Honestly, I wasn’t going to bother with this movie. I’m really, really tired of Spider-Man movies. This is the third reboot of the character, and the second reboot left me so incredibly underwhelmed that the only pit deeper in my soul was already occupied by Tobey Maguire’s goth hair in Spider-Man 3. Which is sad, because Spider-Man 2 has pretty much been my favorite superhero movie ever – thanks to Dr. Otto Octavian. The only thing that got me to the theater for this one was that it had RDJ in it, and I’m still not tired of Iron Man.
Which is why, going into the theater, I jokingly called this movie Iron Man 4.
Readers, I was wrong on so many levels. God help me, I finally like a Spider-Man movie again. And I think I might like this one more than Spider-Man 2. We’ll have to see if it has the staying power in my brain.
I think part of what helps is that Spider-Man: Homecoming is not an origin story. It dives straight in with Peter already knowing all about his powers and how to use them, and is more about him trying to find the balance in his life between superhero and teenager, figuring out how he relates to the wider world. So in that sense, it’s more of a coming of age story. He’s got the same trouble juggling responsibilities that we saw in Spider-Man 2, but this go around, Peter’s still in high school. And the crazy thing here is that the movie is populated by actors that really do seem believable as high schoolers. And since it’s basically a current year story, Peter’s in a science/engineering magnet school, which is a great twist on the social dynamic. He’s not bullied for being a nerd because they’re all nerds. Which means the focus gets to be more on Peter and the responsibilities of relationships versus the responsibilities of power, rather than beating the incredibly dead horse of the jock/nerd divide,
I think it’s probably also the most racially diverse MCU movie we’ve seen to date. There’s a great interview with Tony Revelori (Flash in Spider-Man Homecoming) about how Peter Parker’s school nemesis has been reworked here, and if you scroll down there’s a picture of Peter’s peer group. Which looks like an actual group of kids you might see in a big city high school. I also really adored Peter’s best friend Ned. Zendaya as MJ was delightful.
Between Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, the MCU is really hitting it out of the park this year. Hoping they’ll keep it going with Thor: Ragnorak, because the scripting on these last two movies has been a cut above the previous few offerings. (Civil War, I’m looking at you. I love you, but you’ve got some problems.)
So, definitely worth seeing. It’s a movie that’s really having some fun, and it far exceeds what the trailer tells you it’s going to be.
And now I want to talk about spoiler-y things! Because that’s the only way to fully explain why I loved this movie as much as I did.
There are two main reasons the plot of this movie worked so well for me.
Peter’s Coming-of-Age Narrative
A major motivating force behind what Peter does in this movie is that he got his one glorious moment of being in the Avengers during Civil War, and he’s utterly puzzled why he’s just been dumped back into his regular life to be just a high school kid and friendly neighborhood Spider-Man now. He’s trying intensely to be an Avengers-level superhero and regain the attention of Tony Stark, who’s all but abandoned him to the disinterested annoyance of Happy. And when he does find trouble that’s a bit above his level, he gets told to sit down and leave it alone by Tony.
Going in, part of why I was negative on the film was the trailer’s got one of those incredibly annoying “I have to do this on my own” sort of lines in it. The whole point of the Avengers (and other ensemble films MCU has done) is that the team is where it’s at and generally bad things happen when someone (usually Tony) plays loose canon. Beyond that, it’s a trope that I’ve come to utterly loathe. It lionizes the idea that one single person can somehow fix some sort of insurmountable problem, and also promotes this really toxic idea that being “strong” means you can’t rely on other people when you’ve been beaten to your lowest.
So when this movie didn’t even contain that line? Oh, relief. And in fact, I think it counters it to a certain extent. Peter isn’t alone in his hero endeavors in the film because he wants to be. He keeps asking Happy and Tony for help, and gets ignored until the mess has gotten out of control. He wants to be part of the team, and the issue is that he’s not being allowed that. I only could have wished that his moment of partnership with Ned being the guy at the computer would have lasted through the last fight so we could have gotten Peter not being a heroic island at the last.
But anyway, where we get the real coming-of-age journey with perhaps a little twist is that Peter’s main focus is on trying to impress Tony enough that he can be brought into the Avengers full time, and in so doing he lets his regular life start to fall apart. He drops out of all his social activities, screws up his attempts to have a relationship with Liz at every turn, and basically has the same unreliability problem that was the focus on Peter in Spider-Man 2. But at the end of this one, when all of his efforts have won out and he’s given the chance of going full-time into the Avengers and putting himself in the public eye, he makes the choice that he’s not ready for that.
The scene really reads as Tony giving Peter the choice between being Spider-Man and being Peter – and Peter chooses to stay Peter. Because through his journey, he’s become mature enough to realize that he’s… not mature enough to leave high school. Or perhaps he’s come to realize that there’s still a lot of worth in being Peter Parker, and he doesn’t want his self to be completely subsumed by the suit, so to speak. He wants to stay a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
A Tale of Two Dads
Toomes, whom I don’t think ever actually gets named as the Vulture in the movie itself, has got to be one of the best villains I’ve seen in a superhero movie in a while. He doesn’t quite have the same depth of arc as Otto Octavian did in Spider-Man 2, but he comes pretty damn close. Michael Keeton was fantastic in the role, and I’m sure he had a hell of a lot of fun with it.
But what I really loved in this movie was seeing the play and comparison of Toomes and Tony Stark as father figures. Tony clearly is trying to be a father figure for Peter, and has no idea how to do so. Plus, no one in their right mind would put Tony Stark in charge of the emotional wellbeing of a goldfish, let alone a teenaged boy. But through his interactions with Peter, it becomes clear that he is trying, and that he’s also keenly aware that he’s not any good at it (“I wanted you to be better than me.”), and he’s trying very hard not to repeat the mistakes of his own father. He manages to give Peter some good advice (like the whole, “if you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it” thing – something Tony’s at least figured out from his own life, even if he has his usual hypocritical approach to it) while still being absentee, insufficiently supportive, and not providing Peter with vital information that would have prevented a lot of problems. If Tony helps shepherd Peter into being a more mature version of himself who is more secure in his own identity, it’s entirely an accident. We see that at the end, when Tony’s about to take Peter out for his press debut, and Peter realizes that he’s not ready. Tony realizes then that this is the mature decision to make – and it’s not one that would have ever occurred to him in a million years.
Contrast that with Toomes, whom we find out is Liz’s father in a twist that I honestly did not see coming. I screeched into my popcorn. But there are very explicit parallels set up between Tony and Toomes – to the extent that when Peter calls Toomes out for selling weapons to bad guys, Toomes points out that’s how Tony Stark made a lot of his money too. But in brief but important scenes, we see that Toomes has actually been a very good father to Liz, and that he’s incredibly concerned about his daughter’s wellbeing. He’s kept her completely out of this dangerous world of his – in contrast to Tony Stark, who dragged Peter right into things during Civil War and then abandoned him to his own devices. While Toomes travels a lot, he’s concerned and communicative and focused on the wellbeing of his family.
So it’s lovely and sad and hilarious that, of the father figures in the film, the guy who’s actually the villain is a lot better at it.
(Also bonus points that Toomes makes explicit mention of the class conflict between him as working-class and Tony Stark as a rich bastard.)
Basically, I want to watch this movie again knowing from the start that Toomes is Liz’s father and pick more at this part of the story, because you know me. I’m really into familial narratives and character relationships.