Starring Tom Holland, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Tony Revolori, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey, Jr., Jon Favreau, Donald Glover
Directed by Jon Watts
Screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Story by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley
Based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal
Cinematography by Salvatore Totino
Edited by Dan Lebental and Debbie Berman
Music by Michael Giacchino
Despite being the sixth—the sixth!—Spider-Man movie within the short time span of fifteen years, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a pleasant surprise–a solid, fun, funny and entertaining superhero and comic book movie, and a great summertime popcorn movie for early July, bolstered by three main ingredients that help to lift the movie above the norm: heart, humor and a group of likable, relatable, down-to-earth and decidedly non-stereotypical and non-generalized teens who are the real acting foundation of the film.
The movie delivers its heart aspect by focusing on the character Peter Parker (played with a wonderful mix of innocence, youthful energy and restlessness and pure, down-to-earth kid personality by a wide-eyed, funny Tom Holland) as simply what he is and what he always should have been: an average, every-day, down-to-earth teenager who just happens to have been bitten by a radioactive spider and inherits some superhero abilities, but also tries his best to just be a normal teen and deal with normal teen things—like girls, high school, extracurricular activities, home life, friends and just plain normalcy. When the Peter Parker character is taken too far away from this normal world, and too much away from this normal world, that’s when Spider-Man the alter-ego actually suffers—Spider-Man is far more interesting as a teenager struggling to use his powers in the right way and at the right time, while also struggling to simply be a teenager and be with his friends and family and peers. Too much of the superhero-fighting-oversized-villians in over-sized sets and action sequences delivers the requisite satisfaction for big-budget and screen-filling exciting action sequences, but too much of CGI, flying, special effects and endless fighting and explosions—as always—will always lead superhero films too far away from what is always the real center and center of interest: the internal psychological, mental and cerebral struggles of a normal, real person dealing with crazy powers that threaten that core normalcy and realness.
Fortunately, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” understands this, and the movie is able to provide those requisite action sequences—quite well and entertainingly, it should be noted—but the movie is also smart enough to remain firmly grounded in those real-world, real-life scenes of Parker dealing with his friends, his school, his crushes, his teachers, his aunt and even his academic quiz competition teammates at school and on a field trip. Yes, there is an over-arching, over-riding superhero story complete with villains, fights, action sequences, good-versus-evil and attendant science-fiction and fantasy elements—of course there is—but, again, all of that is nicely, smartly balanced with Parker’s real world. That balance keeps the characters of Parker, his high school friends (warmly, nicely, positively and wonderfully portrayed by a likable Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Zendaya and Tony Revolori) and his aunt (Marisa Tomei) relatable and likable and easy to understand, sympathize with, and understand. The high school friends are just that—high school friends. Tomei’s grounded Aunt May Parker is just that—Aunt May.
And adding to the heart aspect in a major manner is the equally-grounded portrayals—again—of normal high school students by Holland, Laura Harrier as Parker’s major crush Liz; Tony Revolori as a rival student, Eugene Thompson, who’s also not too much of a rival to make things uncomfortable, over-done or exaggerated; Zendaya, as MJ, a quirky, alternative type who harbors a not-too-secret schoolgirl crush on Parker; and, in a complete, movie-stealing, scene-stealing and story-stealing performance, the absolutely wonderful Jacob Batalon as Parker’s funny, warm-hearted, well-meaning and smart best friend Ned—wisely and funnily referred to by Parker and Ned as Parker’s “guy in the chair,” referring to that movie staple—and cliché—of the reliable, trustworthy, right-hand-man who always seems to be hunkered down somewhere away from the action in a chair at some elaborate command module or bank of electronics, always providing just the right degree of assistance to the main hero with just the right lucky, fortunate—and clichéd—combination of electronics, surveillance, hacking and information technology wizardry, cunning and ability. Batalon’s Ned is indeed that guy—not always necessarily in a chair, literally—but he does bolster the entire film and the story by always being there as Parker’s best friend, best buddy, and best accomplice and assistant when Parker has to suddenly and occasionally become Spider-Man. But Batalon’s goes one step above other similar movie portrayals, and just makes Ned completely lovable and embraceable—basically, the type of guy you always want in your corner, but also a type of guy you want to give a big hug to, just because he’s so warm and lovable.
And Harrier’s Liz and Zendaya’s MJ, despite being beautiful and smart, are also able to make their characters down-to-earth, relatable and not just another pretty face. They balance their smarts and beauty with levels of caring and kindness and quirkiness that, too, keeps them grounded. Even Revolori’s Thompson, while being somewhat of a rival to Parker, is not that clichéd rival, but rather a rival on the level where even though they don’t quite get along as kids, there remains at least a respectable level of respect and even admiration towards each other.
It’s this entire level of normalcy portrayed by these teen characters and their respective actors that actually saves, lifts and keeps “Spider-Man: Homecoming” interesting and entertaining.
Interestingly, all of the teen actors—Holland, Batalon, Harrier, Zendaya and Revolori—are the center of this movie, and the adult actors and their characters—Michael Keaton’s villain Vulture, or Adrian Toomes; Robert Downey, Jr.,’s ever-present and almost-over-present Tony Stark (these Marvel movies may be reaching the point where it’s time to give the Stark character a rest for at least two or three movies, no offense to Downey, who continues to do a good job with the somewhat-annoying character); Jon Favreau’s wholly UN-likable Harold “Happy” Hogan; and Donald Glover’s bad-guy criminal thug Aaron Davis—end up being somewhat secondary to the teens as the story unfolds. Stark is understanding and sympathetic toward Parker and the teens, and he does his best to consistently help them out, and so Stark remains the reliable good guy. Favreau’s Happy is really a good guy, but the character is written to be often unlikable, annoying and irritating, and that’s how Favreau plays him—almost to the point where he’s simply not welcome when the character pops up on-screen. And Keaton’s Toomes and Glover’s Davis are just bad guys—thugs, criminals, devious and completely uncaring about anything except the next weapons deal that will keep them in business and in money. So the adult characters don’t fare so well in “Homecoming,” and its always interesting and fun to watch the kids outsmart and out-do the adults in the movie.
