When I was growing up, superhero films weren’t really a big thing. Superheros mostly existed on tv shows or within comics. Other than the iconic Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, I don’t really remember seeing any other big superhero films. However, this changed with the advent of the 2002 Spider- Man movie starring Tobey Maguire. As a kid, it was a formative movie and changed my life in two ways: 1. It kickstarted my interest in comics and 2. It caused me to form a soft spot for spiderman. With hindsight, I recognize that the movie had some faults (it’s so over the top and the MJ storyline is weird), but I still think it’s a fantastic adaption. It just has so much heart. So when the 2012 movie came out, I was game. It was a good adaption, and I particularly liked the direction the director/writers went with Peter’s character. However, I felt that Andrew Garfield looked a bit too old and I didn’t feel “wowed” by it, like I was by the 2002 movie. Similarly, when Spider-Man:Homecoming was announced, with Tom Holland as Spiderman, thereby making Spiderman younger (his actual age in the comics initially), I was intrigued as well. I watched the movie last weekend and I gotta say, I was quite impressed and felt a review was due.
Unlike the previous spiderman movies, this one doesn’t really go into Spiderman’s origin story. There’s no big spider-biting-Peter scene or anything. Instead, the movie picks up near the ending scene of Captain America: Civil War. We don’t really see the fight scene again; rather we see Peter’s reactions as he is first taken to Germany, his feelings before the fight, his journey home, etc. (Peter makes a sort of home movie LOL). Afterwards, Peter neglects school in an attempt to be a superhero — moonlighting as a vigilante. It it through his vigilantism that he first notices the activity of the Vulture and his team, who use leftover Chitauri technology to create insane guns to sell to people. He attempts to tell Tony Stark, but Stark brushes him off. So spiderman then attempts to fight Vulture’s sidekicks, but ends up almost drowning until the spiderman suit Stark gave him saves him. Tony warns Peter to stop moonlighting as a vigilante and start acting like the high school student he is. Of course Peter ignores him and continues on. The rest of the movie deals with the Vulture conflict.
Here’s the thing, this movie is very different from its predecessors (can you even call them that?). Firstly, as mentioned, there’s no mention of spiderman’s transformation (aside from when Ned asks and Peter quickly explains). Secondly, there’s a few pivotal spiderman characters missing — namely Harry Osborn and Mary Jane. There do exist some characters who occupy their roles (i.e. Peter’s best friend and love interest), but they don’t have their typical characterization. For example, Ned (played by Jacob Batalan), who is Peter’s best friend, isn’t some super rich dude and instead is incredibly smart — functioning as Peter’s “guy in the chair”. Similarly, MJ’s character is taken for an entirely new spin with Zendaya playing Michelle Jones (MJ), an observant, activist, unpopular smart girl. On the same note, some of the characteristics for other known characters change, such as Flash. Instead of being the physical bully, Flash Thompson (played by Tony Revolori), is a social-media bully, who bullies Peter for being a dork/ nerd and shows off his wealth.
Which brings me to another point — how relatable the movie felt. Of course superheros don’t exist and genetically modified spiders don’t go around biting people and changing them. However, there was an element of realness in the movie. It was present in the humor — the jokes the characters would make and the things they would talk about (i.e. Peter and Ned were really into Star Wars and superheros). It was present in the characterizations of the characters — a social media bully is far more likely and actually prevalent today than a physical bully, plus it’s easy to imagine activist and “woke” girls like MJ existing. It was present in the diversity among the cast — where white people mixed with black people and spanish people and asian people. It looked and felt like a real high school.
On that note, the acting was pretty good in this movie as well. Tom Holland was pretty good in making spiderman likeable. The supporting cast, Jacob Batalan, Tony Revolori, Zendaya and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, were great as well. However, the stand out actor for me in this movie, was probably Michael Keaton. Fair warning, I might be a little biased when it comes to Michael Keaton because his Batman movies are among my favourites. However, he was just fantastic in this role. Here’s the thing, you know that spiderman isn’t going to die in any movie adaption — it just doesn’t happen. So the threat of anything very serious (like death) happening to spiderman isn’t really real. Yet, when Michael Keaton was onscreen, particularly in the car scene where he realized that Peter was Spiderman, you felt real terror for Peter. You, as the audience, were terrified for Peter, despite knowing that nothing absolutely terrible would happen to him. This was because Michael Keaton was able to imbue his character with a menacing nature that genuinely terrified. Plus, his character was also understandable, to an extent. When Adrian Tooms/ Vulture talked about how the rich only get richer or about how poor people always suffer, you could see his point. He wasn’t some two dimension villain (which by the way, are totally fine as well), despite the fact that he was indeed a killer. To me, that’s the mark of a fantastic actor — one who makes you forget the constrains of the script.
Speaking of which, I actually liked the small community aspect of this movie. Not only did it speak to spiderman literally being the “friendly neighbourhood spiderman,” but it was also a good break from the big Marvel superhero movies. There were no high stakes, or too many characters crowding out the scenes. It was literally just spiderman and his problems, which included navigating through being a student and a hero, dealing with a criminal, and learning to be spiderman. Of course there were a few scenes with Tony Stark, but mercifully, they were limited so the viewer did not get the chance to tire of Stark.
All that said, there were some negatives for the movie as well. One that particularly stood out to me, was the emotional aspect. While the movie was relatable and funny, its emotional scenes did not have the impact I suspect the director wanted. For example, there’s a scene where Peter is crushed by steel beams and attempting to save himself without the spiderman suit Tony Stark gave him. Peter cries, yells for help until ultimately taking all of strength and belief in self to rescue himself (there’s this cool shot of Peter’s face mixed with the reflection of the spiderman mask in a pool of water). It’s supposed to be a big moment — the moment where Peter realizes that he’s not just “a guy in a suit” (LOL). However, it didn’t feel like that. It just felt like any other sort of scene — the heart was missing. Similarly, the acting/ storylines were a bit uninspiring at times. For example, Laura Harrier as Liz Allen was just so boring. It made no sense why she liked Peter plus Harrier’s acting left a lot to be desired. Additionally, I’m not quite sure what the makers plan to do with MJ’s storyline. I’m wary that they’ll pull the whole geeky-girl-transforms-into-beauty with her. However, this is speculation on my part so not a real negative. Yet, even with the real negatives, the positives for the film completely outweigh them.
My rating: watch it to enjoy a fun summer movie about spiderman and high school kids.