in Retrospecticus, Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Original Review: n/a

Hey, Beyonce put out a thing called Homecoming today, isn’t that a fun coincidence.

Spider-Man is Sony’s biggest movie franchise and they don’t mess around with it. Before Sam Raimi walked away from the series, the studio was planning so far ahead it had started hiring people to work on the fifth and sixth sequels to that original run. When that all fell apart, they still had a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, five years after Spider-Man 3. Before the reboot’s sequel flopped, Sony was said to be working on a massive list of spin-offs and sequels, apparently desperate to make a shared universe similar to the MCU. Even in the aftermath of that critical misfire, Sony had Tom Holland cast and in an MCU movie just a year after coming to an agreement with Disney. Spider-Man: Homecoming actually came out a year earlier than Sony was originally planning The Amazing Spider-Man 3 to be released.

Now their vision of spin-offs is finally coming to pass. I didn’t see Venom when it came out but I’ll probably check it out someday and Into the Spider-Verse is really good. But we didn’t know that Sony could make it work a few years ago. We didn’t have much positive to go on. What we saw was Sony force Sam Raimi into adding Venom into a movie that didn’t need him and continue to meddle until further sequels became impossible. We saw the reboot that was dumb and missed what made Peter Park relatable, and the sequel to that which was nothing short of a fiasco. We saw a chaotic studio that suffered an embarrassing email hack and kept making questionable big bets on movies like the Ghostbusters remake and Angry Birds. They really didn’t seem to know what they were doing. So they got Marvel to step up and show how to make a Spider-Man movie in 2017: By covering it with the MCU.

Spider-Man: Homecoming opens shortly after the Battle of New York with The Vulture and his crew working cleanup and secretly scavenging alien technology. They get stopped by Damage Control, a former SHIELD branch that has become a joint venture between the federal government and Tony Stark. Supposedly those Damage Control guys will get an ABC show someday, but I’m not holding my breath. Anyway, Damage Control puts the Toomes crew in a tough spot financially, so they turn to crime. I love this setup for two reasons: One, It justifies Toomes’ super villain alter ego name by making him someone who picks over the bones of the Avengers’ super heroics. Two, it fits with this movie’s more working-class sensibility, which stands in stark contrast to the last few MCU movies about billionaires, kings, and gods. See what I did there? “Stark” contrast?

The movie continues to be indebted to the MCU as it skips ahead to a recap of the events of Civil War from Peter Parker’s perspective. It’s not just fighting Cap that makes it memorable for the kid, he loves getting to fly on a private jet and stay in a fancy hotel room, isn’t that cute? Tony and Happy then drop Peter off at his aunt’s apartment and tell him to go back to being a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. Essentially, they put the character back where he was before he joined the MCU. This is a big disappointment for Peter, who thought he had become an Avenger, but he tries his best to stay positive. I love the subsequent montage of his well-intentioned crimefighting going slightly awry, like when he stops the bike thief but doesn’t know what to do with the bike or when he stops the guy from breaking into a car, only to realize it was that guy’s car and he had locked himself out. One guy yells for Spider-Man to do a flip and he does it and the guy cheers.

This leads to the main tension in the story: Peter wants more responsibility, Tony is reluctant to give it to him. A side effect of putting so much emphasis on the MCU elements is that some of the traditional Spider-Man tropes get reduced. This is most notable when it comes to Uncle Ben, who is never even directly mentioned. Instead, Spider-Man latches onto Iron Man as a surrogate father figure, eagerly trying to impress a man who had saved the world several times over. He ends up becoming a bit more like Stark than any other iteration of the character, especially in the end when he crashes a plane into Coney Island because he feels like he has to stop the Vulture himself. Less “with great power comes great responsibility” and more “the consequences of your actions are irrelevant as long as you were in the right.” Hopefully there will be a bit of a reckoning there in the sequel.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, and comic book movies in general, struggle with big, dramatic twists. Nerds are too good at figuring this stuff out in advance, so even if you try to misdirect in advance, people will still deduce stuff like Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan Noonien Singh before release. So I respect how much of this movie is built around one big twist, and how well that reveal works. I am of course referring to Toomes being Liz’s father. Right after Peter gets his suit taken away and gives up on super heroics, bam! The guy he was after is driving him to homecoming. It’s so good, and that ride to the dance is one of the best scenes in the MCU.

But… The movie is built around lulling you into being caught off-guard by that reveal. Peter doesn’t really have much of a story arc, since he starts already having decided to be a super hero. He gets in over his head, but overcomes The Vulture in the end anyway. He doesn’t learn to leave it to the proper authorities, or to work together with Iron Man, or to come up with a plan in advance. He makes the same decisions at the end of the movie he would have at the beginning. And because the movie wants you to think the stakes are low, things like Pete missing the academic decathlon don’t even matter because they win anyway. Things like that, not going swimming, and ditching Liz’s party should have had consequences for Peter, but Liz isn’t mad and still wants to go to homecoming with him because that’s what works best for the twist.

That said, this is still a very entertaining movie. The Washington Monument and ferry rescue scenes are both great tests for Spider-Man, since they’re set in less swinging-friendly locations. He’ll get to Manhattan one day, but for now he’s still a Queens kid. I think it’s great how many villains they reference: Vulture, both Shockers, Prowler, and Scorpion all make an appearance. Plus, so many MCU Easter Eggs! Particularly at the school, where we see numerous Captain America PSA tapes. Despite being a war criminal now, Cap must have at least one fan at the school: Principal Morita, who is a descendant of Howling Commando Jim Morita, both of whom were played by Kenneth Choi. The science classroom has pictures of famous scientists, including Bruce Banner. And finally, I appreciate that Jennifer Connelly, who is married to Paul Bettany, also joins the MCU as a suit’s voice.

MCU Power Rankings: Spidey’s still got to learn some tricks from Iron Man, so I’ll put this right under the first of those.