So Spider-Man: Homecoming is out and gathering a great deal of critical acclaim, aaaand….it’s pretty good, I guess. At least, it’s very good for a Marvel movie, which is a caveat I really wish I didn’t have to add. I find that many Marvel movies fall flat by choosing to emphasize comedy and action over strong characters and emotionally powerful moments, and Spider-Man: Homecoming mostly avoids those pitfalls. The movie is extremely focused on the character of Peter Parker, and as a result, we care about him and his problems. It also doesn’t hurt that Tom Holland is just insanely likable as the titular web-slinger. Then there’s the comedy, which while present, feels very natural throughout the film and fits in well with the story. There are few serious moments undercut by a joke or a quippy line, which is a classic Marvel move that keeps their movies fun but never anything more. Spider-Man even comes close to having a truly fantastic moment in it, although the scene is ultimately botched by a certain decision that I’m not going to spoil here (at least not until the spoiler section).
Still, though, the movie maintains one of the age-old Marvel problem that has constantly been plaguing their films: its musical score. Now I will give credit to Michael Giacchino for actually giving Spider-Man a recognizable theme, a title only The Avengers can also claim in the MCU, but the theme, to me at least, just wasn’t that good. More importantly, Spider-Man’s theme failed to give moments the weight that they deserved, and that was extremely disappointing. Then there’s the score outside of its main theme, which for the most part just goes through the motions the way many superhero ost’s do (I’m looking at you, Wonder Woman). I say for the most part because there was one musical moment that did work, but I can’t get too detailed without discussing spoilers. Which is a perfect segue for…
Michael Keaton’s reveal as Liz’s dad followed by Peter’s conversation with him in the car was really, really well-handled. We feel Peter’s horror as he slowly gets out of the car and walks toward the school entrance, and the musical cues greatly contribute to this moment (especially the transition from the tense non-diegetic score to the blaring diegetic homecoming music). Then there’s just the fact that The Vulture is Liz’s dad, which gives the villain a personal connection to our hero that is sorely lacking in most Marvel movies. We have a conflicted villain, since Spider-Man saved his daughter, and we have a conflicted hero, since he doesn’t want to kill his crush’s dad. (As a bit of a side note, I didn’t realize until proofreading this section how similar this is to The Green Goblin being Harry Osborne’s dad in the original Spider-Man).
Another thing the movie (almost) did extraordinarily well was Peter’s internal conflict about what it means to be a hero. This brings us to the moment I alluded to earlier when Peter fails to stop The Vulture and finds himself trapped under a giant pile of concrete. It’s here that we see Peter at his most vulnerable, desperately screaming for someone, anyone, to come save him. And I freaking loved seeing that side of him. This is the most vulnerable we have seen ANY hero in the MCU. Everyone else is always stoic when they need to be, maybe even funny and quippy in the most dire moments, but Spider-Man is still just a kid who gets scared and emotional. Sure, he does find the strength within to overcome those feelings, but the feelings are still present. Then there’s Tom Holland, who absolutely kills it in the scene…….and then there’s the voiceover line, which actually kills the scene. Everything was going so perfectly, and then we get a flashback to Tony Stark’s line “with great power comes great responsibility,” and it just ruined everything that the moment had built up. Wait, he didn’t say that? He said, “if you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it”? Either way, it killed the moment. We know what is going through Peter’s mind through Tom Holland’s amazing performance, so just let the scene play out! We already got the ham-fisted suit reflection shot, we don’t need extra dialogue to drive the point home!
Anyway……I guess this would be a good time to talk about my other small issues with the end of the film, most notably the way Peter “defeats” The Vulture at the end of the movie. The Vulture is about to kill Peter, but then gets distracted by a case full of artifacts and tries to leave with them before blowing himself up? Really? First off, the character was set up as someone who is intently focused on killing Peter, and would certainly not pass up the chance to do so for the sake of some artifacts that he could just as easily grab 2 seconds after killing Peter. Second, this is a guy who has worked with foreign technology for 15 years, so surely he knows enough to realize “hey, these things blow up, I probably shouldn’t take them.” I mean, yeah, he’s not the scientist on the crew, but surely the scientist building the weapons had told him at some point the possible dangers of working with material that explodes under certain conditions. Anyway, I’m getting a bit nitpicky, but I do think that this moment undercuts what Peter has accomplished since at the end of the day he still hasn’t really bested any major villain as Spider-Man.
So, I’ve mostly talked about things I disliked about the film despite it being one of my favorite MCU movies, so here’s a list of all the things I really did like about Spider-Man: Homecoming:
- Tom Holland
- the diverse and funny side characters
- Peter’s best friend
- Aunt May
- the High School setting
- High School characters that actually look and act like high-schoolers
- Michael Keaton as The Vulture
- The entire Vulture reveal
- The opening of Peter filming his time with the Avengers
- Captain America in his PSA videos
- Actual emotion in a Marvel movie