Yesterday night I went to a drive-in movie theater and watched the newest Marvel Studios film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. As a kid I always adored Spider-Man, like most young kids do, imagining swinging around New York fighting criminals and saving innocent people. Unlike a lot of my peers, I genuinely enjoy most of the Spider-man content that exists out there, including the first two Sam Raimi films and all the video games that contain the famous webslinger. That being said, I was a little worried about this new film, especially after the mixed messaging I got from the marketing, as well as experiencing serious hero fatigue that even Wonder Woman and Guardians Vol. 2 couldn’t save me from. After seeing the film, I’m left in a weird state. I simultaneously adore the film, loving Tom Holland as Spider-Man and the overall humor of the film, and hate the film, getting increasingly worried by the state of modern films. The following review will be somewhat spoiler filled, so if you’re sensitive to that, avoid this critique.
The Times Are A’Changing
Something that you might’ve noticed about this film from the trailers is that this is the most modern Marvel film we’ve gotten tonally. As someone who is college, high school is still fresh in my mind, and that means the young characters in this film are a lot closer to home. The writers did a fantastic job capturing the modern lives of students, along with my generation’s horrible sense of humor. If you watch the film, zone out and enjoy it the first time around. Then go watch it a second time, and use this experience to soak in how immature and meme filled this movie really is. Between truck drivers having the identification, “six-alpha-niner (69)” or the school news using comic sans as a font and having a flickering green screen, every moment of this film is room for a dumb little joke. I honestly got exhausted, and just ten minutes into the film, my girlfriend leaned over to me and asked me if I also noticed that every line of dialogue was a quip, which isn’t a good sign coming from an aspiring writer. In case this needs explanation, think about what dialogue is like in a normal film. People say things to explain themselves, they exchange ideas, they keep certain thoughts to themselves and actually act through facial emotes or gestures, and above all else they give you moments to breathe in order to pace. Even an hilarious film like Guardians gives you a dramatic moment with normal dialogue to give the punchlines and one-liners more impact. Spider-Man however never gives you that break. Characters constantly share their thoughts out loud whether it’s worthwhile or not, and even when a human isn’t speaking an AI fills the silence. Multiple characters never felt like they were delivering dialogue that was following the conversation lines, and most of all people were constantly in verbal combat, fighting to get the best quip in. As someone who pays attention to writing I was left tired by the end of the film, and had to try to zone out a lot of what was being said to not get bothered. I can’t tell if I can blame the film for this though, as it truly is spot on for the Tumblr, YouTube, caffeine-addicted generation that I belong to. I guess just like I wouldn’t hate on Dazed and Confused for being so accurate on 70’s culture, I can’t hate Spider-Man for being so emblematic of 2010’s culture.
The Villain Maketh the Hero
The most disappointing aspect of the film to me is the underlying politics of such a massive blockbuster film. These are nitpicky, but for somebody who studies both film and has a love and interest in politics, this film is swimming in aggressions towards aspects of culture. Something important to note in any comic film is that all the traits and characteristics of the villains are subconsciously getting painted to the viewer as negative, if not evil. Look then at Michael Keaton in Spider-Man and his traits worry me. The Vulture is merely a white, working class man who openly says his only motivation is supporting his family, who also starts the film having his construction contract stolen by a shady government agency and being stuck in unredeemable debt. I felt nothing but sympathy for this character, even more so because Vulture’s hatred lies towards Tony Stark, who in Civil War is painted as a morally grey person with an evil past and is losing touch with the reality due to the power trip he’s gotten being the Avenger’s leader. It’s jarring going from looking at Stark as an antagonistic force after all these films, with his terror trading background being used as a source of shame in previous films, and then suddenly having to forget about that and look at him as the ideal father figure in Peter Parker’s life. I also don’t like that Keaton’s family man is made to be unsympathetic, continuing the worrying trend against working class Americans in media. This is doubled down on when an immigrant shopkeeper warns Peter to stay in school or else, “You’ll end up like me kid”. As he says this, he points to his cute and obviously successful small business in New York City, which is a feat on itself that thousands of people fail to do every year. Somehow to the writers of this film, this is supposed to be a threat to young Peter, warning him that success in high school will lead him to college (which will probably be paid for by the wealthy Tony Stark, who hints at giving Peter an automatic in at MIT due to his “pull” there) while ditching and flunking out of high school will doom Peter to being a small business owner in one of the best cities in the world. The horror. You might think these small moments are overblown. You might’ve seen famous conservatives complain about Zendaya’s MJ in the film, and her statement that she won’t visit the Washington Monument because it was built by slaves. Even the opening lines to this film contain an exchange where Michael Keaton says “Indian” and his coworker says, “Actually they’re called Native Americans now” as if there’s a universally accepted term to lump all indigenous Americans together. There were eight writers on this film, and several producers. Every single one of them saw these small moments, and they all decided to put these things in the film. These are deliberate choices, nothing in a film is by accident. When I’m spending money on a superhero film I want escapism, not a lecture on social justice and a whole heaping of virtue signaling.
Not All is Bad
That all being said, I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming. I can’t watch a major film and let all of these faults go without comment. There were a lot of things that stood out to me in this film that I haven’t mentioned yet, like how worthless the Donald Glover character felt and how confusing the stakes in this movie were. The greatest testament to this film is that despite all the issues I still enjoyed it and have a great impression overall. Tom Holland kills it as Spider-Man, he’s adorable, expressive, and a fantastic addition to the Marvel family. It was refreshing having an original Spider-Man plot that wasn’t focused around the Osborns or sad family life. I adored the new spidey-suit and all the recurring jokes about Stark not trusting Parker with the full features. Lastly, the single best character in the film is the return of Jon Favreau as Happy, Stark’s assistant. Happy is left in charge of Parker as Stark is off handling business, and the interactions never get old. The gags in the film never get old, and I genuinely laughed out loud plenty of times. That’s why I said to watch this film twice, once to enjoy and once to analyze, its worth multiple viewings.
Out of all the Spider-Man films, this one stands above the rest for so many reasons. This film represents to me how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Aside from the lead and already existing characters in the MCU, none of the new characters interested me or provided much other than being archetypal bodies to bounce dialogue off of. The visual effects are what we’ve come to expect from Marvel, as the film struggles to balance being a tonally small film with the budget and visuals of a massive one. All of these things could ruin the film, being another passable film in the series, yet somehow, much like the character of Spider-Man, it’s charm and heart manage to make for something great.
Recommend: Of Course
Theater or Digital: Multiple Theater Viewings
I’m interested, how many more films do you think Tony Stark has in him? I got a weird vibe from his character this film. If you agree comment below.