scene from Spiderman Homecoming

Image courtesy of Marvel Comics/Sony Pictures

Spider-Man Homecoming

| published July 29, 2017 |

By Cameron Dale, Thursday Review contributor

The characters of the Marvel Comics Universe have pretty much taken over big screen in the last few years. In the past several years the franchise power of superheroes and mega villains has increased with box office power virtually in tandem with the physical strengths and telekinetic oomph of the major characters of comic book lore, with major reboots and still more reboots as digital technology makes almost anything possible.

Marvel’s dominance is now based on the highly successful retelling of the stories, chapters, subchapters and spinoffs within the galaxy of its best known persons: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Falcon, Ant Man, Wolverine, Hawkeye, the list is so long—and their relationships so complex—as to not bother here in the limited (or are they unlimited?) pages of Thursday Review.

Suffice it to say that there is a new Spider-Man, rebooted and introduced in the last major cinematic chapter of the Marvel world, Captain America: Civil War (2016), one of last year’s biggest box office winners. In it, actor Tom Holland takes over the reins of the web-and-filament casting Peter Parker. Holland replaces Tobey Maguire from the well-crafted aught years series of three movies—all directed by Sam Raimi—and more recently, Andrew Garfield of the Sony Pictures/Marc Webb duo of films released in 2012 and 2014. (Note that this makes a total of five films based on the early exploits of Spiderman in less than 14 years).

Though Maguire and Garfield were each very popular with audiences for their faithful portrayals of the young Peter Parker—still a high school student when he becomes infected through a spider bite and his super powers begin to emerge and evolve—Holland is already shaping up to be perhaps the best yet. I may take some flak for saying that after only one major film (Holland’s version is brief but pivotal in last year’s Captain America: Civil War), but I stand by my prediction that Holland, under the direction of Jon Watts, may be at the center of the best franchise yet, with his mentor and friend Tony Stark (Iron Man) played by Robert Downey, Jr.

The short version is that the new Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is well worth the price of the ticket at the theaters.

There is no hidden agenda with this plot, and writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daly have kept things simple. Homecoming effectively picks up where we left off, the young science and technology student Peter Parker living in the home of his doting Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and picking up tutelage from Tony Stark, whom he first encountered in the previous Avengers chapter. The young Parker dreams of bigger and better things, including the right to call himself an Avenger. Parker even drops his science classes in order to devote more of his time to heroic street stuff.

But—as is the norm under such plot circumstances—Stark urges him to move carefully and slowly, learning his craft, developing an understanding of the morals and responsibilities of being a super hero, balancing his priorities, and allowing maturity to move in tandem with growing strength. Patience, in other words, is a virtue.

But patience is almost always tested, in this case by the unforeseen challenge of a villain with the power to shatter Parker’s uncomplicated world and his reluctant acceptance of Stark’s mentoring.

Rewind a few years to the final hours of the so-called Battle of New York. Salvage and clean-up firm owner Adrian Toomes (played with wonderful wickedness by Michael Keaton), on the brink of getting a major city contract to clean-up after the big fight, finds himself nearly bankrupt after the multi-million dollar salvage project goes instead to Stark and his quasi-government agency, the U.S. Dept. of Damage Control. In the early stages of clean-up, Toomes and his crew had already found several important pieces of high tech Avengers gadgetry and major hunks of Chitauri weapons—worth billions—and he convinces some of his closest co-workers to keep the tech swag for the purposes of advanced weaponry. Predictably, some of those weapons are soon being sold to mega criminals right in Parker’s city and neighborhood.

Thus ends his experiment with patience. Parker as Spider-Man attempts to intercede, with notably bumbling results. Iron Man, who we learn is closely monitoring the young Spider-Man, man must himself intervene, and admonishes Parker for overstepping his agenda, and for picking a fight he could not possibly win alone. Still, the battle is set in motion, leading the combatants to Maryland and eventually to Washington, D.C. There are high-stakes and destructive confrontations at the Washington Monument and aboard a ferry—which is destroyed—and again Iron Man must intervene in order to save Paker/Spider-Man from his well-meaning but immature insistence on confronting criminals underprepared and willy-nilly. Iron Man puts Parker on probation, and impounds his spider suit. Parker returns to school.

Toomes, meanwhile, has used some of his stolen technology to evolve into Vulture. Then, the final plot twist (I will stop short of spoiling things): Parker discovers that his new campus girlfriend is in fact Toomes’ daughter. This leads Toomes in turn to decipher Parker’s role as Spider-Man. Thus the stage is set for more confrontation. I resist the chance to spoil things for those who want to see this (or future movies in the series), but it is important to note that the Vulture will return, presumably from prison.

One notable fact about this movie is its relative “containment.” Rather than widespread destruction and mega mayhem, the battles and violent confrontations remain tightly centered on the two or three main venues for action. Don’t expect entire cities to come crashing down, and there is no risk of nuclear bombs or errant missiles. Rather than a disappointment, I found this somewhat refreshing; it allows us to more closely follow the protégé and mentor relationship between the experienced if imperious Iron Man and the budding, eager-beaver Spider-Man, and it makes for a more comfortable flow in the narrative of what it—in essence—the role of a science-student-teenager in the wide world of super hero good works.

On the whole, I found this film to be worthy of the flagship reboot, and a reasonable and well-meaning extension of the young Peter Parker we were first introduced to in Captain America: Civil War. Alongside Holland, Keaton and Downey, the cast also includes Zendaya as Michelle, Michael Chernus as The Tinkerer, and Bokeem Woodbine as Shocker.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Captain America: Civil War; Maggie Nichols; Thursday Review; June 13, 2016.

Avengers: Age of Ultron; Isaac Fink; Thursday Review; May 13, 2015.