By Jarrod Jones. It’s a tricky thing to discuss these superhero movies without sounding like a broken record anymore. That’s especially so when talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though it seems there’s always at least one semi-fascinating talking point wrapped around each successive movie to keep the conversation spicy. Doctor Strange had its whitewashing controversy, Ant-Man had that troublesome Edgar Wright darkening its doorway, and now Spider-Man: Homecoming comes with a mountain of baggage thanks to Sony Pictures, who finally realized that maybe the best way to continue making money off of our favorite wall-crawler was to let Disney foot the bill from here on out.
But we’re not here to discuss the internal mechanisms of inter-studio intrigue (thank goodness). We’re here to talk about the overall quality of a movie, and as far as that goes… *sigh* Maybe I’m better off hanging onto that Sony talking point, since Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming feels every inch like a fussed over multi-billion dollar property instead of a substantial film in its own right. Meet Peter Product, the World-Famous Corporate Mascot.
Now I know I’m gonna catch some hell for saying so, but Spider-Man: Homecoming is not an exceptional film by any stretch. It’s fun, in that guilt-free, low-calorie sort of way. But it’s certainly skimping on substance, almost as though a group of suits got together, surveyed the critical and financial drumming The Amazing Spider-Man 2 took not so long ago, and calibrated their first Disney collaboration just enough so as to avoid offending the fickle sensibilities of the millions of people who will just want to get out of the heat for two hours.
Now, there’s nothing particularly objectionable about making a breezy, generally uncomplicated superhero movie these days. (We could certainly use the distraction.) Based on its own merits, Spider-Man: Homecoming is about as shallow and inoffensive as these type of movies get, and it avoids any of that morbid navel-gazing from the Amazing franchise.
It is, as a consequence of its own squeaky-cleanliness, virtually unengaging. In terms of story, very little of consequence occurs, and even fewer of the film’s characters — up to and including Tom Holland’s Peter Parker — change in any substantial way. It’s a Spider-Man movie without any of that pesky emotion or daring, though it does set up its own sequels nicely.
As a product, Homecoming succeeds admirably. Spidey looks as though he was designed with his Disney World mascot in mind; an approachable, genuinely uncreepy superhero who will translate to toys, backpacks, swimwear, and toothbrushes with ease. Unlike Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland manages to keep his mask on for the majority of the time Spidey’s onscreen, just to maximize that tasty brand recognition.
In the film, Spider-Man has a gizmo-laden suit bestowed upon him, which pops up with something new whenever it looks like Peter’s been sitting still long enough for poignancy to take shape. He’s provided a brassy female A.I. with whom to banter, just like his famous mentor, Tony Stark. (Robert Downey, Jr. pops in a few times just to give the movie its MCU bonafides.) What’s weird about that — aside from it being brazenly derivative — is that it’s the strongest relationship Peter has with any woman in the film. (It’s shocking how often Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May gets broomed in this movie.)
The suit itself is treated as a plot device. In fact, the reverentially Romita-esque duds symbolize that “great responsibility” bit from Spidey’s iconic mythos, though the film doesn’t do much with it. There are perhaps one or two slight nods towards Spidey’s origins — a smart move on behalf of the film’s six screenwriters, though they forgot to replace the emotional impetus those origins provide with anything significant. Perhaps it got lost in the enthusiastic din of the writing room. (The film was put together by the team who made Cop Car and those funny shorts from Waverly Films.)
The film’s supporting cast is refreshingly diverse; Homecoming plays with the legendary stable of Spidey bit players and gives them a 21st Century vitality. (Jacob Batalon and Tony Revolori are particular casting highlights, as is the woefully underutilized Zendaya.) Spidey’s primary villain, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes, is given the most to do with the film’s sparse reserves of pathos. As a matter of fact, Keaton is the best thing Homecoming has going, a charismatic and menacing foil whose shadow almost swallows the hero whole. (It’s a fascinating thing to watch, considering Keaton was a casualty of Jack Nicholson’s scene-devouring performance in 1989’s Batman.)
Homecoming has the carefree zing of a Marvel Studios film, and as such, it takes the piss out of itself whenever it gets the chance. (Whenever something resembling drama occurs, you can bet there’s a joke mere seconds away to keep those complicated emotions at bay.) What’s so striking about Watts’ movie is that it’s put together like a competently produced comic book series — it sets itself up for more adventures, it tables certain plot points for future examination, and it’s about as disposable as a single issue can be. That may make for an amusing romp — which is probably all we can ask for, considering certain alternatives — but it doesn’t make for a very good movie.
Directed by Jon Watts.
Produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal.
Screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers.
Story by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley.
Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, and Robert Downey Jr.
Rated PG-13 for mostly harmless superhero punchy stuff and periodically salty language.
6.5 out of 10