RECAP: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): Jon Watts

“Homecoming.” Do you get it? The events of Spider-Man: Homecoming occur around homecoming dance at Midtown School of Science and Technology, but the producers were being cheeky. Wink wink nudge nudge. This Spider-Man is the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Get it? That’s the homecoming. So clever.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Spider-Man struggles to be a normal teenager and a crime-fighting hero, but this time it’s different because Iron Man shows up. 

Hero (6/10)

Tom Holland reprises the Spidey role he debuted in 2016’s Captain America: Civil WarSpider-Man: Homecoming spares us the bit-by-a-spider routine and the death of Uncle Ben, freeing up screen time for Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Peter Parker is still a high school student, this time a sophomore at prestigious Midtown High School. The school has gates and columns and such, so I assume it to be prestigious.

Peter Parker after doing a bad, scary thing.

Peter is the best player on the school’s academic decathlon team, and he is crushing hard on the senior and captain, Liz (Laura Harrier). He lies low in class, unless he finds a chance to show up his decathlon rival and bully Flash, a child who often calls Peter “Penis Parker.” Peter’s buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) wants him to help build the Lego Death Star, and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is always on his case about being safe out there and doing homework.

Standard high school life, but Peter has a side gig going, something he calls the Stark internship, but is really about being Spider-Man. Peter’s first appearance in Homecoming is on a smart phone “Film by Peter Parker” that documents the lead up to his debut in the huge airport fight in Berlin in Captain America: Civil War. 

Watching a movie surrounded by a large black rectangle was jarring, but what a charming way to introduce the new Spider-Man in his own movie. We see Peter’s corniness, his inexperience in life, and, most importantly, his exuberance.

In Berlin Peter got a taste of the big time, and he yearns for more. Stark provides Spider-Man with an Iron Man-like suit, but hampered with a Training Wheels program, which Ned finds hilarious, and Peter chafes often at Stark’s father-like protective nature. “Don’t do anything I would do,” Stark says. Don’t do anything he wouldn’t do, either. There’s a tiny gray area, that’s where Peter is to operate.

Later, after the Staten Island ferry nearly sinks, Stark lectures Peter about the importance of not overstepping one’s bounds. “The adult is talking,” he says. “What if you had gotten someone killed?” Stark’s bluster is pretty rich considering who he is and what happened in Sokovia during Age of Ultron.

Peter has every right to call out Stark as a hypocrite. That he doesn’t is a testament to his desire to please people and his humble nature. He’ll never be a glory boy like Stark, and he’ll always try to save a person’s life, even if that person tries to kill him. When he contacts Stark’s personal assistant and driver, asking for Avengers work, he feels compelled to end his calls and texts with “It’s Peter…Parker.” He’s as unassuming as they get.

Spider-Man tastes the glitzy world of the Avengers, but he’s more comfortable working on the ground as a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. An early montage shows him using his new suit to prevent a possible bike theft, ride the roof of a train, give directions, and prevent people from breaking into their own cars. He’s not ready for monster fighting yet, and that’s OK.

How about fighting a man in a cool suit? The villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming is a man named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who plays Vulture, though I don’t think anyone uses that word in the movie. Peter stumbles onto Toomes’s operation of weapons selling and theft, and he tries to alert Stark to the problem but finds his warnings mostly unanswered.

Holland is an inspired choice to play Spider-Man. He still looks like a teenager, and he mopes and mumbles like one too. His scenes with Toomes as the latter drives him and Liz to Homecoming drip with tension, thanks  mostly to Holland’s shocked stares and chronic avoidance of Toomes’s gaze.

Peter investigates, harasses, and stops Vulture’s plans while saving his girlfriend’s life, missing the academic decathlon national championship, bailing on a cool party, building the Lego Death Star, nearly destroying then nearly saving the Staten Island ferry, breaking into the Washington Monument, and, most importantly, saving the life of Vulture, the man who tried to kill him. Spider-Man is not the hero we look for, but he’s the hero we need.

