Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.
Release Date: 5th July 2017
MCU Phase: Three
Director: Jon Watts
Writer: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon, Robert Downey Jr., Laura Harrier, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya
May contain spoilers.
First thing’s first: I love Tom Holland as Peter Parker. I grew up with the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films and enjoyed them a lot, but this version feels light, fresh and different from the rest of the superhero canon. It’s not really a film about Spider-Man as much as it is Spider-Boy. Homecoming works first and foremost as a coming of age story and a high-school film. It is most comparable to Ant-Man of all the MCU films so far, which took a similar approach in hiding a heist movie within superhero trappings. I think Jon Watts’ film is better than Ant-Man though. It is just as funny, brisk, and heartwarming, but strays clear of some of that film’s failings. It is, by and large, less predictable, freer from cliché, and has a stronger villain.
I really like the tone they hit with Spider-Man: Homecoming. It is funny and snappy, but in a different way to Guardians of the Galaxy or Iron Man. Where those films’ humour was steeped in their characters’ arrogance, this comes from a place of humility and idiocy. It therefore does not fall foul of the more irritating quips you find in those films. Tom Holland, despite having an American accent as young ‘Peter from Queens’ has something of the young Hugh Grant about him, bumbling through social interactions with utmost charm. He occupies that role in movies where a character is supposedly a loser, unattractive and unappealing, but played by somebody devilishly handsome and charismatic so it really comes as no surprise when they ‘get the girl’.
Going for a lighter, more fun tone with this film is even reflected in its action. A lot of it happens during the day, no murky shadows requiring you to adjust the brightness on your laptop. Spidey’s suit, too, is of course full of primary colours and fits the bright and breezy approach the writing team have gone for here. We had barrels of fun last time in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, but that was on a bigger, brasher level. Homecoming is lovable in its locality. It only gets out of New York once and, blessedly, features no world-threatening climax. Understanding the fundamental strength of all the best MCU films, it pays attention to character first and foremost. Watts and co. have taken just as much care in making this a good teen film as a good superhero film.
A little touch I enjoyed was the decision to present us with the classic American high-school tropes, but to tweak them just a little. The film still hits all the predictable and enjoyable notes, but with slight modifications. Most notably, all of the major school characters are smart. They are all taking part together in the national academic decathlon for their school. This means that the ‘most popular girl in school’ character Liz (Laura Harrier), who is the object of Peter’s affections, is as much of a ‘geek’ as he is. The mean bully type (Tony Revolori) is not a jock, but a fellow smart boy; he’s not stupid and misunderstood, just a bit of a prick. You still have the love interest, rival, and best friend archetypes here, but I like that they updated it to remove the tired link between popularity and intelligence.
Unfortunately, a lot of these characters are a bit underwritten. Best pal Ned is adorable but his role doesn’t extend beyond that, and more noticeably Liz’s character is paper thin. She really only exists to serve Peter’s plot, and we sense that the actually interesting female character will eventually be Zendaya’s MJ, who takes a back seat here. If she does not have a bigger role next time I will be stunned. Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is also quite one-note, but the scenes of her getting Peter ready for homecoming are so sweet they almost make up for it. All the performances are strong, and combined with a funny script they make the characters vivid and believable even if they are quite basic.
Sidelining the supporting players was perhaps a necessary evil to tell such an excellent, streamlined Peter Parker story. This is very much his film, with the presence of Tony Stark as his mentor feeling natural and only to serve the story. There’s no crowbarring in of wider MCU plot points (other than that Tony and Pepper are back together – yay!), so we remain entirely invested in Peter’s need to prove himself and grow up. It allows the film to be relevant to the wider MCU, whilst also working completely as a standalone work.
Perhaps most impressive is the use of Michael Keaton’s villain in the story. His criminal dealings are relatively small compared to other films, with no plans to destroy the universe, just to provide for his family in a nefarious way. This not only gives him some nice character detail, which helps put him in the top half of MCU villains for sure, but means that he is entirely Peter’s villain. We are completely invested in the attempts to stop him because this is Peter’s big chance to become Spider-Man, to be fit to wear the suit. I think too often MCU films have villains that are not very well-embedded in the story; there is a character arc going on, and then also a villain to provide the action. Spider-Man: Homecoming, in giving us a villain who is directly tied to the hero’s personal journey – and in many other ways – is a cut above much of the MCU.
In one credits scene we see Keaton’s bad guy in prison refusing to give Peter’s name to another criminal. He essentially saves Peter, as Peter saved him. It is a nice touch, and convincingly continues the note they were trying to hit with him during the film. The other sting is one of the funniest of the franchise so far. Captain America, who cameos a couple of times in the film in P.E. and detention videos, pops up again to talk to us about the virtues of patience. It’s all just an extended gag that there’s nothing hidden at the end of the credits, and I liked it very much.
Where it Ranks
These rankings are getting really tough now. I can split things into groups quite easily, between ‘top-tier’, ‘good’, ‘pretty good’, ‘okay’ and ‘bad’, but within that it’s hard. Spider-Man: Homecoming is definitely in the ‘good’ camp alongside Iron Man, Iron Man 3 and the Guardians films. My Iron Man 3 love has received significant resistance from some people, but I maintain that they are wrong. I enjoyed this more than Iron Man I think, so it just comes down to whether this places before or after the two Guardians outings, which are basically inseparable in this ranking for me. Spider-Man: Homecoming is harder to fault than those films, I think, and does a great job of making us root for its hero. Top 5 it is then.
- Captain America: Civil War
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- The Avengers
- Iron Man 3
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Iron Man
- Doctor Strange
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Iron Man 2
- Thor: The Dark World
- The Incredible Hulk