Just got out of the Thursday night showing of Spider-Man: Homecoming, aka Iron Man 4. What follows is analysis & commentary, and yes there will be spoilers, so if you’re triggered by that then turn back now.
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Comparing Homecoming to Sony’s previous half-assed Spider-effort, Amazing Spider-Man 2, seems almost unfair. Marc Webb’s Spider-sequel was flawed from head to toe, starting with a script that seems to have been greenlit as a dare, with the absolute worst storytelling seen in a Spider-Man film. Yet at the same time, there were moments that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone nailed. That had more to do with the actors than the script or the directing. Yet for all its faults, Peter Parker was his own man. He wasn’t beholden to anyone else, he didn’t crave to be “noticed by Senpai,” he didn’t have a mentor to play the servile lickspittle to.
The same cannot be said for Homecoming.
At the start, Peter is a child riding a sugar high at a theme park, complete with the attention span of a hummingbird in desperate need of Adderall. He travels to Berlin to fight in the airport battle during Captain America: Civil War, then returns to New York with Happy Hogan, who goes on to serve as a negligent communication hub. All throughout the film, Tony Stark is either onscreen or his presence is felt. Sometimes it’s seeing Avengers Tower, sometimes it’s other characters commenting on Stark… sometimes it’s Happy representing Tony Stark. It’s a lot of Stark for a Spider-Man film. The reason? Because the MCU Peter Parker is all about wanting to hump Tony Stark’s leg like a puppy with two peters.
Whereas Holland’s “for the little guy” moment in Civil War sealed him in as a believable Peter Parker, here those moments are few. In the first half of the film he’s a spastic dork with a celebrity mancrush on Stark. When opportunities to shine arise, half of them are claimed by Stark. When the Vulture gets the better of Spidey and nearly drowns him in a lake? Iron Man to the rescue! When Vulture’s weapons slice a Staten Island Ferry in half? “Thank God, Iron Man’s here!”
So much Iron Man glory in a Spider-Man film. It’s sickening. Previous Spider-Films allowed Spider-Man to shine. But the first time he gets a solo movie in the MCU? Half the time it’s Iron Man saving him. I expect it from Sony. They’ve been desperate and, if you listen to Amy Pascal talk, it’s clear they needed someone else to make the grown up decisions. Enter Kevin Feige to “save the day.” And by “save the day” here I mean “miss the point.” After Doctor Strange, I wasn’t mad so much as disappointed. But now? Oh, I’m mad now.
Some Pros and Cons…
Pro: The villains, especially Michael Keaton as the Vulture. It was apparent to anyone who’d seen the trailer that Michael Keaton was going to do something special as Adrian Toomes. Keaton delivers the best villain performance since Alfred Molina in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and, as Eddie pointed out in his spoiler-free review, Keaton’s also one of the MCU villains that is well fleshed out and developed. The villains all around, including Bokeem Woodbine, Michael Chernus as the non-elderly Tinkerer and Michael Mando as Mac Gargan were interesting. I found myself perking up whenever the villains came onscreen. Donald Glover apparently plays the failed Ultimate continuity’s version of the Prowler, who isn’t Hobie Brown and who is apparently related to Miles Morales. Why they went with a throwaway version of Prowler and not Hobie Brown, I can’t say. I guess to setup Miles as Spider-Man someday since Glover’s character does mention him.
While Keaton’s Vulture was great, the script isn’t substantial enough to lend him the gravitas of real and true menace. There is a scene where he realizes Peter is Spider-Man and he threatens him when Peter shows up to take his daughter (who turns out to be Liz) to Homecoming. But he doesn’t get to really go after that. He doesn’t get the chance to go after people that Peter loved. Peter loves Liz – what’s the Vulture gonna do about that? He never gets to go after Aunt May or Peter’s best friend Ned (another character plucked from the failed Ultimate continuity but given an existing name.) But Keaton does the best he can with a thin script, and he’s easily the standout performance in the film.
Pro: That Iconic Amazing Spider-Man #33 Moment. We do get a scene that’s an homage to Amazing Spider-Man #33. As the Vulture sets a trap for Spidey and buries him under tons of rubble, Peter – at once frantic and whimpering and crying – stops fussing and decides to *be* Spider-Man, eventually getting out from under the rubble. It isn’t perfect by any means (way too much crying and whimpering) but Holland shows some good range on it.
