WARNING: The very premise of this film contains spoilers for the series thus far.
One year ago, a high school student named Peter Parker was approached by philanthropist Tony Stark with an interesting proposition. The Avengers were in the middle of a heated internal dispute in Berlin, Germany. Around this time, a new superhero calling himself Spider-Man had appeared in Queens, New York, becoming an internet sensation in the process. Through his resources, Stark deduced that Parker and Spider-Man are one in the same, and recruited the student to help resolve the conflict. In the end, the Avengers were torn asunder and Parker returned to his studies at the Midtown School of Science and Technology after Stark told him he was not ready to become a full-time Avenger. Returning to school, he faces a challenge that may give his fight with Steve Rogers a run for its money: asking his crush to the homecoming dance.
Although Homecoming is Spider-Man’s first film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the character’s backstory had been firmly ingrained in the public consciousness as a result of having five films starring him made in the twenty-first century. First, Sam Raimi directed a trilogy of films starring Tobey McGuire before Marc Webb created a reboot with Andrew Garfield in the lead role. With both interpretations explaining how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, the writers behind both Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man Homecoming assumed their audience saw at least one of those films. Even if they didn’t, their massive success ensured the basic details could be absorbed through osmosis. Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider and subsequently granted superhuman strength along with an instinctual knowledge of how to fashion web shooters. As a result, while previous entries depicted the origins of characters who weren’t as well-known outside of comic-book circles such as Tony Stark or Peter Quill, Peter Parker’s inaugural film throws viewers into the thick of things.
Interestingly, this version of Spider-Man deviates greatly from the source material in that it’s implied he had always accepted the responsibility his powers afforded him. It’s still implied that his uncle perished, but nothing suggests his actions – or lack thereof – caused it to happen. Because of this, Tom Holland’s depiction is quite a bit more cheerful and lighthearted than that of his two preceding incarnations. It definitely makes for a refreshing change of pace, and it allows the character’s inherent appeal to shine.
One significant facet that allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to differentiate itself from standard comic-book adaptations is how a majority of the protagonists’ superhero identities were public knowledge. The original Iron Man famously ended with Tony Stark disregarding the script he was handed and admitting his double life in a press conference. Many of his peers followed suit to the point where audiences frequently found themselves calling these characters by their real names. From a diegetic standpoint, names such as Iron Man or Captain America were sobriquets granted to them by the press.
The reason this is worth mentioning is because, when one thinks about it, Peter Parker having a secret identity is downright bizarre. The series had thrown so many curveballs the viewers’ way that playing the most famous superhero trope of them all straight itself feels subversive. Even then, the writers put an inventive spin on it when Parker’s best friend, Ned Leeds, discovers the truth almost immediately. It would stand to reason that one person suddenly disappearing while the all-powerful savoir appearing in their stead prompts their peers into drawing the connection. However, in Peter’s case, he merely forgot to take a good look around his bedroom before removing his disguise.
I like how Ned learns of Peter’s identity, for the two characters have an excellent chemistry. You really get the sense that these two characters have known each other for years. As one would expect, when Ned learns the truth, he is nothing short of ecstatic. Even better, despite coming across as a comic relief character at first, Ned actually proves instrumental to the plot, using his technological knowledge to help Peter investigate the recent criminal activities – even taking down one of the villains himself in the process.
One aspect I find highly enjoyable about this film compared to the two preceding interpretations it is that superheroes other than Peter are known to exist. Both Raimi’s and Webb’s versions of Spider-Man were deliberately vague on this matter, but Homecoming, having fifteen predecessors, two of which involve the Avengers assembling to fight off a world-level threat, has no ambiguity whatsoever. With Peter Parker being the ultimate example of an everyman character who just happens to have superpowers, Homecoming sheds some light on what life is like for ordinary people in this universe. The opening sequences show a group of robbers attempting to steal an ATM machine. For disguises, they dress up as the Avengers, which Peter is quick to call them out on. It demonstrates that the exploits of these heroes are such world-defining events, absolutely everybody knows about them – even petty thugs.
During classes, teachers frequently show instructional videos hosted by none other than Captain America himself. The Department of Education knows children look up to these heroes, and have therefore recruited them to help teach them important lessons. It is a bit strange, given Steve Rogers’s current status as a wanted fugitive, that they would continue to use them, but perhaps the teachers believe in his innocence. It’s a good thing because they are some of the funniest scenes in the film. Amusingly, many of Peter’s classmates treat these like they would any other public service announcement, which is to say, they barely pay attention to them. What’s ordinary to one group of people is comedic to a faction from beyond the fourth wall.
