Directed by Jon Watts (2017)
by Francis Friel, The Projectionist
Turns out we did need yet another First Spider-Man Movie after all. Homecoming marks the debut joint-jawn from Sony & Marvel Studios, the first step towards bridging the IP gap that has defined the disenfranchised franchise’s favorite little orphan’s adventures since it was announced years back that Spider-Man, The X-Men, and the Fantastic Four might one day be brought back into the Feige Fold. While those other bozos can pretty much rot for all I care, I always knew better things could be done with Spider-Man. He’s a dynamic character, bright and flashy and full of energy. Raimi’s trilogy was a mess (the great Spider-Man 2 besides). And I know I’m in the minority (maybe?), but I liked The Amazing Spider-Man for what it was, and even though The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had its moments. But they weren’t good movies. They were big and bloated and lopsided in every direction. One thing they got right, though, was the goofiness of the character. He’s just a kid, after all.
But those films never had the guts to do what this film did. It’s a simple thing, really, but it’s essential to getting to the heart of who this character is. There’s a moment in Homecoming where it seems all hope is lost. We know, because we know there’s no other option, that Peter Parker will get up. He’ll figure out a way to fight back. But for a minute, he doesn’t. He just lays there defeated. He’s hopelessly trapped. He’s a hurt little kid. And I felt him hurting in a way I never did (or even had to) during those other big screen adventures. Because he got himself into an impossible situation and doesn’t see a way out. And he knows he did this to himself. He had every opportunity to go the other way, but he charged ahead, not thinking for a second that something might go wrong. But it does, and quickly. Almost immediately. And watching him struggle, then give up, and give in and just start crying out for help, crying out to no one, I instantly identified with him. Just as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a few months back made me suck in my breath and hold back tears at just how strongly I identified with a talking space raccoon, here I saw myself on screen again. Someone up there knows what they’re doing.
If only any of it mattered.
This is a story that essentially has nowhere to go. It’s a lot of fun, calling to mind the themes and visuals of Kurt Busiek’s Marvels and Astro City at times (with a little Deadpool thrown in). But in the end, it’s got a big fight with the Bad Guy (Michael Keaton’s Vulture) that makes you go, well, wait, why didn’t Spider-Man just do that from the start? That’s all it took to take this guy down? I’m not counting that against the film, per se, but I am calling it out once again, like I do every time, for adhering too strictly to the Comic Book Movie Formula. You set up the rules, proceed to break them every chance you get if it means making your movie cooler and weirder than the one that came before (and this film is plenty weird), then at the last second decide, oh shit, there are rules. Gotta take down the bad guy. Yeah yeah yeah. Whatever. My complaining about this trope is getting more annoying to me than the thing itself, so I’ll spare you the rant this time.
Because I really liked this movie. It pretty much has everything I want out of a superjawn. Jon Watts, creator of the very weird Clown and the not-so-weird but still interesting Cop Car, obviously loved every second of directing this thing. He doesn’t quite have the authority behind the camera this time around to craft a final sequence to stand up next to Cop Car, though I’m not sure this project really called for it. But elsewhere, he squeezes in some truly surprising moments. My favorite line of the film happens during a quick back-and-forth with a random guy on the street, who simply yells “OKAY SPIDER-MAN!” Another involves a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off reference, which I guessed a few seconds before it happened, but was still a nice touch. And, if you’re like me, you might even guess how a joke like that might come back into play later, given the type of film we’re talking about here.
The supporting cast is stellar here as well. Keaton is fantastic as always, if a little bogged down by some of his dialog. I felt bad for him more than once, as you can clearly tell he wants to be doing more than the script allows for him. But he does a great job with what he’s given. RDJ does his Tony Stark thing here as he always does. He can play this character in his sleep by now (this is even sorta kinda touched on in one scene). Jon Favreau finally gets more to do in a Marvel movie than mope around feeling sorry for himself (though he does that too). Donald Glover, Hannibal Buress, Marisa Tomei, Bokeem Woodbine, and MY MAN Tony Revolori all get some time to shine. Even Martin Starr shows up and delivers the most random line of dialog in any Marvel property thus far (no doubt he was escorted onto the set by his old buddy John Francis Daley, who worked on the script).
At the end of the day, though, it’s just a good Spider-Man movie. I’m glad we got it, and it had moments that really worked, on a gut level, but if I’m being honest: I absolutely can’t care at all one way or the other about what happens next with this character or this branch of the ever-widening Marvel Belt of Bloat. It’s not helped much by a completely out of place mid-credits scene featuring a character saying some pretty bizarre shit that I assume is supposed to make me think, Oh, maybe he’s not the guy I thought he was. Or, Oh, he’s got something up his sleeve. Ugh, it doesn’t matter at all. These movies are going Nowhere. But for the time being, Homecoming is as good as any of them. Watch it, enjoy it, and be glad it wasn’t the outright disaster it could’ve been. And, for what it’s worth, Aunt May gets the final line of the film proper, and it’s about as good a summation of what came before as any other ending Marvel has offered up thus far. You’ll see what I mean.