Con: Yes, this is basically Iron Man 4. Even though there are only a handful of Stark scenes his presence permeates every facet of the picture. Aside from saving Peter’s life and a ferry full of people, he also dresses Spidey down when he screws up – when it’s really himself he wants to be yelling at after Civil War. Homecoming wastes time that could have been spent further developing Aunt May or Zendaya’s “MJ” on things like Happy not listening to Peter and hey, showing us all that Tony and Pepper are back together again. There’s even a “WILL HE?! WON’T HE?!?!” proposal moment. All of this with Peter having already left the scene. A lot of people are about to start making excuses for this and claiming it’s not Iron Man 4. They’re all going to be wrong.
Con: The script whenever Peter Parker needs to talk in the first 3/4 of the film. Peter’s annoying rapid fire, spastic speech patterns finally die down once he realizes the Vulture is Liz’s dad and Toomes threatens to kill everyone he loves. But that moment comes late in the film, and Holland’s Parker is largely annoying through much of the film. Especially when he’s talking to Ned, who is equally annoying. Director Jon Watts and producer Kevin Feige had stated early on that they wanted to copycat the tone of John Hughes movies but the finished product here feels like a TV show sadly trying to ape Hughes, and failing. The movie doesn’t have the required amount of heart to pull off a Hughes movie and the script doesn’t seem to be complex enough to get into the necessary Hughesian nooks and crannies.
Con: Peter’s high school chums. As I mentioned before, Jacob Batalon’s Ned is largely annoying. Eventually he winds up serving in the same capacity as so many others you’ve seen in superhero films and tv shows. He is Michael Kaine’s Alfred. He is Arrow’s Felicity Smoak or Flash’s Cisco Ramon. Or Supergirl’s Winn. Remember a time when Spider-Man didn’t need that? Well too bad, kids. Everything else out there has that character now so Spider-Man cannot be an exception. It all culminates in a throwaway scene with Ned trying to help Peter find the headlights on a sports car and give him other assistance while Peter drives said car in high speed pursuit. Yes, that’s right. Towards the end we get a chase scene with Spider-Man driving a sports car and not so much on the webbing. Because hey.
Much ado was made over Flash Thompson before release, who is more of a ‘mathlete’ than a jock. He’s a throwaway character that only pipes a few times but is largely forgettable and unremarkable.
Betty Brant is in here, too. Complete with Gwen Stacy’s hair and black hairband. Betty has precious little to do here other than deliver news, awkwardly and badly, during the school’s morning video announcements.
Con: Underdeveloped supporting characters in Aunt May and Not-Mary Jane. Marisa Tomei is a fantastic actress and someone whose work I have enjoyed for decades. Her first instinct, as we later learned from interviews, was to play Aunt May as an older woman – something Tomei is more than capable of. Instead, Sony and Marvel wanted young “Aunt Hottie,” as Stark called her in Civil War. In fact, Aunt May’s attractiveness is basically the reason she’s even in the film. Stark makes an early crack about her, some store owner makes a remark about how hot she is – and later a much younger waiter even flirts with her. Later, she gets to be worried for Peter. That’s about the extent of Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May. It’s a shame that an actress of that caliber is basically wasted on a story that really just wants to get back to Iron Man. Tomei’s Aunt May is never really a chance to lay down much of a foundation in this Wannabe Hughesian MCU Ironspiderverse, and that’s a tragedy. I also found myself wondering what Tomei’s take on older, middle-aged Aunt May might have been like. Too bad we’ll never know.
The biggest leap forward for Aunt May is at the dead end, when she walks in and sees Peter putting on his Spider-Man costume, thereby learning his secret. As she is about to drop an F bomb, the end credits interrupt. If you enjoyed Spider-Man’s uncharacteristic swearing in Civil War then you will probably find a base chuckle out of Aunt May’s interrupted F-word.
