Spider-Man: An Adequate Homecoming

What makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe work is how they are more than just comic book movies. The MCU blends a host of genres into their films - all retold from a superhero perspective. The Iron Man trilogy covered terrorism, scientific ethics, and corporate espionage. Captain America provided a historical war drama in The First Avenger and a political thriller in The Winter Soldier. Thor was a redemption story framed in high fantasy. Ant-Man was a heist movie. Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies were space operas. And now, there is a coming of age story: Spider-Man: Homecoming.

image courtesy of Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, & Sony Pictures

My first impression of Homecoming is overwhelmingly neutral. Bright and colorful, humorous and entertaining. It didn't feel overly long despite the 133-minute run-time. Yet, I walked out of the theater filled with competing emotions: satisfaction and disappointment. I enjoyed the movie, but I'm conflicted.

Tom Holland embraces the geeky awkwardness of Toby Maguire's Peter Parker and the jovial quips of Andrew Garfield's portrayal of Spidey. Additionally, Holland has a youthful charm not possessed by either of his predecessors and Homecoming benefits from his ability to fit the role of an angsty teenager. Homecoming picks up in the aftermath of Civil War where Peter Parker had his first taste of official superhero work. He is eager to get out and do it again.

The villain is perfectly cast by Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture. Toomes starts off as a contractor managing waste disposal after the Battle of New York (the climatic third act of The Avengers). His contract is terminated, leaving him and his crew unemployed. They are replaced by Tony Stark’s newly created US Department of Damage Control. One of Toomes' employees (The Tinkerer) discovers some of the alien technology still in their possession can be used to create useful tools. Toomes begins a new criminal career stealing alien tech and Stark hardware from USDOC. They repurpose these scraps into weapons to be sold on the black market.

Several familiar faces reprise their MCU roles. Marisa Tomei returns as Aunt May. Robert Downey Jr plays the mentor and father figure Tony Stark/Iron Man. Jon Favreau plays Stark's bodyguard and best friend Happy Hogan. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a surprise appearance as Pepper Potts, Stark's girlfriend. And Chris Evans filmed a series of PSAs as Captain America.

Despite the basic formula of good guy stopping bad guy from villainy, Homecoming is essentially a movie about a high school kid in the midst of high school drama. The cast is filled with teachers and students that make up the world of Parker's daily life. Kenneth Choi is the school principle and Hannibal Burress coaches the academic decathlon team. Parker's best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the wingman. Liz (Laura Harrier) is most popular girl in school. Tony Revolori plays Flash - breaking the stereotype of the jocks being a bully. Instead, Flash is just a normal kid who is also an obnoxious jerk.

Aside from the heroics, Parker wrestles with typical teenaged struggles. He is the smartest kid in school but has trouble applying himself, has a crush on the cutest girl in school, is constantly picked on by the bully, and experiences apathy toward all the things he once enjoyed. He is the kid who wants to grow up too fast. After helping team Iron Man in Germany, school is suddenly boring. He would rather be on missions with The Avengers, saving the world – abandoning education for adventure.

Homecoming succeeds by skipping the origin story. Peter Parker was a kid when the chitauri invaded Manhattan; it is the most significant event of his childhood. He grew up in a world where superheroes were known and their exploits were newsworthy. By the time Spider-Man appeared in Civil War, we knew he was doing superheroey activities and posting videos of his antics to YouTube. That's how Tony Stark found him. We don't need to revisit the spider bite that gave Parker his powers or the death of his uncle and the "great power/great responsibility" speech. We don't need those key moments in Spider-Man's origins because they have been told many times before.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun movie. I enjoyed it. The casting is excellent, the costume design is impressive. The script is concise. The story line is engaging even if predictable. Some of the best moments of the movie are the most human interactions - especially a tense moment between Parker and Toomes, neither character dressed like their hero/villain alter-egos. My favorite scenes were musical montages: the first set to Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones and the second to The English Beat's Sooner or Later.

I give you a glowing review. An appealing summertime blockbuster. But somehow, I'm unimpressed and feel a little let down. Homecoming is part of the MCU, has the Marvel feel, and would not have been possible without the inclusion of Iron Man. However, it didn't have the same weight or impact as much of Marvel's expanding library of films. No big social issues. No deep philosophical meaning or moral lesson. I have no desire to go see it again like I have with several of the previous MCU movies.

It is only a story of a kid learning how to be a better superhero. It isn't a great movie, it's just OK. It is better than bad but falls short of amazing. It saved the franchise after the mess that was Spider-Man 3 and the two Amazing Spider-Mans, but did little to stand out among the crowded superhero genre. It's good enough to make me want to see where these characters go next but not so good that I'd call it a must-see movie. If you like comic books, you will probably enjoy it. If comic books aren't your thing, you're not missing much. Homecoming accomplished what it set out to do. Nothing more, nothing less. In other words, it is an adequate movie.

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