The expectations of the new Spiderman were mixed. He unexpectedly impressed everyone in Civil War, and the trailers promised a lot of fun. On the other hand, this is the second Spiderman reboot and the sixteenth movie in the MCU franchise, not to mention that, as a superhero movie, it is meant to compete with the likes of Wonder Woman and countless Netflix takes on people with too much power and too little responsibility. As such, it really should be judged as a Spiderman film first, as an MCU installment next, as a superhero movie and only then as an actual film. It does all of those things with varying success.
First, to the good part. It’s a well-structured movie, the first one about the character, but not an origin story. Tom Holland is absolutely believable as a fifteen year old Peter, and the film’s focus on the high school environment with age appropriate actors feels very refreshing compared to the previous takes on the character. Holland is probably the first actor who excels both as the nerdy but otherwise quite average kid, Peter Parker, and an adorably awkward young Spiderman, who can’t quite believe what sort of world he ended up in. Marvel’s famous attention to detail works quite well here - Peter grew up in a world post Avengers New York, a world where superheroes are real human beings. And now, after seeing all those things on TV, he gets a chance to be a part of it all - the closest parallel you can have would be a young celebrity. His relationship with Tony Stark and the central issue of the film - what the man (the boy?) is without his suit - is explored spotlessly, even if sometimes in a bit too sterile a manner. When Peter finally encounters the everyday alter-ego of the Vulture, it is genuinely unexpected, and creates some of the most tense moments of the entire film.
If Homecoming works as a Spiderman movie, its MCU context is ultimately its undoing. First of all, it is illogical - Peter informs Tony of a dangerous weapon production crime ring, and instead of sending Vision out there for his daily gym practice,Tony next to ignores the warning. Instead, he takes away Peter’s suit and basically his permission to be Spiderman openly. The premise of the film would have been resolved much more smoothly if, well, they didn’t need to make a Spiderman movie. As a result, the whole story feels forced. Which brings us to the very necessity of Spiderman in the MCU. In previous franchises he was the only superhero, dealing with all the supervillains on offer. His place in the MCU world is unclear. He is too overpowered for the ‘little guy’ villains, which can easily be dealt with by Jessica Jones, Iron Fist or Daredevil. He is generally useless for the villains of titanic proportions - what can he do against Thanos in a world which has the Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Vision and all of Tony’s suits? In general, Vulture was an appropriately balanced villain for his abilities, but ultimately there are enough other grown up heroes who could (and should!) have taken care of that.
If Spiderman is problematic in the context of MCU, it is even less certain outside of it. This is not so much a superhero movie, as a high school coming-of-age story of a teenage trying to prove himself to a father figure. It does have a slight gender problem, but the women who are in it are quite well written (Peter’s social justice warrior classmate is the one to watch). The film certainly could do more in that respect, but short of making the villain a woman, I am at a loss at how it could be done (you can’t really genderswap either Tony Stark or Peter Parker at this point in the MCU). If you want to see a stand alone superhero movie and don’t care much for teenage drama, there is stronger offering elsewhere. However, if you want a fun, fresh and at times surprisingly poignant Spiderman film, and you are willing to forgive it its logical inconsistencies, you could do much worse.
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