You have probably read by now (or hell, maybe you haven’t, who knows!) that Zendaya is playing ‘MJ’ but not ‘Mary Jane.’ We get this bit at the end, when Zendaya’s character Michelle says “My friends call me MJ.” She has little to do in the film other than stalk Peter while trying not to look like she’s stalking him and making snide comments here and there. In the scene in Washington, D.C. the filmmakers go out of their way to make sure we all know she’s a rank & file Social Justice Warrior who is “woke.” Yay.
That’s about all there is to say about the character. As one of the Disney TV Princesses du jour, she’s probably back for the sequel. Maybe then they’ll even give her a decent part where she speaks. Who knows.
I will say, though, that this was a gutless move on Kevin Feige & Amy Pascal’s part. If they wanted a non-white Mary Jane then do it. Sony’s a willing participant in any and all controversy orgies, though Disney Marvel typically likes to avoid it. As evidence I point to Sony’s doubling-down on the whole social justice thing for the all-female Ghostbusters film which contrasts to Disney Marvel’s fumbling of the Dr. Strange whitewashing & Tibet controversies. Disney Marvel would rather not engage in the controversy; Sony will jump naked in it and wallow like a fat happy piggy desperate for attention. Putting in an ‘MJ’ but not a ‘Mary Jane’ was a stupid, half-assed measure. I am reminded of the Fred Van Lente Chameleon Rape/Non-Rape and Marvel’s laughable handling of it afterward. Also of the fallout from the Shed storyline. After this, consider Kevin Feige & Amy Pascal only half-woke and not nearly as woke as the new not-Mary Jane.
Pro & Con: Peter Finally Decides To Be His Own Man – Yet Doesn’t. In the trailers it was obvious that this story would follow Peter through his Stark obsession and then finally taking off on his own. This is indeed how it plays out. The moment Peter turns down being an Avenger and donning a God awful Iron-Spider inspired suit at the end (that he will probably wind up wearing anyway in another film, sadly) it’s a great moment for the character. But the fact remains – an entire Spider-Man film should not have been wasted for Peter to finally become independent. “Gaining independence” should never have been an arc for this character in the first place. And even as you get excited over Peter finally saying “No” to Stark… he returns home and there waiting for him on his bed, courtesy of Tony Stark, is the Tony Stark Spider-Man suit Peter wore through most of the film. “YES! I am finally me own man! I can finally do things my way and… OH SNAP! TONY STARK GAVE ME BACK THE SUIT HE MADE!” And thus a character that was briefly independent once more moves back under the shadow of an unnecessary mentor.
In closing, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a hot mess. While it does manage to be better than the previous Marc Webb film, Amazing Spider-Man 2, it does so marginally. And being a better film than ASM 2 surely couldn’t be that hard of a feat, but Homecoming feels so alien at times and very unlike Spider-Man that it made it a close call. While the movie places too much weight on Tony Stark and not key characters like Aunt May or not-Mary Jane, it also allows Michael Keaton to be the best onscreen Spider-villain since Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. It would be a “middle of the road” Sony Spider-Man film but with Marvel being involved and, per Kevin Feige in the creative driving seat, this should have been much better than it was. It’s a barely below average Spider-flick that desperately wants instead to be another chapter in Iron Man’s story, complete with Tony and Pepper getting back together.
I’ve said before on the podcast that we’re faced with a reality where, though subpar, the Marc Webb Spider-films were closer to what Peter should be than what we get when Marvel actually gets involved. With Marvel involved, we get an MCU Spider-Man film where Tony Stark is front & center and Uncle Ben isn’t even mentioned. I was waiting for it, too… that one mention, that one quick reference to Uncle Ben, somewhere. We don’t get it, just as the movie misses the point of Peter Parker entirely.
I’ve also said before that I doubt we’ll ever get another Spider-Man film as good as Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Homecoming basically cements that for me. At this point, the best use of Spider-Man in the MCU will be in the Russo brothers’ projects – not the Sony/Marvel solo films.
Who will like this film?
Audiences that aren’t into the comics and just watch the films. They won’t know enough about Peter Parker and Spider-Man to really understand how badly this all missed the mark.
Iron Man fans will really dig Homecoming; it brings Happy back to a prominent role and reignites the Stark/Potts romantic kettle, while also showing the move out of Stark Tower into the new Avengers compound. Tony fans will love the scene where he’s in India, partying up and talking to Peter through the Iron Man automaton suit that saves him from drowning. Hey, remember when Peter used to save himself in his movies? Pepperidge Farm Remembers!
