Spider-Man: Homecoming Is Fun Yet Not Definitive

And we’re back! I don’t always appear in photographs, but when I do I make the the front page of the July 3rd Chronicle Herald metro edition.

Oh, they made another Spider-Man reboot movie? Andrew from The Wages of Cinema told me I was required to see it with them for color commentary podcasting. He has a very menacing stare!

Websling on down for a SPOILER spectacular! THWIP!

I expected to hate this movie, but it turned out to be quite fun. Tom Holland (not to be confused with Tom Hollander) is much less irritating as the star of Spider-Man Homecoming than when he was gratuitously shoehorned into Captain America: Civil War. He doesn’t quip as much as the trailers imply, & his Spider-Sense is absent. There are plenty of hilarious bits like Captain America being called a war criminal & Donald Glover (as the pre-costume Ultimate Prowler whose nephew is Miles Morales) being concerned for the safety of his ice cream. Much like GotG v2, it even has zany credits! While it’s an entertaining diversion, however, I’m still not convinced the world really needed a sixth Spidey film even with Marvel Studios at the helm. I am very ambivalent! Most reviews will talk about Jon Watts’s flick being delightful, so I’ll focus on nitpicking.

I’m one of numerous people that would like to thank Marvel Studios for not wasting any time retelling Spidey’s origin. But while it doesn’t show us the spider bite or Uncle Ben’s murder, the rest of it still feels like an origin movie. We’ve still got a novice Spider-Man trying to balance school with superheroics while fighting a green tech-based flying villain & saving civilians from sabotaged public transportation. It’s not breaking that much new ground.

According to the prologue & later dialogue, The Avengers happened eight years ago instead of five. Aside from when dates are specifically invoked, I presumed the MCU movies just occurred in whatever year they were released. So the MCU has a confusing sliding timescale like Marvel Comics? This implies that there are even bigger gaps where nothing film-worthy is happening.

Michael “Birdman” Keaton does a good job as always, but he was squandered by having him play the Vulture. In the comics, the Vulture felt like a rough draft for the Green Goblin who’s only still around because he was fortunate enough to be Spidey’s first costumed foe (if you don’t count Chameleon). To make him more intimidating for this movie, they’ve turned him into discount Green Goblin. Instead of having wings on his arms, he now has an impracticably gigantic Goblin Glider jetpack. Not only does he quickly deduce Spider-Man’s secret identity he’s also the father of one of his school mates, Liz. (I’d initially thought she was Liz Allen, the future wife of Harry Osborn.) Although no longer a decrepit One-Percenter like Mr. Burns, Adrian Toomes runs a salvage-crime company like a low rent OsCorp (or another AIM that refuses to wear yellow uniforms). While I understand not using Green Goblin again immediately, I don’t see the point of giving one of Spidey’s worst villains the traits of his arch-nemesis. Why not pick an unused foe that’s completely distinct & can stand on his own without ripping off a much better character?

Instead of being a wealthy inventor that got swindled by his partner, movie Vulture is blue collar salvage worker who felt wronged when Stark’s Damage Control usurped his city contract to clean up after the Chitauri incursion. Since the government would have to reimburse him for breaking his contract, it doesn’t feel like a dramatic origin motivation. It doesn’t make sense why SHIELD didn’t already have teams confiscating the alien technology since that was already part of its job. Toomes has The Tinkerer (also younger than usual) make him Vulture gear & weapons from the alien bits they’d already salvaged. Then the Vulture uses a phase-shifter to rob Damage Control’s trucks in transit. (Damage Control never checking inventory means they are very negligent about protecting civilians from advanced weaponry.) Then he sells reconstituted alien tech to hoodlums. The movie claims this is how Toomes is able to afford a nice house for his family, despite nobody on Earth using their black market alien gear in the MCU before. They’re supposed to have stayed under the radar for eight years, but just one gang using their weapons instantly raises eyebrows. How much money do local criminals have to spend on exotic weaponry? If they can’t outright patent Tinker’s inventions without being busted for stealing contraband tech, phase-shifting into bank vaults seems like a much more straightforward & lucrative business model.

