On My Shelves: Spider-Man: Homecoming


This movie (plus small segments in Captain America: Civil War) represents the third depiction of Marvel's flagship hero Spider-Man in fifteen years. The first, starting in 2002, was Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3. Andrew Garfield rebooted the role in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Now Tom Holland takes up the webslinging role.

Unlike the prior two incarnations, this version of Spider-Man doesn't bother us with the origin story. In that, I think the movie does depend on the viewer having watched either or both of the prior incarnations' first movies, or being familiar with the character from the comic book medium.

I suspect this is just fine with most viewers; the basic elements of that origin – bitten by a radioactive/genetically tweaked spider, gains funky powers, tries to use them for profit, lets crook go that later kills Uncle Ben and causes Spider-Man to learn the lesson that with great power comes great responsibility – are very well-known and we really don't need to see a variant of it a third time.

Instead, we meet a Spider-Man who is already doing his hero thing, but still obviously very new to it – he still has a rather clumsily-assembled costume, not the sleek costume we expect, and he makes occasional blunders that a more experienced webslinger wouldn't. But this allows us to see him grow into the role of the hero in a way that a slicker presentation wouldn't.

Before I get to a more spoilery review section, I'll just say that this is really a worthy entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for Spidey, and while I am not entirely sure I'd say it's better than ALL of the preceding Spider-Man movies, it's certainly at least as good as any of them. It has humor, suspense, a little romance, and the occasional bout of angst that Spider-Man is known for, and all in the proper measure. Tom Holland does both Peter Parker and a young, unsure Spider-Man very well, and I look forward to the character's continuing presence in the Marvelverse!










The choice of The Vulture as a villain was an interesting one, and one of some risk for the filmmakers in two separate ways. First, the original Vulture … simply would not work in film. I'm sorry, but the dramatic potential of a skinny octagenarian in green spandex, a fur collar, and flapping wings just... isn't going to cut it. If anything it'd be worse than trying to do the Green Goblin with his original costume, which would never have worked either. So on that side it was obvious that they'd have to risk annoying some group of fans who really do care about versimilitude, and the more changes they made, the larger that group would be.

At the same time, they were also choosing a more obscure villain than any of the prior films. The Green Goblin's always been a headliner, the Lizard's done pretty well over the years, Doc Ock has had top billing many a time, Venom's my least-liked but undoubtedly majorly popular villain, and even the Sandman has gone beyond the pages of Spider-Man. By contrast, the Vulture's innings were mostly done many years ago.

So the producers obviously said "well, then, let's just take the name and some elements of the story, and make a Vulture that will stand on his own as a villain."

This was the right choice. This Adrian Toomes/The Vulture is a man who starts out as a salvage engineer with what looks like the greatest contract a salvage and recovery man could ever ask for – salvaging and rebuilding New York City after the Chitauri Invasion.

But then the new-born Department of Damage Control – with backing from Tony Stark – takes charge of the damage recovery business, and Toomes is out – despite the immense investment he's poured into his business to make it capable of handling this scale of disaster.

Faced with utterly arbitrary and unexpected disaster, with no chance to appeal in the face of government requirements for security, Toomes nearly despairs… but finds salvation in salvage. A truckload of alien wreckage had already been delivered to one of his sites and was missed by DoDC.

With his family and employees at stake, Toomes takes the chance this offers, and becomes a weapons and equipment designer for the underworld, using the first products of his inventive group to "acquire" additional salvage from the vast mass of materiel being recovered from the battle zone.

This is a very worthy origin. This Toomes is a younger man, with a wife and family that he's absolutely devoted to, and he is utterly screwed over by the government and, indirectly, Stark and the Avengers. He has reason to be paranoid, bitter, and willing to commit violence to hide what he's been doing, and as we see later, he's a highly competent man in multiple fields.

Not only does Tom Holland play an excellent Peter Parker, but also the entire cast for Parker's high school class is wonderful. I've heard complaints about the casting selections, and if I were a total grognard I guess I'd see it – I mean, for instance, Flash Thompson is supposed to be the tall handsome blond Varsity dude, and so on – but honestly, the whole cast works better as a class in a New York City high school. Prior incarnations were awfully white-bread in their looks, and really, that makes NO SENSE in New York City, especially today.

Tony Stark's occasional appearances are really well done, and while often Peter's being chastised during them, it becomes obvious that Tony really does care about this kid. Tony Stark is a total ass… but he knows he's an ass, and would rather not have kids emulate him all the time. He's clearly worried about Peter. He's furious at Peter – in a very father-like way – when Peter really, really screws things up. And by the end, he's just damn proud of Peter.

Stark is also the reason that Peter gets (and later loses, and regains) his top-notch Spider-Suit, and this makes a hell of a lot of sense. I mean, honestly, I know that Peter Parker's supposed to be a genius, and he gets all these Spider-powers, but really, I've SEEN what smart guys building prototype devices make, and artists they ain't. Of all the things Peter Parker did in the comics and earlier movies, making that cool, well-tailored, perfectly-fitting, tough-enough-to-take-into-combat costume may have been the hardest to believe of all. This takes away that minor but nagging problem; we know Stark can do exactly that, and tailor it to the needs of the wearer.

The best scenes, though, are the personal ones: Peter and Ned Leeds, his best friend, geeking out over everything from Lego Death Star to the hidden gadgetry in the Spider-Suit; Peter finally getting the courage to mention how attracted his is to his classmate Liz; Ned, cornered by a teacher at night in the computer lab, giving the only possible convincing excuse.

But the best of all is taking that young man's nightmare, "Meeting Her Dad Before The First Date", and ramping it Up To Eleven… as Liz' last name is Toomes. Peter comes face-to-face with the supervillain he's been trying to track down, and he's the cheerful-but-dangerous looking dad of his dream date. It's hysterical and tense all at once.

The entire movie is filled with references to the comics; the writers clearly understood what they were working with, and they drop little Easter Eggs everywhere for people watching carefully. One that's fairly obvious to fans of the comics, especially the older ones, is the scene in which Peter gets trapped under a mass of debris; it's clearly filmed to echo one of the most dramatic moments in the comics, in which Spider-Man is trapped by Doctor Octopus beneath a huge machine.

Overall, this was an excellent movie, with well-drawn characters, a carefully-thought-out plot, and wonderfully executed action. I look forward to Spider-Man's continuing presence in the Marvelverse!

Your comments or questions welcomed!