Frank Roddy, Swinging into the MCU: A Review of Spiderman Homecoming 

Studio: Marvel Studios/Sony Pictures
Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau
Certification: 12A
Runtime: 133 minutes

Spiderman Homecoming finds itself in a very difficult position. The third incarnation of Ole Webhead on the big screen in the last 15 years, it had to redeem the franchise after Marc Webb’s misleadingly titled Amazing Spiderman series and live up to the standard set by Sam Raimi’s trilogy, which arguably started the current Hollywood love affair with superheroes and the vast amounts of money they generate.

After Sony’s mishandling of the most popular superhero in the world, a deal was struck with Marvel Studios, bringing him into the MCU fold alongside his comicbook colleagues. Both studios have plenty invested in the character and his first full outing since his bit part in Captain America: Civil War.

Marvel are clearly doing their best to link Spidey with their wider cinematic universe, prepping viewers for web slinging in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War and ensuring audiences come to expect Spiderman to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Sony, on the other hand, wants to get audiences familiar with aspects of the Spiderman mythology that they can make movies about on their own. These conflicting motivations come together as one of the film’s few noticeable flaws, as the two studios attempt to steer the good ship Spiderman in different directions.

Marvel’s goals are clear straight away as the movie opens with Spiderman’s perspective of the already iconic airport battle scene from Civil War. They appear to have learned their lessons from Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron, as the world building doesn’t feel crowbarred in. Instead, the connections to the wider scope of the MCU are part of the plot, for example Tony Stark’s mentorship of Peter Parker. If not tied to the plot, they’re inconsequential enough to be a small reward for the initiated, and unobtrusive for the less obsessive.

Conversely, Sony struggles to make their world building feel as relevant. With intentions of a Spiderman universe without Spiderman, Sony have nothing to reference yet, and we don’t really know what they want to allude to. The only film confirmed so far is Venom, with Tom Hardy in the titular role, and no mention of symbiotes is made over the two-hour run time.

I may be showing a bias here for Marvel by assuming this is on Sony. The fact is only the likes of Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal know for sure what in this movie is alluding to the MCU, and to the Spiderverse. But whoever’s call it was, it is not a good sign when the majority of moviegoers are going to ask why Donald Glover was cast in a seemingly inconsequential role and why they should care if he has a nephew.

A casting choice that is impossible to question is Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture. In the past Marvel’s marketing has presented some distinctly sinister villains, only for inconsistent tone to let them down in the actual movies. This was not the case with Vulture.

Throughout the movie, Keaton is threatening and unnerving, his every scene tense. The scenes without the suit let Keaton shine, but the scenes with it are special in their own right. The design of the suit deserves high praise for an adaption of quite a goofy comicbook look. Instead of green spandex and feathers, we get imposingly large metal wings. They feel weighty, but believably agile. The costume gives off an almost demonic silhouette that is all the more frightening for its mechanical nature.

However, the Vulture is not just a bogeyman out to scare. Keaton plays Toomes with the charm that won audiences over in the likes of Beetlejuice. This charm, coupled with his working class roots and identifiable motivations, makes him a surprisingly strong parallel to Tony Stark’s money fuelled heroism. Both Stark and Toomes could easily slot into the role of mentor or foe for Holland’s Spiderman, it all depends on the kind of person he wants to be following the fateful spider bite.

As for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, does much need to be said? In his 8th outing as Iron Man, Downey is as charismatic and roguishly charming as we’ve come to expect of him. But even the best casting in the world runs the risk of getting tiresome this deep into a franchise.

Luckily, Homecoming adds something to the character in the form of the mentor, almost parental, role Stark takes with Peter Parker. Downey pulls it off in a very believable manner. Or at least believable in the sense that it is just how you would imagine Tony Stark’s parenting style to be.

Downey and Keaton are veterans not only of acting but the superhero genre. What of Tom Holland? Homecoming proves his much loved turn in Captain America: Civil War was no fluke: he is indeed a great Spiderman. Throughout the film, Holland captures the excitement of a young man discovering he has superpowers, but also gives a performance of an awkward teen learning about growing up that wouldn’t be out of place in a coming of age flick.

Meanwhile, when he’s in the suit we are treated to the frivolity and wit of classic comicbook Spidey. That said; the portrayal isn’t totally separate to civilian Parker. Holland as Spiderman conveys nervousness and trepidation that endears the character further. The result is a Spiderman/Peter Parker who does act differently depending on his mask, but is ultimately the same character throughout.

Peter Parker is, as ever, the relatable teenage loser and his school-time woes are made enjoyable with the help of a strong supporting cast of young characters. One of the more notable for me was Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson. And no, this depiction is not the typical, almost Aryan, jock bully archetype from the comic.

Instead, Thompson has been updated to fit a modern, realistic high school asshole. No longer a meathead; Thompson is now just kind of a mouthy prick. A spoilt one. Ultimately, you want to see Revolori’s character get his comeuppance just as much as you want to get back at your own schoolyard bully.

While other supporting characters like Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May and Zendaya’s Michelle don’t get an abundance of screen time, they are endearing in every appearance. While I never felt that the movie was suffering, I could definitely go for seeing more of both characters in further instalments. This also goes for Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr as the somewhat inept teacher leading the academic decathlon team.

So yes, Spiderman Homecoming is a very enjoyable superhero flick, but the question remains: how does it fare against the other Spidermen of Hollywood? While I don’t think Andrew Garfield’s turn in the role was quite as bad as people like to make out, Holland’s first go at a full Webslinger movie ensures that Garfield is a distant third.

But who ranks top? Holland certainly does well and the movie is fantastic. However, it stands on the shoulders of giants, those giants being the Avengers. Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi put together a more colourful, theatrical affair that first cranked up the superhero money making machine.

While Homecoming makes use of the Spiderman mythology in enjoyable ways, it does not add iconic pieces to it the way the 2002 movie did (see: that kiss). This cultural impact gives Raimi the edge over Watts for now. It is still early in this reboot; in time this Spectacular Spiderman could well become Superior.

Frank Roddy is a writer and game designer. He has solid argument as to why Tom Cruise should play Norman Osbourne in the MCU and is more than happy to tell you about it. Despite a lot of time spent on it, he has yet to come up with a recasting suggestion for Doc Ock and wonders if he ever will. He only rarely wonders if it matters.

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