I’m not a fan of the Vulture’s classic costume, but only his helmet & talon boots are improvements here. Since the rest of his outfit is green, wearing a conventional brown bomber jacket throws off the color scheme. He’s a no-frills guy that thinks giving yourself a codename is dopey (boo!), so I don’t know why he wanted vulture-themed equipment. His enormous metal wings require an alien power source to keep them aloft & they’re very conspicuous for someone trying to keep a low profile. His wings are a larger version of Falcon’s since vultures do have large wingspans. While this is more zoologically accurate, this misses the point of Vulture’s technology. Comics Vulture has much smaller wings that he can easily maneuver between skyscrapers because he doesn’t actually need to flap them. His flight operates via magnetic ant-gravity. Spider-Man deducing how he flies before disabling it was nifty moment to show off his smarts that doesn’t happen in Homecoming. Having bigger yet less sophisticated wings removes the one aspect I like about Vulture.

Vulture

Epilepsy warning for the climax!

The Shocker is underused as both a threat & comedic relief. How did they not not have a single scene of Spidey riffing on how goofy his name & costume are while dodging blasts? There are actually two Shockers in the movie, although condensing both into Bokeem Woodbine’s Herman Schultz would’ve made for a more satisfying character. (Apparently the other Shocker is Montanna of The Enforcers as he was in Spectacular Spider-Man, albeit unrecognizable for lack of stetson & lasso.) The Shockers’ costumes are very terrible, with only yellow quilting on the sleeves & one vibro-gauntlet. The toys put more effort into his design. What happened to the full Shocker costume that popped up in leaked set pictures?

Michael Mando has a cameo as the Scorpion without actually doing anything. This Mac Gargan is already a career criminal so I guess he won’t be getting a character arc in the sequel. There goes my whole pitch! He comes from the Suicide Squad school of character design with a scorpion tattooed on his neck so non-nerds can tell who he is before his gets a cybernetic tail grated onto his spine.

Zendaya plays a quirky Aubrey Plaza-type named Michelle. She’s a really fun character up until her last scene where she says her friends call her MJ. This is a groanworthy as John Blake revealing his real name is Robin at the end of of of The Dark Night Rises. If you’re casting Zendaya as Mary Jane, why not present her as Mary Jane from the start instead of treating it like a secret? Even though Zendaya looks great with red hair, Michelle’s missing MJ’s iconic ginger tresses (much like the CW’s Wally West & Jimmy Olsen). Of course Michelle (Jane Watson?) doesn’t have anything in common with previous versions of MJ, so why tack that canon character’s nickname onto an original character? (Similarly Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds is much more like Ultimate Spider-Man’s Ganke Lee.)

Marisa Tomei is much less geriatric than Aunt May is typically portrayed. The film lampshades this by actually having three men point out how bangable Aunt May is. So they’ve made a point of objectifying a rare female comic book character who’s not sexually objectified. (I guess classic Aunt May was still alluring to a certain segment with Doctor Octopus’s tastes who are now extra-frustrated by Hollywood ageism.) Beyond her looks, her parental role is overshadowed by Tony Stark so it’s not like skewing younger was relevant to the narrative. People have complained about Aunt May’s ill health being overused as a plot device, but what’s the point of a healthy youthful one? Peter stressing out over his frail Aunt was a big factor is keeping him from focusing on socializing & superheroics, but now she just feels superfluous. Its homage to Amazing Spider-Man 33 lacks the context that Aunt May will die too if Spidey submits to being squashed that made the scene iconic.

Spidey’s motto is about power & responsibility (it’s not repeated in the movie), but Homecoming presents us with a Spidey who doesn’t arc because he’s already obsessed with responsibility. Whereas crime-fighting at the expense of his social life felt like a necessary burden in his earlier films, in a world of Avengers he just seems like an antisocial action addict. The movie tries to make him seem irresponsible for accessing the secret functions of the suit Iron Man specifically gave him to aid in superheroics, but it seems more like Stark’s fault for not bothering to train him how to use them. Ditto Spidey screwing up a sting operation because Stark didn’t keep this eager puppy in the loop. So clearly Iron Man hasn’t learned anything about working with others. Unfortunately after turning in his gun & badge costume, Peter goes back to wearing his ugly inverted Scarlet Spider suit. (I resent Peter being dependent upon Stark for his fashion sense.)

