(Contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
The fifteenth installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (sixteenth if we include 2008’s The Incredible Hulk,) Spider-Man: Homecoming is certainly no let-down, but it lacks the glamour and intensity of many of its MCU counterparts. This is the third round of cinematic reboots for the friendly neighborhood hero, and with many audiences declaring the third time does indeed seem to be a charm, I came out of this movie feeling as though it could have been… more.
Superhero films are – by and large – immune to the broad criticisms and complaints that, say, Oscar-nominated dramas are regularly subject to. By nature, the superhero genre operates on a different cinematic plane – one of relentless suspension of disbelief. Naturally, as with most other genres, their plots and characters employ traditional filmmaking tactics to ensure a degree of relatability for the audience. When it comes to characters and scenarios as inherently unrealistic as superheroes and the trials and tribulations they face, the writers and directors are often somewhat limited in this process. From time to time, the result is underwhelming, clunky, and – by superhero genre standards – poor quality (see The Incredible Hulk; Green Lantern (DC); any of the Fantastic Four films.) This is not to say the “standard” for superhero films is lower than that of multi-award-winning dramas – just different. It is not likely we will see an MCU film win the Oscar for Best Picture any time soon (although I wish we would.)
Spider-Man: Homecoming sits in a delightful grey area within this spectrum of so-called quality. It possesses the signature upbeat and witty tone we have come to expect of MCU releases, but the plot feels repetitive. It is full of exciting moments of action and suspense, but I found myself instinctively and effortlessly predicting what was to come. Relying too heavily on foreseeable narrative formula, this is the film’s most obvious flaw:
- Peter (portrayed by the multi-talented Tom Holland) comes across/locates some bad guys committing a crime
- Peter intervenes in an attempt to stop the bad guys
- Peter fucks up, causes more collateral damage, and, in most cases, facilitates the escape of the bad guys
- Peter gets told off by Tony Stark
- Rinse and repeat (a few times, until he finally succeeds at the end)
Approached from a more optimistic perspective, this is essentially Peter Parker’s redemptive arc. He is first and foremost a naïve teenager. Most of his plot-driven decisions are based on him feeling he needs to prove himself to Tony Stark and the Avengers; in other words: ego. Watching this as a young adult in their early 20s, this has become a tiresome habit of male-centric coming-of-age stories; understandable, perhaps, as I am sure ego-driven decisions are common among… everyone, really, but more intensely so in young men, such as Peter Parker. So is the very thing that demotes this film the very same quality that facilitates its relatability? A victim of box office gluttony, this is unfortunate but understandable.
At times the narrative felt bogged down by mere pettiness. The greatest example of this, other than the ego-driven plot, is Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter’s close friend from school. Peter accidentally reveals his secret to Ned early in the film, thus facilitating a string of irresponsible and rather immature decisions, including but not limited to: Peter realizing his “connection” to Spider-Man might make him more popular at school and get the attention of his love interest, thereby making a plan to appear at a party as Spider-Man; letting Ned wander around D.C. with the power core (from an alien weapon) in his backpack, not knowing what it is or what it can do; and bailing on his Academic Decathlon, electing instead to have his ass beat by his nemesis (again.) I can’t help but to feel that Peter could have (and should have) made a greater effort to make the Avengers aware of the mischievous shenanigans of Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton). They (or even just Iron Man on his own) would have taken over the efforts to detain him, done so more efficiently, and the film could have been a just-add-water ‘Iron Man 4’ or ensemble (or should I say assemble) Avengers flick. Instead, the writers had to work hard to make Spider-Man: Homecoming an emotional bildungsroman for a reckless adolescent Peter Parker.
The repetitive plot and predictable action sequences are not enough to defeat the spirit of this film, though. At the end of the day it is fun to watch, and is that not the primary function of superhero films? There was a climactic moment that seemed to be – albeit subtly – referencing a scene in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014) where Gwen falls from a clock tower to her death. Thankfully, however, Liz (Laura Harrier), who in this scenario is trapped in a falling elevator, survives the ordeal. This is the first cinematic version of Spider-Man created by Marvel themselves, and the vibe of the franchise (or cinematic universe) really shines through. In Phase 2, the MCU started embracing its funny side, with plenty of giggle-inducing moments in films like Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Guardians of the Galaxy. I am glad to see them keeping this up, as it is a quality that has with time become vital sustenance to this series. Spider-Man: Homecoming simultaneously teases and appeases us in anticipation of what is to come: Thor: Ragnarok in October of this year, Black Panther in February of next year, building up to Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 a couple months after that, and so on in to Phase 4.
by Jules A Maines
Spider-Man: Homecoming will be showing at the Gulbenkian from Friday 11th – Saturday 12th August 2017