instead of going with the outplayed Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy ideas – side bit of trivia, Liz Allen actually is a character from the comics, just one not as frequently mentioned these days. There’s a great multi-cultural aspect to Peter’s school and classmates that feels natural and never forced, and (for perhaps the first time in one of these movies) comes across like we’re looking at a “real” high school class.

Marisa Tomei is good as Aunt May, though used sparingly. This is not the wisdom-giving Aunt May cultivated by Sam Raimi or Marc Webb, but rather a concerned parental figure who is coping with her own issues of now being a widow looking after a high school boy… the whole Uncle Ben getting shot storyline is only hinted at, never shown. The absolute best Aunt May moment is at the very end of the film, and will definitely change her relationship with Peter moving forward in these movies. Some folks have criticized the film’s use of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, in that he’s played up heavily in the trailers and on the theatrical poster to boot. Not to worry, Stark and the Iron Man suit are not in the film too much, rather just enough, and very much serve a purpose. And in a weird way his inclusion feels like a necessary step to remind audiences that this Spider-Man is now part of a much bigger universe, which is (potentially) a good thing. It’s great seeing more of Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan too, a character I always enjoy when he pops up in these films.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is not a comic book movie that will blow you away or wow you beyond words, but it’s incredibly satisfying and delivers exactly what you want it to. Sony Pictures has had some missteps with the Spidey films, and this is their way of showing they can get it right, thanks in heavy part to the involvement of Marvel Studios now. I look at this as a necessary redirect of the franchise, and good starting point for future Spidey films. If Marvel can continue to steer the ship, this Peter Parker should have a long and successful road ahead of him that audiences will gladly anticipate. My only recommendation before seeing this is that you brush up on some of the previous Marvel movies, like THE AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, and maybe even IRON MAN 3 just for grins. Oh, and stick around through the credits for what may be one of the best and most clever stingers ever to compliment one of these films.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING opens July 7, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.