Villain (6/10)

Homecoming opens with Adrian Toomes cleaning up New York City after the Chitauri alien attack that closed The Avengers. A working class guy, Toomes stumbled on the cleanup job of the decade. He’s bought new trucks and gear, and he’ll have that part of Manhattan working again in no time. Life is good.

Note how the jacket fluff resembles a vulture’s feathers.

Until the government shows up. The Department of Damage Control orders Toomes to shut down his cleanup effective immediately. Toomes won’t stand for it. He has a daughter and wife to provide for. His employees do, too. “These guys have a family,” he says. DODC don’t care. One suit quips, “Maybe next time don’t overextend yourself.” Toomes chuckles, and then punches that guy in his snide face.

The government recovers most of the alien tech, but not all. Toomes has his personal pickup truck loaded with glowing tech. “World’s changing,” he says. “Time we changed too.” Skip ahead eight years. Toomes and his team work in a large warehouse somewhere in the city. Toomes has his terrifying Vulture flight suit and cool-as-hell bomber jacket. He wears a helmet with glowing green eyes. Why do Spider-Man’s opponents prefer green?

Vulture in flight

Toomes and his associates steal technology confiscated by the Damage Control people. They use that tech to manufacture weapons that they sell on the black market. Mr. Toomes has provided very well for his family in the years following the alien attack.

Why the change of heart? Toomes went from legitimate businessman to “legitimate” businessman because he believed Tony Stark and the other Avengers were responsible for the alien attack, which is true, and that they were responsible for Damage Control taking over his cleanup site, which is also true. “The rich and powerful, they do whatever they want,” he lectures to Spider-Man. “We have to eat their table scraps.”

Good points, but Toomes’s time selling alien guns allows him some class upgrades, enough to send his beloved daughter to New York’s best science high school, Midtown, where she’s captain of the academic decathlon and HOLY CRAP Spider-Man’s crush’s dad tried to kill him!

That twist blindsided me. Late in the film, Peter arrives at Liz’s house to escort her to the homecoming dance. I anticipated some let down for the nerd, as all movies about male teenaged nerds have taught me: Liz got sick, she decided to go with Flash, something disappointing. When Peter rings the doorbell and Vulture opens the door, whoa, color me shocked.

Michael Keaton brings his striated face to the bad side of a superhero movie, making him perhaps the first actor to play a superhero and a super villain. What was once a handsome face now can scare the bejesus out of a high school kid, or any kid, or any person, and those skills are on display in the moments before homecoming dance.

Toomes plays the intimidating dad to perfection. He sharpens long knives as he interrogates Peter. He offers bourbon or scotch to Peter, who says that he’s not old enough to drink. “That’s the right answer,” Toomes says, pointing a knife at him. Liz enters the kitchen in a nice dress that Toomes gushes about, asking Peter if she looks nice. He agrees. “Once again, that’s the right answer.”

Toomes drives the couple to homecoming, and during the ride, in their fancy Jaguar (I think), Toomes figures out that Peter is Spider-Man. Toomes ends the ride gripping a handgun and threatening to kill Peter if he interferes again with Toomes’s operation. He’s got a family to feed and Jaguars to maintain.

Action/Effects (4/10)

Peter, thanks to some intel from a weapons buyer, tracks Toomes’s criminal associates to a famous ship that transverses the New York Harbor: the Staten Island Ferry. Spider-Man dons his enhanced suit and swings his way to the ship, where he spots several parties with long criminal records. He also finds Toomes, though he doesn’t know who he is yet.

Spider-Man uses a tiny drone dubbed “dronie” to follow the path of the weapons dealers and the buyers. With great luck comes great responsibility: the buyers, sellers, and merchandise are all on the ferry. Spider-Man’s excited. So is Karen, the suit’s operating system, who can’t wait to get that “instant kill” mode going.

Stark calls, eager to congratulate, and Peter cuts him off, lying that he’s at band practice. Never cut off Tony Stark, or you’ll get a lecture. Spider-Man steals the keys to the truck carrying the weapons and fights off some bad guys. The first four men Spider-Man defeats without killing them, knocking them out of the fray.

