A little disclaimer first: I’m not a big fan of Spider-Man. He’s just one of these characters that didn’t resonate with me. That being said, I like some of his incarnations. I loved Sam Raimi’s first two films, I enjoyed playing games based on them and I was always excited to turn MTV on and watch “Spider-Man: The New Animated Series”. As for the comic books, some were better, some were worse. But all in all, I just never really cared that much about Spidey.
The famous web-slinger has already had two major movie series, but the third one was supposed to be special. Thanks to an agreement by Marvel Studios and Sony, this time Spider-Man becomes the part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Homecoming” isn’t his debut per se, as we’ve already seen him last year in “Civil War”. Because I didn’t enjoy his portrayal there, I was worried his solo movie wouldn’t convince me either. I came to the cinema with low expectations, just hoping my first impression wasn’t right. But…
With great power comes great… need to impress Tony Stark
Let’s start with the screenplay. It was written by as many as six people: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers and the film’s director, Jon Watts. Although the team was rather big, they managed to write quite a coherent story. It’s structure is clear and the plot is easy to follow.
We, of course, watch Peter Parker and his double life. During the day he’s a pretty normal teenager and during the
night other part of the day he’s a superhero. So he struggles with puberty and then with New York’s problems. A wave of crimes involving super-modern weaponry based on alien technology included. At the center of it all is a mysterious Vulture, whose idea of a great business is to illegally sell these high-tech weapons to criminals. The two plot threads intersect, of course, but neither of them fully progresses.
Let’s start with the school bit. It was supposed to be inspired by all those John Hughes movies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or “The Breakfast Club”. The problem is, these movies have lively, rememberable characters. Here, they are rather bland. We have a completely characterless school beauty Liz, a bully for the sake of being a bully Flash Tompson and a rebel Michelle, who rebels because it’s cool (I guess). Each and every one of them can be described in one sentence. And none of them makes you care. The only exception is the main character’s best friend Ned, but it’s rather thanks to the actor, not the screenwriters. As far as the script goes, Ned is just another plump and funny nerd.
The blandness of the supporting characters translates to the complete unattractivness of this plot thread. If we don’t care about them, we don’t care about Peter Parker’s trials and tribulations: his crush on the school’s beauty or his struggle with the school’s bully. We’ve all seen it in different films and tv series. Executed better. Even this year’s “Power Rangers” were more original.
The superhero stuff, on the other hand, is buried by the whole concept of this new Spidey. It is not a boy who acts because “with great power comes great responsibility”. What motivates him is a need to impress one of the greatest jerks in Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tony Stark. And it’s something that totally makes me care about Peter Parker even less than I usually do. The transition from and egoistic carefree guy to a responsible superhero was of course always a part of Spider-Man’s mythos. And it’s right there in „Homecoming”. But it fails to appeal to you. Partly because it’s not believable and involves gestures rather than acts, and partly because the screenwriters didn’t believe in their story.
And that’s the film’s main problem. Almost no serious scene resonates with you. Instead, every time the film starts to show some heart, an immediate shift in tone occurs and we’re served joke. A bad joke at most times — unless you consider “Penis Parker” type of nicknames funny. Now, I’m not against some humorous bits here and there, but as long as they don’t get in the way of the story. Here they transform the film into a genre parody, so that instead of engaging you emotionally “Homecoming” makes you indifferent.
One thing does work though — the villain. Since Loki, there hasn’t been a villain who would be fleshed out so well. Vulture is a complex character. Stereotypical at times, but certainly intriguing. It’s a pity they didn’t develop him even more as Vulture’s story would sure benefit from additional details. As would the whole film.
The Unspectacular Directing
Jon Watts’ résumé is not particularly impressive and unfortunately you can feel it in “Homecoming”. Yes, he does make some breath-taking action sequences and he nails some intimate moments (at least until you hear “Penis Parker”). He also has a few original ideas (like the “mobile-shot” introduction). But there are two problems.
The first one involves humour. I’ve already written, how the screenwriters turned every major scene into laughs. Well, Watts makes it even worse — he completely lacks comedic timing. He serves the jokes hastily and neither the serious nor the funny moments resonate with you. It’s almost like you’re sitting on a fence and don’t know where to jump down: to the site with epicness and heart or to the one with (bad) laughs.
The second problem involves translating the script into image. Watts doesn’t pay attention to details, so if the screenplay says: “Peter Parker dresses as Spider-Man, hiding and watching his friends’ party”, Watts places Peter Parker on a hill in front of a glass-walled house. Of course superhero films are not supposed to be super-realistic and you’re not suppose to overanalyse stuff. But if I’m to believe that a teenager who’s a devil-may-care and doesn’t give a damn about CCTVs, potential witnesses or glass walls manages to keep his superhero identity a secret, then… well, I don’t.
Otherwise, on the technical side, all is good. The photography is not bad and some of the sequences are truly epic (like the one with the boat). The editing is quite coherent, though the director could probably order some stuff cut out to make the experience smoother. The production design is quite impressive, especially the costumes. The superhero ones are clever interpretations of those from comic books, while the “civilian” ones are really fitting the characters (Ned’s hat!). CGI could be better at times. You can clearly see when they replaced the actors with animated models and it makes the bigger scenes look fakeish. What I liked the most, perhaps, was Michael Giacchino’s music. He composes catchy tunes and even plays with the famous Spider-Man theme from the 60s.
The Superior Acting (Of Some)
If you wondered whether Tom Holland would make a good Spider-Man, I’m happy to tell you he does. I don’t know if he’s the best Spidey ever, as his character is different from the predecessors. What I can tell you, however, is that he charms you with his energy and enthusiasm. It’s a pity the writers made the character so unlikeable. With a bit of script polish here and there, I believe Holland would have given even a better performance.
Jacob Batalon as Peter’s friend, Ned, is perfect too. With a genuine comedic talent, he is the only one to make the humour in this film work. Funny and authentic, he has a great career ahead of him. I hope Hollywood execs will notice his talent, he’s totally worth it.
Unfortunately, the rest of the young actors don’t have a lot to do. Zendaya is just another rebel, Tony Revolori resorts to shouting “Penis Parker” here and there, while Laura Harrier is bland and has no chemistry with Holland. And, for the record, it’s not the fault of any of these young actors. They do whatever they can. They just don’t have good material.
How about the older generation? Marisa Tomei, who plays an unusual version of Aunt May, is quite good. She must have had great contact with Holland on set, because these two have great chemistry.
Robert Downey Jr. is a typical Tony Stark. He has been playing him for so long that now he is doing it quite naturally. He does a nice job, of course, but it’s nothing new. And Jon Favreau, partnering him as Happy Hogan, also isn’t particularly exceptional.
The best role in the movie is that of Michael Keaton’s. It shouldn’t shock, as he’s a fantastic actor. He absolutely makes Vulture a deep, multi-dimensional character. Not only with his voice, but also with his eyes and facial expressions, he builds a fascinating and a little bit enigmatic villain, one we hadn’t seen in Marvel movies before.
Is it worth it?
Ultimately, we get a “Spider-Man” movie with a bad script, average directing and good acting. I went out of the cinema frustrated, but bear in mind – I’m not a fan of Spider-Man. So I guess you could give the film a chance. But know this: it’s not a good. It’s average at best.