There’s a lack of consequence that kept me from being fully invested. The suit Stark gave Spidey has way too many features that overshadow Peter’s accomplishments & make his avocation even easier, which is precisely why he never keeps useful tech upgrades that long in the comics. (It has an “instant kill” feature, which many will take as jab at DC movies until they recall how blasé the cinematic Avengers are about murder.) Peter Parker goes to a STEM-heavy high school (even Flash Thompson is a science decathlete!) so he’s not a misfit anymore. In fact he’s such a genius that he’s allowed onto Science Decathlon field trip at the last minute without so much a permission slip. He gets detention for missing the competition, but doesn’t face any punishment for skipping out on that detention. (Nobody notices, except possibly Michelle, that Queens-based Spider-Man happened to be in Washington D.C. at the same time Peter Parker was suspiciously not at the Washington Monument tour.) Team captain Liz is miffed at him for flaking out on them yet still accepts him as her homecoming date. Aunt May scolds him for sneaking out at night but doesn’t even try to ground him. Peter can even mix web fluid  & play with alien power sources during class without his teachers or peers noticing. Even accidentally slicing a packed ferry in half isn’t as catastrophic as expected. Peter Parker’s life is a video game set to easy mode with all the cheat codes enabled.

I cannot give this movie a top score in good conscience because it’s his third film in a row to omit the best Spider-Man character across all media: J. Jonah Jameson! Spidey is involved in property damage to suburban Queens, the Washington Monument, & the Staten island ferry, so there was plenty of fodder for The Daily Bugle to call him out as a masked menace! Triple J doesn’t appear to be present for the press conference Pepper “I used to have superpowers” Potts calls at the end. Peter doesn’t even do any photography, which worries me that he won’t freelance for that illustrious newspaper in the sequel.

Sam Raimi’s trilogy wasn’t perfect, but it delivered a lot of what fans wanted from Spider-Man. Sony’s not-so Amazing duology tanked because they were dull cashgrabs that didn’t respect the source material as much. The hype about Marvel Studios getting the Spider-Man rights was that it was necessary because it would would finally craft the perfect Spider-Man movie since it’s most invested in portraying his mythos accurately. In reality, Spider-Man: Homecoming takes just as many liberties with canon as the previous installments. So while this one is more fun & a definite improvement over the last two, it’s still not what I’d consider an ideal Spider-Man adaptation. Rather than correcting the shortfalls of Raimi’s oeuvre, it just makes different arbitrary changes. It’s just a Spider-Man movie instead of being THE Spider-Man movie.

As if by sheer coincidence, Sony announced Mysterio, Kraven, & Carnage films the day I posted my Turn Off The Dark review! (There is a high likelihood that these will never happen like that Sinister Six movie, but let’s not react sensibly right now.) I’m legitimutantly excited for a Mysterio movie! Hollywood made two Now You See Me’s already & none of the cast wore fishbowls, so this could be gangbusters. Of course if Sony doesn’t let him wear his iconic fishbowl, it deserves to be destroyed.  That’d be a total Monkey’s Paw situation, just like how it was really bittersweet that we had to lose Adam West before they released another episode of Powerless. Or how we hoped the new Star Wars movie would get a new director, but they canned Lord & Miller instead of Trevorrow. You need to be as specific with these Monkeys’ Paws as Djinns, I tell ya!

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4 thoughts on “Spider-Man: Homecoming Is Fun Yet Not Definitive

  1. I think it’s better when the creators are given as much freedom as possible, not having to worry about adapting every aspect of the Spider-Man universe. Since the filmmakers are often fans of the character themselves, they’ll always include the main touchstones. The Amazing Spider-Man did indeed tank, but it was because of studio and outside interference, telling the creators that they had to include this and that, shoehorning in villains to set up a supposed cinematic universe.

    Liked by 1 person

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