This summer seems to be a welcome reprieve for the MCU. Spider-Man Homecoming was as refreshing as the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy with a deliberate focus on having fun! Yes, having fun! Marvel seems to have been lately caught up with multiverse building that they haven’t really had the time to just have fun with the multiverse. It’s like the kid that builds his massive Lego world but never plays with it because he’s too busy being productive in building. Spider-Man Homecoming decides to play around and have fun with its action figures.
Spider-Man is played by Tom Holland who brings a youthful Spider-man to the screen, a kid whose super smart but buys his time visiting a local deli, crushing on a cute girl in high school, and building Lego sets with his friend Ned. He’s also “interning” with Tony Stark who sees potential with him. The only problem is, Tony never calls for the next mission and Spider-Man is busy only taking out petty thieves and being your “friendly neighborhood spider-man (a title that actually seems to fit this time), that is until the Vulture (Michael Keaton) along with his goons start to sell weapons made from Chitauri technology on the black-market to get money (not to mention another vengefied strain against Stark’s programs). Spider-Man gets caught up with this Vulture guy and also finds himself evading daddy authority, otherwise known as Mr. Tony Stark to stop him.
So what makes this movie work? Why does it have such a high rotten tomatoes rating? I mean the movie’s rating nearly levels with that of The Dark Knight on rotten tomatoes. Not something you’d expect from a non-origin, second reboot, multiverse cross-over, quick-fix, double studio intertwined movie with over five screenwriters! So what makes this movie work? I have a couple of observations.
The first is the fact that the plot is really simple. Peter Parker gets a job being a “semi-pro” superhero and wants to prove himself. Bad Guy comes in and Parker gets the chance to prove himself and actually becomes truly helpful to the superhero universe. The simple plot gives the movie plenty of time to explore the world of Peter Parker and how he balances being a super hero while trying to participate in mathletes, find a way to get his crush’s attention, hang out with his friend Ned, and run the usual errands, and of course be a good nephew. The best part of the simple story is also seeing Peter’s full reaction to the Avengers and the ever-growing superhero universe that is surrounding him. We tell ourselves watching it… Only if Spider-Man knew what was really going on in the larger superhero multiverse. He’s got a lot of learning to do.
The second best thing about this movie is…Tom Holland. Tom Holland’s acting plus the story dynamics of his life and his relationship with Tony Stark provide us a rather different and interesting take on the character. This is probably why the last reboot didn’t do so well. Andrew Garfield was great but his character was written down with the same arc as Tobey Maguire’s in many respects. Holland’s character is the kid of the universe, the young guy who has a lot of maturing and growing up to do, but he’s got to be a superhero because he’s got the special gift to be one and you know… “With great power comes great responsibility” (something the movie finally stops talking about and actually writes the impetus of the line into the fabric of the plot). The most relatable aspect though is that Tom Holland is every other kid wanting to be Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, or Iron Man. He finally gets his chance to be one of them in this movie, but he doesn’t know the cost yet. This movie lays the foundation for Parker to be “the” archetypal character of the MCU. Kids his age will grow up with him as Spider-Man’s journey matures and intensifies until he becomes the superhero like his counterparts in the universe. I think of Harry Potter where the audience grew with the characters and as a result the tone and themes of the story changed over time. Just imagine the emotional payoffs for the future!
Probably one of the most satisfying parts is Tony Stark’s character arc. He’s now like the dad of the MCU for Peter, mentoring him to be the responsible superhero that defends people and doesn’t kill or cause collateral damage. When Stark reprimands Peter for trying to stop the Vulture on his own, resulting in a lot of damage to a Ferry, he tells him… “Someone could have died!” These words in any other movie would have been cliche, but with Stark we know the gravity of those words. It was Stark’s fault for terrorists using his weapons, the Sokovia incident, and even the Civil War between the Avengers in some cases (Sorry Team Cap here). Tony Stark is the dad trying to protect his son from his same mistakes (think of Road to Perdition tamed). So yeah, we didn’t get an Uncle Ben in this movie but we did get Tony Stark!
The world building was fantastic, fitting Spiderman’s origin story into the MCU snugly. The story isn’t about Peter Parker reluctantly fighting crime or bad guys to save the day (like every other hero in the MCU). No, he really, really wants to fight (an immaturity of desire to fight and battle instead of a desire for peace like a sensible person). The story does a good job fitting the story into the universe and using the best elements of the universe to propel the story. Peter’s suit and process of learning comes from the Stark internship. The Vulture’s (Michael Keaton) motives are kicked into gear because of Tony Stark (we all be surprised right?). The dynamic between the high level threats the Avengers deal with and the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man present a reasonable difference so we can understand why Spider-Man doesn’t get involved in every Avenger battle and why not every Avenger gets involved in Spider-Man’s battles. The writers and story developers also know to let Spider-Man have his own thunder, his own playground for stories. It’s not written like a filler between Avenger movies (cough cough, Thor: The Dark World). This is because this movie lays the foundation for Spider-Man to thrive in his own archetypal character arc. His story can be massive and the rogue galleries are one of the best in comic book history so buckle up for some high stakes action and emotional arcs. This movie promises a true Spider-Man saga that hopefully will redeem Spidey’s awful past. And the Mexican Churro rating speaks for itself. So we can all thank Kevin Feige for redeeming the whitewashing of Doctor Strange now.