The humor aspect comes from a wise decision by director Jon Watts and main story and screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley to keep the movie firmly grounded with well-paced, well-placed and well-timed bits of humor, slapstick, satire and parody. The humor is there in just enough doses so the film doesn’t sink completely into ridiculousness, stupidity or over-done self-parody, which would have been a mistake, of course, but there is just enough funny business to keep “Homecoming” appropriately light, breezy, upbeat—and funny—at times, which, much like the two excellent “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, or the first two original “Superman” movies with Christopher Reeve, keeps the film original, entertaining and just far enough away from dark, gloomy, depressing doom-and-gloom that has sunk too many other superhero, comic book, fantasy and science-fiction films. Too much darkness, depression, violence and starkness makes for un-entertaining, un-happy, depressing and too self-serious genre movies, and, again, thankfully “Homecoming’s” writers and director are smart enough to keep things rolling along on a generally upbeat, positive level that keeps the film generally optimistic and more focused on the brighter side of life.
Too many superhero, comic book, fantasy and science-fiction movies have simply forgotten that it’s okay to laugh amid the fights and explosions, and there is a bright side to life, and things can be viewed in a more positive, upbeat manner—even if evil villains are running around the world and galaxy intent on world and universe domination.
Another positive characteristic of “Homecoming” is that Watts, Goldstein and Daley have kept the basic story simple, there is absolutely zero origin story gunk—thank goodness—and there is actually no strong focus on world or universe domination. Keaton’s villain, Toomes, also nicknamed Vulture because of his mechanical—not supernatural—winged flying apparatus, is simply a black market weapons dealer, criminal and basic thug—he simply makes underground weapons, sells them, and enjoys his comfortable life, posing as a legitimate businessman. He’s not out to rule the world or universe, he’s not out to change himself into something bizarro, and he has no lingering weird determination to go after adversaries for no particular reason other than to go after adversaries. He’s just Toomes, a suburban guy who just happens to own some powerful, underground, black market weapons that do indeed pose very real dangers. Yes, Toomes is a little crazy—all villains are a little crazy—but it’s a more subdued, down-to-earth crazy.
Stark’s Iron Man persona is there, with all of the Stark character’s requisite high-tech doodads, gizmos and gimmickness bolstering Iron Man and Spider-Man, too. Downey’s Stark still operates in that odd world mixed with the high life, a bit of a bubble-world, high-tech weaponry and weapons dealing—in a good way, for the good guys—and with bits of saving the world, helping rescue people in dire circumstances and, in “Homecoming’s” instance, constantly guiding, mentoring, educating, helping, assisting and teaching Holland’s somewhat-reckless and still-teenager Parker. It’s interesting watching the high-faluttin’ Stark deal with this restless, wide-eyed teenager, Parker, who still doesn’t quite know what to do with his powers or even how to control, guide and use them. In “Homecoming,” Stark often has to come off of his high horse, leave the confines of his comfortable, protected bubble world, stop being Mr. Playboy Cool Guy—and simply, easily—and affectionately—just be a friend, teacher and even father figure for Parker. It is these scenes of Stark interacting with Parker on a very real human—not super-human—level that, again, help lift up and ground, in a good way, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The lesson is that even superheroes need to often just be a little less super and a lot more real in life.
The story in “Homecoming” is simple: Toomes gets his hands on some underground, immensely-powerful and quite dangerous black market weapons, makes and sells those weapons, and tries his best to keep his operation away from Stark, Spider-Man and the government. But Parker is still a superhero, and he is consistently trying to uncover, expose, stop and arrest Toomes and his cronies before they cause too much destruction and before their weapons do fall into the hands of even more-powerful villains. Parker must deal with his friends, his crushes, his aunt, the mentoring Stark, and the menacing Toomes and his crew, in an effort to bring Toomes to justice, get those weapons off of the black market, reconcile his superhero and superpower relationship with Stark and Happy, and, simply and soundly, return to whatever sense of a normal life he can muster and maintain back home, at school and with his friends.
It’s fun, enjoyable, entertaining—and always positive—to watch Holland’s Parker deal with all of this, and it’s enjoyable watching the filmmakers deliver these basic elements of life amid those requisite action sequences—at the Washington Monument, aboard the Staten Island Ferry and in chases on darkened back roads—while the movie flip-flops from superhero grandiosity and action and special effects to the simple, real-life pleasures of watching Peter Parker, Ned, Laura, MJ and Eugene navigate those light and dark roads and bumps in the roads that are simply the teenage years. It’s this combination of big and normal that keeps “Homecoming” original and enjoyable.
Thus, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a homecoming of sorts not just for the Spider-Man story, as the story is grounded in just being in and around the home worlds of family, friends and school, but the movie is a homecoming to a more positive and optimistic superhero world—again, a more lighthearted, fun world as seen recently in the better superhero movies such as the two “Guardians” films, “Wonder Woman,” “Doctor Strange,” “Ant-Man,” as seen in the original two Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies, and as originally seen all the way back in 2002 in the first “Spider-Man” film with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, and which was directed by Sam Raimi. In the “Spider-Man” universe, “Homecoming” recalls best Raimi’s outstanding 2002 original film, and that’s always a good thing, as that film was another excellent, original superhero film.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” proves once again that, with a little bit of heart, humor, likable characters and a grounded, positive, optimistic outlook, superhero movies can go home again.