New suit technology

Toomes stares down Spider-Man, eager to activate his instant kill mode, so to speak, when the FBI surrounds Spidey. The agents lose interest when Vulture’s razor wings burst from the top of a van. Vulture flies along the ferry, knocking everyone in the way into the water, including one of his cronies, a guy with a neck tattoo.

Armed with a purple laser rifle, Vulture frees his associate The Shocker and tells him to get ready to leave. He fires at the feds while blocking their bullets with his wings. Laser bolts cut Spider-Man’s webs, as do his wings, but Spider-Man’s accuracy with his webs slows Vulture and prevents him from killing anyone. I’d say the camera work excelled, but I’m sure this scene is all computer-made.

Spider-Man shoots the laser and activates taser webs, which draws the rifle onto the boat. Spidey covers the weapon with webs, and Vulture tells him, “You’re messing with things you don’t understand.” A true statement, but should Spider-Man let Vulture tear him apart with laser beams?

The gun doesn’t enjoy being webbed, so it casts purple lasers in a circle that precisely slices the ferry in half. Spider-Man orders an x-ray of the boat’s strongest points, and then engages in a terrific feat of web firing, securing each pillar to its mirror image on the separating halves. Well done, Karen tells him, 98% effective.

This situation demands 100% success. You ain’t in school, kid. Webs snap and cars flood. Spider-Man leaps into the void and does his best Christ impression, willing the boat back together.

Spider-Man’s Jesus Christ pose

Well, something’s doing it. It’s Iron Man, who looks into the window. “Band practice, was it?” he asks sarcastically. Dozens of miniature flying rockets deploy and help reunite the ship’s halves. A few lasers here and there fuse the ship together again. “I think you’ve done enough,” Iron Man lectures Spider-Man.

Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s action scenes were paced well, with plenty of whimsy. An early scene finds Spider-Man running after a van full of Toomes’s guns. Spider runs through backyards, an homage to Ferris Bueller, and thence runs through a party watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so that you know it’s an homage and not pilfering.

Sidekicks (5/8)

Tony Stark provides the most obvious help to Spider-Man, sending him a new suit that, once the training wheels come off, we enjoy watching. Capable of 576 web combinations, the new Spider-Man suit has an OS dubbed Karen, a soothing female voice that offers Peter psychological boosts and love advice. With an affinity for instant kill mode, the new suit needs to tone it down.

Peter’s longtime friend Ned discovers early that Peter is Spider-Man. He begs to be his Guy in the Chair, the adventure movie equivalent of his Girl Friday. Ned achieves this dream at the homecoming dance, when he sits in one rolling chair to use two computers to aid Peter’s climactic fight with Vulture, and after using mad programming skills to unlock all the cool features on Spider-Man’s Stark suit.

Ned wearing his hat, I mean he’s wearing it.

Aunt May sums up Ned’s character when she drops them at Liz’s party one night. “Some hats wear men,” she says. “You wear hats.”

Speaking of Aunt May, she’s the cool aunt everyone wants but few have. Despite wearing the most hideous glasses in the Western Hemisphere, May finds her local Thai restaurant offering her the secret recipe. She’s not a fan of that Tony Stark, who also hits on her, and she’s terrified of Peter getting into danger, telling him to run away if he ever sees activity such as the stuff Spider-Man’s up to.

Not a total wet blanket, May knows how to help Peter in his love life. She picks out the right suit for him, and she gives him dance lessons for Liz. Always keep your hands on her hips. Wise words, Aunt May, wise words.

Liz, the object of Peter’s eye, is a senior and thus untouchable. What lengths will underclassmen go to to attract senior girls? Peter becomes Spider-Man and, early in the film, debates revealing his identity to Liz because he caught her saying Spider-Man is sexy. 

Liz captains the academic decathlon team, and plenty of pressure is riding on her. She’s got a loving father who will do anything for her, including kill her dance date. That doesn’t mean Liz can’t let loose. In Washington she organizes a late-night group swim at their hotel, recognizing that fun can also be an effective management technique. This kid’s gonna go far…away to Oregon after Spider-Man catches her dad.

Homecoming is packed with funny characters at its periphery. They make you want to come back for repeat viewings.