Ignoring Peter’s action sequences, one could interpret Homecoming as a slice-of-life film that happens to take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is because Jon Watts dedicates just as much time to Peter’s interactions with Liz as he does the action-packed conflict against the obligatory antagonist. While Peter Parker’s identity is common knowledge in the real world, Liz, and everyone else not in the know, merely sees someone who disappears at the most inconvenient times. While this typically isn’t commented upon in the comic books, in Homecoming, the implicit ramifications of his habit are explored. Consequently, Peter is seen as unreliable and cowardly due to his tendency to disappear at the first sign of danger. It is of little wonder, then, that with Peter not admitting his biggest secret, the relationship fails in the end.
Following Stark’s recruitment of Peter for the purposes of fighting against Steve Rogers, this film explores the relationship between these two characters in further detail. After three films with him as the protagonist and three in which he played a significant role, it is very interesting seeing Stark as a mentor – an Obi-Wan, if you may. He is aware of the young superhero’s inexperience and absolutely does not want to see him harmed. To this end, he warns Peter not to investigate these criminal activities any further, often sending remote-controlled Iron Man suits to assist him when necessary. In this regard, Stark acts like an overprotective parent, though considering all he has been through, saving the Earth from the likes of Loki and Ultron, one could hardly blame him. As Stark himself says, he couldn’t possibly bear to have Peter’s death weighing on his conscience.
Spider-Man has what is perhaps the most famous rogues’ gallery in the medium – second only to Batman in that field. However, simply giving this incarnation of Spider-Man a full set of supervillains to fight would make for a bloated narrative as Spider-Man 3 proved. It especially wouldn’t be believable that someone who recently began his superhero career and mostly sticks to New York has more enemies than the world-famous Avengers. How do the writers address this problem? The answer is quite clever; they pit him against an enemy of his mentor.
Five years ago, the Avengers fought against the forces of Loki, the Asgardian God of Mischief. In the aftermath, an owner of a prominent salvage company named Adrian Toomes was contracted to clean up the city. However, their operation was ultimately taken away from them by the Department of Damage Control – a partnership between Stark and the United States government. Realizing this would drive him out of business, he ordered his employees to keep the Chitauri technology they collected and use them to develop advanced weapons to sell on the black market. Toomes himself has fashioned for himself a suit that enables him to fly, resembling of a large bird when in use. In other words, although his motivation and methods are vastly different than his familiar comics counterpart, this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe interpretation of the Vulture.
It’s an interesting conflict because, rather than being the target of the main antagonist’s wrath, Peter is merely interfering with a revenge scheme that doesn’t really involve him. Nonetheless, the most significant twist is when Peter is getting ready to invite Liz to the homecoming dance only to realize, to his horror, that her father is Toomes himself. Even worse, Toomes deduces Peter’s identity within minutes of meeting him. Fortunately, Peter completes the classic hero’s journey by coming back from the brink of defeat and preventing Toomes from hijacking a plan transporting weapons from Avengers Tower – all without the help of Stark or his advanced technology.
Realizing he underestimated, Peter, Stark offers him the opportunity to join the Avengers as a full-time hero. True to form, Peter declines, opting to be a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. Even so, Stark decides to return the advanced suit he had crafted for Peter. The young superhero enthusiastically puts it on in his bedroom. Not learning his lesson from before, he fails to notice that Aunt May has just walked in, thereby adding her to the increasingly long list of people who know his identity.
With Spider-Man being Marvel’s most universally popular superhero, his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed to be impactful. I can safely say that Jon Watts and his team succeeded, for Spider-Man: Homecoming provides an excellent interpretation of the character. With his lack of experience and sudden thrust into a dire situation, this Peter Parker comes across as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s answer to Luke Skywalker. With many previous films dedicated to developing his mentor, Tony Stark, it makes for an interesting contrast seeing two superheroes in different phases of their careers. However, even setting aside the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe canon, Homecoming is a solid film in its own right, providing a great mixture of comedy and drama – all while giving viewers a glimpse into what life is like for the average citizen of this fantastical universe.
Final Score: 7/10