It’s still surprising to think about it: Spider-Man has been rebooted three times now. Three. Despite being in movies for only fifteen years, it feels as though Spider-Man has been web-slinging for a lot longer than that. Next to Batman and Superman, Spider-Man is arguably one of the most popular superheroes of all time. Maybe he’s popular because of the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon, or perhaps it’s because of his universal appeal as an urban crime fighter.
Regardless, Spider-Man has finally returned home to Marvel Studios. So how will Marvel utilize the comic book icon to their advantage?
Spider-Man: Homecoming is set after Captain America: Civil War, where Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) restlessly fights petty crime in New York as he waits for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to make him a full-fledged Avenger. But when Peter finds out that Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton) is secretly stealing alien technology and selling it to criminals, Peter casts aside his school life to single-handedly bring Adrian to justice.
Since obtaining the character rights to Spider-Man, Marvel has restored Spider-Man to his Silver Age design. The ugly suit textures from The Amazing Spider-Man are gone, replaced with a suit that is sleek and colourful. Peter Parker himself is back in high school, and the students actually look young enough to belong there.
Marvel even brought back the classic Spider-Man theme. Talk about nostalgia!
Although it is clear that Homecoming exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Spider-Man reboot doesn’t come with its own origin story. The film glosses over much of its backstory in an attempt to fast-track the story. But in its eagerness to follow up Civil War, Homecoming leaves out crucial characteristics that define our new Spider-Man.
Did Peter get bitten by a mutant spider? When did Peter first start fighting crime? How does he make his web fluid?
I get it. We can only watch Uncle Ben die so many times before we get sick of it. But even when backstory sucks, it’s worse when it’s not there. Without proper exposition, Homecoming makes for an uneven viewing experience, one where minor plot details are more important than key character attributes.
Thankfully, Tom Holland is nothing short of spectacular. Compared to Tobey Maguire’s dorky innocence and Andrew Garfield’s soft-spoken cheekiness, Holland plays Peter Parker with a goofy boyishness. Struggling to impress kids at school and unable to intimidate thugs on the street, Holland’s Peter is consistent with his Spider-Man alter ego, something that previous Spider-Man movies have struggled to do.
Peter’s character arc in Homecoming reflects his struggle to lead a double life. Peter clearly doesn’t care about his academic life, as he quits his extra-curricular clubs so he can fight crime after school. Or as Peter puts it, he’s busy with the “Stark internship.” Peter is so desperate to become a real Avenger that he goes out of his way to find the Vulture himself, in spite of Tony’s insistence otherwise.
My favourite part of Homecoming comes in the third act, where, without spoiling too much, Peter’s desire to be a hero is challenged. But even at his lowest point, when he risks losing everything, he still chooses to fight for what is right. And it is in that moment of clarity that Peter finally understands the meaning of heroism.
I guess there’s more than one way to say, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
But if the best part of Homecoming is Spider-Man himself, then the worst part is everyone else. With the exception of Keaton’s Vulture, the side characters don’t leave much of an impression. The movie is often different for the sake of being different. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is younger, Flash (Tony Revolori) is a skinny rich kid, and the snarky Michelle (Zendaya) is set up to be MJ for the next movie.
Look, I admire the multi-ethnic casting. It’s not only a good move for Hollywood, it’s a good representation of what New York City is like. But these changes don’t add anything to the story. There’s a simple elegance to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, when Flash was a dumb jock and Mary-Jane was a pretty redhead. There wasn’t any winking irony to it; the sole purpose of these characters was to propel Peter’s story.
At least the changes to the Vulture work to the story’s benefit. Vulture is the ideal foil for Spider-Man, a middle-aged villain who justifies his wrongdoings with the need to provide for his family. Set against Peter’s naivete, Vulture’s convictions are not only mature, they can be quite sympathetic too.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is far from perfect, but the movie is hard not to like. With his goofy grin and heart of gold, Holland is, without a doubt, our definitive Spider-Man. He’s not just another superhero, he’s our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man!