Henchmen (1/8)

Vulture has team of guys helping sell his repurposed alien gear. Most of the men who work for Toomes stay with him throughout the years, racking up cash and criminal charges.

Vulture seals his villainous chops early when he gets sick of an associate who doesn’t care about anything, including following orders. Toomes fires him, only to hear threats that he wouldn’t want him out there telling tales out of school. Toomes picks up the nearest weapon and vaporizes the guy. Good riddance.

Another associate carries a electric shock device worn on one forearm. For some reason he gets to be called The Shocker. He and the tech guy, they were funny. And that’s the key to making Homecoming a success. Even the bad guy’s support people are funny.

Stunts (2/6)

Spider-Man doesn’t often leave the confines of New York City. The trip to Washington, D.C. makes for something exciting and new, necessary in a franchise that’s six movies deep this century.

After the Midtown team wins the academic decathlon national championship, it celebrates by riding to the top of the Washington Monument. Well, most of them. Michelle refuses to “celebrate something built by slaves.”

Ned carries a “glowy thing,” a purple orb that Peter just learned is an alien bomb, in his backpack. This becomes a problem when it shoots energy through the rapidly rising elevator, snapping the cords and bursting a hole in the roof.

Spider-Man to the rescue! Spidey climbs the entire Washington Monument, all 555 feet of it, as his friends teeter at the top of the shaft.

His friends are up there!

Spider-Man’s suit activates “dronie,” which circles the monument’s pyramid top and identifies the best entrance to be through the southwest window. Too bad that window is four-inch ballistic glass. How will Peter, perhaps the best physics student in the state, generate enough force to shatter the glass?

Enter the Metropolitan Police. A helicopter hovers near Peter, a sniper sighting him down. Peter climbs to the monument’s pinnacle and, certain he will die, leaps backward and over the helicopter blades. As he falls Spider-Man shoots a web onto a skid and swings toward, and through, the tiny window, sliding onto the observation floor inside the monument.

Peter becomes the first spider-enhanced person to climb the Washington Monument.

The day is almost saved. Spider-Man has escaped the police, but his friends literally hang in the balance. Some have escaped the teetering elevator car, including the cowardly Flash, with the help of rangers inside.

Spider-Man fires webs that ricochet off a piece of elevator ceiling, sticking on the car as it slides down the shaft. Lots of muscle aren’t enough, and the car falls further, carrying Spider-Man with it. Spider-Man, upside down, stops the car again, donning his best Brooklyn accent to tell his teammates that he’s got them.

Have no fear, Spider-Man is here!

More pulling. Everyone gets out, except Liz. The metal supporting Spider-Man breaks, sending Liz to her near death. Spider-Man shouts “Liz!” and shoots a web to catch her and save her.

Saving Liz. Spider-Man calls her name, but she doesn’t realize that he shouldn’t know it.

Liz stands safely on the floor. Karen, ever wise to interpersonal situations, advises Peter that now, as he hangs upside down, is the moment to kiss Liz. But we’ve already seen such a moment. Instead Peter falls down the elevator shaft into dust, a la Gwen Stacy in the previous Spider-Man movie. This time, thank goodness, no major characters die.

You imagine a lot of green screen stood behind the actors in many action sequences, and you’d be right. About anything Spider-Man does in suit is CGI, and you can tell in some moments–Spider-Man has a sheen to him that’s not natural. The actors do enough stunt work with ropes and cords to make several fun scenes appear real.

Climax (2/6)

Toomes warns Peter to back off, to stop being Spider-Man. Kids never listen to adults, do they? Peter enters Homecoming to tell Liz that he has to bail. Rude.

Spider-Man makes his way to an abandoned warehouse with a view of Avengers Tower. He confronts Toomes, who expected the kid to show. Toomes lectures Peter about life as a blue collar, middle class guy, even though he’s no longer such a person. He wants to educate the kid, but also needs to buy time for his wings to power up.

Vulture’s metal wings burst in and fly around Peter, who hops away. The wings weren’t trying to hit Spider-Man, instead breaking all the support columns. Tricksy and false, this bird is. The roof collapses on Peter and Vulture escapes.

