Like Wonder Woman before it, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun-filled adventure that falls apart under scrutiny, more a movie theater equivalent of a Disneyland ride than a fully formed story. What keeps the action piping along is the charismatic acting and winsome dialogue that manages to genuinely capture the quippy character of Spider-Man. Star Tom Holland works well, but baddie Michael Keaton shines especially brightly in this flick. It’s just that- as the third film incarnation of Spider-Man in the past fifteen years, and the umpteenth film under the Marvel Cinematic Universe umbrella, certain aspects of the movie feel tired, if not wholly redundant.
Much was said about how Homecoming wouldn’t be an origin story, but in terms of how adept the web-slinger is with his abilities, it might as well be. Spidey stumbles, slips, slides and argues his way out of jams so consistently that he feels more like Spider-Twerp than Man. Again, Keaton is the real star of the show here. Not to disparage Holland’s performance, which is wonderful in its own right, but Keaton pushes the MCU into Oscar-worthy acting, a feat previous performers have failed to accomplish. His sinister sneer and hard-luck, working-class-hero routine alternate keenly to give the MCU something it’s been sorely lacking- a villain with some measure of depth. Keaton has the skill of taking even the most generic dialogue and infusing it with real, relatable character. Holland’s performance, for all its charm, never exceeds the bounds set in Captain America: Civil War.
Beyond the leads, Homecoming’s supporting cast is packed with lovable character actors and comedians. The casting and referential writing do a good job of playing bait-and-switch with the audience, hinting at the potential for certain players to take other forms in future films, but never revealing more than they need to. Most of these players inhabit Peter Parker’s school life, making the movie more coming-of-age comedy than superhero adventure. Compared to other Spider-flicks there’s less time slinging webs, and more time slinging one-liners.
The action is well-conceived, fairly inventive and occasionally well-shot, but never so iconic as the train sequence in Spider-Man 2. The movie is light on melodrama, choosing cerebral comedy and a few brief moments of visceral tension instead. A better Spider-Man movie might have borrowed some of the physical humor of Raimi’s films to fit more snugly into the same vibe as the raw physicality of Keaton’s drama, but that’s more of a nitpick than a glaring error.
The real glaring error is the hovering parental supervision of Tony Stark. The gag here is that Tony has Spidey on “training wheels” protocol, and the storytelling reiterates this fact constantly. Whenever there’s an opportunity for Spidey to be- dare I say, spectacular?- Tony swoops in and provides his trademark brand of ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ lecturing. For a hero who was totally okay throwing Spidey against Captain America last time, (not to mention having a ten-year old rebuild his suit in Iron Man 3) this new, sterner Stark is more a deus-ex-killjoy than a wise-cracking mentor. Those hoping for scenes of Tony and Peter soaring through skyscrapers after a winged foe (and solving their differences) will be sorely disappointed.
The messaging of the movie is kind of corrupted by the randomness of Tony’s intrusions and the fact that character motivations stop mattering by the three-quarter mark. Keaton’s Vulture vows to kill Spider-Man around the same time a twist provides reason for him not to, but due to the necessity of a surprisingly sinister car ride scene, this logicality is ignored. Who needs to make sense when you have Keaton acting his ass off? A friend once criticized my writing by saying, “I guess nothing else matters so long as it’s funny,” and I see the point of his sarcasm here. Sometimes an acrobatic hero like Spidey bends so far backwards to get a reaction, the reasoning for it suffers.
This is not to say you will not enjoy Spider-Man. You’ll likely have a blast, as I did, for the most part. This just isn’t that perfect Spider-Man movie fans have been waiting for, in the sense that The Dark Knight is the perfect Batman film for many Bat-fans. Nothing in this movie sings as loudly or as memorably as that great airport fight in Civil War, though overall this story is more consistently enjoyable. And certainly this is leaps and bounds above the travesties of Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This is more of an improvement on Amazing Spider-Man 1, a fun, watchable entry mostly distinguishable by its villain. But like many a Marvel movie, I was left hoping they’d get to the “really good part” in the next one. Knowing Marvel, there’ll be no short supply of “next ones” to keep that hope alive.