People who don’t care much about continuity or character consistency will probably like the film, or people who were just desperate for a good – even passably mediocre – Spider-Man film after the train wreck that was Amazing Spider-Man 2. If all one is looking for is action though, Homecoming may be a bit of a disappointment. Though there are many action scenes, they are quite short and average.
Keaton’s performance saves this from a D, and the overbearing presence of Tony Stark takes vital time away from other characters. But hey, at least Tony and Pepper are back together, amirite? And that’s what’s most important for a Spider-Man film.
—George Berryman, who will be outside burying the last bit of respect he had for Kevin Feige in an old shoe box!
ADDENDUM A: Taking some flak over the Iron Man 4 thing on our Facebook page. That’s fine, I’d expected that. I stand by what I wrote, which was “Even though there are only a handful of Stark scenes his presence permeates every facet of the picture.” Throughout the film there is something Stark related either being seen or discussed. This includes Happy, who is there working for Tony Stark. Aunt May mentions him (and, point in her favor, dislikes him.) The “Stark Internship” is talked about many times during the picture. Why do the bad guys decide to become bad guys? They’re angry at Stark. In the end the Vulture tries to pull a heist from a plane leaving Stark Tower. On the podcast I once said “This is Tony Stark’s world; we just live in it.” Homecoming showcases that.
At the end of the day all I can do is give you my opinion. As a Spider-Man film, Homecoming is conceptually flawed. Let’s all be very honest about something. The only reason Iron Man is here is to cross-promote and to draw Marvel Cinematic Universe traffic into a Sony film. If they had wanted the character in there so badly they should have titled the film differently – maybe Spider-Man Team-Up – and then promoted it not as a solo Spider-Man film but as a hodge podge of guest appearances down the line for subsequent films. With that route, Marvel and Sony wouldn’t have to concern themselves with what to do with the supporting cast they ultimately (Heh!) fumble with here.
I had someone tell me on the Facebook page that I needed to read Amazing Spider-Man #1 “for the love of God.” I understood what he was getting at; in fact Brad had brought up the Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man #1 to me about an hour before this guy brought it up. Peter “trying out” for the Fantastic Four in that issue is nothing like the celebrity crush going on here in Homecoming. At all. In Amazing Spider-Man #1 Peter goes to the Fantastic Four for one thing: money. When it’s clear he’s not going to get any, he splits. He doesn’t go because he looks up at Reed Richards as a mentor or role model. He doesn’t send Reed Richards audio diary entries about how someone bought him a churro. He doesn’t try to call or text Ben Grimm a dozen times a day. When there’s no cash in it, he’s gone. It’s not at all the same thing.
Another Spider-fan took exception to me saying “Who will like this film? Audiences that aren’t into the comics and just watch the films.” But that’s not the end of who I said might enjoy this. In his Facebook comment he later went on to say that he “hates” people saying things like that but Crawlspacers that does describe a giant chunk of this film’s intended audience. Literally. There are people out there watching Marvel movies and TV shows who don’t read the comics – some of them probably haven’t read any comics. I know people that fit the description and you probably do as well. Maybe they’re family, or people you’ve worked with for years, etc. But they are out there and they are a legit part of the audience. When I point that out, I’m not saying you can only like this if you don’t know much about the character. Hell, I fully expect to see Brad say “I’d give it a B!” after he sees it. I’m describing, accurately, a big part of the audience heading out to theaters to see the movie this weekend.
Additionally, I had someone say I “didn’t want to have fun at the movies.” This is absurd. I don’t buy comics or see movies as a way to not have fun, or to dislike them. When I like something or don’t I’ll say why and give reasons for it. Specific, detailed reasons. That’s the way we’ve always done it here. Did I suspect going in that I would not like Homecoming? Well from the trailers, damn right. I was about 75% sure I wouldn’t like it much. If I had been wrong I would have gladly and gleefully admitted as much. When I read a couple of days ago that there were some parts of the trailer filmed specifically for the trailer that weren’t in the film, I actually got a tad more optimistic. But just a tad.