Peter has a crisis moment. His breath chokes out, Tom Holland delivering a strong moment of fear of death, the lone reprise from the movie’s lighthearted tone. The moment works.

Peter sees a reflection of himself in the water, half his face obscured by his homemade mask. He recalls what Iron Man said to him after the ferry nearly sank. If you’re nothing without the suit, then you don’t deserve it.

Peter will be something. “Come on Spider-Man,” he repeats. With great responsibility comes great power, and Peter’s need to BE Spider-Man endows him with the strength to lift an industrial-sized air conditioner off his back.

Meanwhile, Vulture, perched on a billboard, surveils the Avengers tower. It’s moving day, as the tower’s been sold and a jet packed with priceless gear salvaged from the alien attack in the Battle of New York. If Vulture can steal only one of the many crates on board, he would be set for life.

Vulture speeds toward the jet, but he’s experiencing drag chalked up to the new turbines on his wings. Actually it’s Spider-Man, who recovered in time to latch onto Vulture.

Vulture reaches the jet as it powers on its cloaking device. Dozens of cameras mounted on the plane project the images on the plane’s opposite side using hundreds of what resemble magnified pixels. Thus, New York City’s skyline appears where a jet is.

Vulture attaches to the jet’s underside and engages the vacuum seal his tech guy wanted to make for months. He uses matter shifting purple cubes to enter the plane and bust open some Avengers swag.

Spider-Man, meanwhile, struggles to stick to the jet. The altitude hasn’t harmed him yet. He can’t enter the pilotless plane, so he seeks to draw Vulture out instead. He kicks the vacuum sealed suit from it position, alerting Toomes inside, who screams not unlike a soaring bird.

Atop the jet the pair fight. We’ve seen their tactics in the ferry scene, so we don’t need a refresher. Spider-Man almost falls into an engine; copious use of webs blocks him from a gory death.

Engine troubles are hard to overcome when no pilots are on board. The jet plummets toward America’s largest population center. Spider-Man, who can’t even drive, knows enough of flight to use his webs to pull up a flap and force a high-G turn over the city. The jet crashes into Coney Island. No one dies.

A final confrontation looms. Spider-Man, heavily concussed, struggles to stand on the beach. Fires burn around him. What’s that streaking toward him? It’s Vulture. SMASH.

Peter struggles to fight his homecoming date’s father. Haven’t we all lived this problem? Vulture flies up. He’s gonna drop Peter and kill him. Liz will love to learn that she went on a date with Spider-Man, and that her father murdered Spider-Man in the same evening. Should do wonders for her mental development.

Vulture’s greed overwhelms his hatred. He eyes a crate resting in the sand. Apparently it’s a crate of arc reactors, though I only read that elsewhere and couldn’t discern it from the film. It explains what happens next.

Vulture grabs the crate and flies away, but he forgot about/didn’t know that the radiation from the reactor would heat his purple orb power device to explode. Whatever the case, he’s messing with things he doesn’t understand.

Peter understands. He shoots webs at the metallic wings, shouting that he’s trying to save him. Too late. The wings explode. Peter, ever the life-saver, runs into the flames to save Toomes’s life. Yes, he sticks him to the recovered merchandise for the cops to find, but Peter saves his adversary’s life.

Next day at school, Peter learns that Liz is moving to Oregon. Also, her dad’s in prison for theft, murder, and maybe treason. He’s a bad dude.

Jokes (4/4)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is practically a comedy. Supporting cast includes Jon Favreau, Martin Starr, Donald Glover, and Hannibal Buress. The opening “Film by Peter Parker” is stuffed with boisterous energy from Peter and a perfect straight man in Favreau, who is annoyed by everything the teenager does. On their way to Berlin to meet Stark: “Is this your first time on a private plane?” he asks. Peter answers, “It’s my first time on any plane.” Favreau immediately moves to the seat farthest from Peter.

Later, in their Berlin hotel after the Civil War fight, Peter is jacked to the moon on adrenaline. He narrates his day to the phone. Favreau, wearing a robe, enters Peter’s room. “We have thin walls here,” is all he says and all he needs to say.

Captain America has produced a series of instructional videos for high school kids, underscoring the swell job Marvel does to make a Patient Zero of dork like Cap into a cool action hero. One video is shown in gym class by the teacher, Buress. He cracks, “Pretty sure this guy is a war criminal now but whatever.” Peter watches Cap in another video while he’s in detention, funny because Spider-Man recently tried to help Iron Man put Cap in detention.

America’s Dork in Chief

My favorite character in Spider-Man: Homecoming spoke few lines. Zendaya plays Michelle, a strange nerd on the decathlon team. Michelle was in detention with Peter, but by choice, because she likes to draw people at their most pathetic. She reads Of Human Bondage in gym class. Zendaya had few scenes, but she aced them all. She went 5-5 from the #8 spot. She travels to Washington and hopes to squeeze in “some light protesting” before nationals. At Liz’s party she says “Can’t believe you guys are at this lame party.” She’s there, too, though. “Am I?”

The best jokes occurs with Peter locked in a Damage Control vault somewhere on the east coast. A montage follows, in which Peter tests several of his web technologies, chats with his suit, swings in a web hammock, and tries to open the time lock doors. When Peter asks Karen how long he’s been locked away, she tells him it’s been not a whole night, but 37 minutes.

Marvel’s movies have never shied from humor. They understand the “comic” part of their product as integral to its success. Spider-Man: Homecoming is its funniest movie yet, a funny movie with serious moments rather than vice versa.

Setting (2/4)

Spider-Man’s playground is New York City, and he’s long been the superhero most associated with the Big Apple. Other heroes might visit for a while, but Spider-Man lives there. An early, beautiful scene finds a sad Peter sitting on his fire escape as the sun falls over Manhattan.

Peter might be a middle class boy, but he traipses in high circles. Liz lives in the finest house in the borough, it seems, and both kids attend a gorgeous high school that must be private, but how can Peter afford it? Do they have scholarships? They must.

The final battle occurs around an Avengers jet. The pilotless four-engine cargo jet is given visual cloaking technology for some reason as it flies above Manhattan from the Avengers tower to the new headquarters upstate. Spider-Man and Vulture battle mostly outside the jet, covered in a dot matrix of colored lights. The fuselage twinkles like a disco ball of soft neon colors in the night sky.

Commentary (1/2)

Spider-Man: Homecoming makes a case for the little guy. We’ve seen the god, the genetic freak, and the billionaire playboy have their own trilogies, now it’s time for the teen on the ground, solving local crimes, to get a movie. (Yes, Spider-Man has had five movies already, but they weren’t Marvel movies. Let them have this.)

Toomes as Vulture claims that the rich folk of the world trample little guys like him constantly. They don’t care about what happens to the wee folk. Tony Stark breaks his city, then he profits from it by taking the technology when Toomes can’t have it. Fair it ain’t, but it’s how the world works.

Adults are often lecturing Peter about how the world works, including lifetime adolescent Tony Stark. The characters don’t touch on that irony. Instead Aunt May orders Peter to stay away from trouble, and to not trust Tony Stark. Midtown teachers either don’t care or care too much about their students’ growing up. The teens, of course, don’t want to hear it.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Marvel continues its solid track record of filling roles with nonwhite actors. The heroes are white dudes, but hey, they’re working on it. Lot of back catalog to plow through.

Others

  • Midtown High has the most lax security in town. Two of Toomes’s men walk around the school with loaded guns. Jon Favreau later waits for Peter in the bathroom. Midtown High: Where adult men can stand in a boy’s bathroom without repercussion. The Pedophile’s High School.
  • The movie’s t-shirt game was on fire. Peter wears meme-able shirts in several scenes. One shirt shows an atom saying it has lost an electron. Another atom asks, “Are you positive?” Another shirt shows the famous bad test answer of a right triangle that asks “Find x.” The student circles x.

Summary (33/68): 49%

Chucking the serious nature of the Sony-produced Spider-Man films, Spider-Man: Homecoming welcomes the fun of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Tom Holland is a younger Peter Parker, Marisa Tomei a younger Aunt May. Downey Jr. is on board to further integrate Spider-Man into the MCU, and quickly. There’s an Infinity War coming up.

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