I wanted it to be more.
I wanted Spiderman: Homecoming to represent a shift in the way we viewed superhero movies. It did a lot of things right, but then the long arm of studio approval cast its shadow, and suddenly it did everything wrong. I’m still sitting here mixed up about this movie, and I saw it three days ago. I was ready to love it! Holland’s Peter Parker is great! Michael Keaton is the best villain the franchise has ever seen! So… then, where did it go wrong?
Tom Holland is a perfect Peter Parker. Despite a screenplay that limits him, he lights up the room with each scene. He’s vibrant, juvenile, and curious. After Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield, we needed a fresh change of pace. In the place of being fed up with life and angsty, we get someone who is excited to take on the next day. In exchange for feeling some overwhelming and burdening sense of duty, we get someone who just pines to help save the world. In place of the world-weary savior, we get an earnest and high-pitched underdog that makes rooting for him easy. Let us not forget how lucky we are to have this fresh change.
Similarly, Michael Keaton dominates the screen as a sort of complex villain rarely seen in the recent superhero craze. His villain name is never uttered–the Vulture–and instead we get to know him for who he is outside of the costume. We finally, for once, get to separate a villain from their alter ego and get to see them wash their hands and cook dinner like the rest of us! It’s refreshing. Michael Keaton also has no problem drawing audience sympathy to his side, which has been something missing from the MCU with the exception of Loki. I found myself rooting for Vulture and Spiderman to reach an understanding instead of having yet another brooding villain get his ass kicked by generic MCU hero #208.
The screenwriters (yes, that’s plural, because there were six of them) wisely choose to avoid the origin story retread. Uncle Ben is already dead, and it’s only mentioned in vague references. We don’t have to see Peter discover his powers. In fact, we get a really great scene where we see the events of Civil War through the eyes of Peter and get to know his character that way. Beneath the corporate sheen, there’s a sense of individuality and authorship here.
There’s a scene in the third act that really justifies this film. Michael Keaton and Tom Holland get to occupy the same space without themselves being known to each other. It’s thrilling, funny, and heartfelt all at the same time. It draws the various plot lines of the film together and gives them a level of gravity missing from the rest of the film. It’s in these moments that the film explores the real discrepancy in the age and experience of our characters. We see both perspectives, something we don’t get when billionaire Tony Star is trying to save the world from an invasion, or when ancient man of morals Captain America is trying to defeat America’s Next Top Geopolitical Threat.
Unfortunately, the sticky fingerprints of studio interference are all over this film. It never commits to being any one thing. We get a John Hughes-esque set of story moments with Peter Parker trying to navigate high school. And then we get some Disney-approved, Marvel-endorsed scenes of shoehorning Marvel character like Iron Man, Pepper Potts, and more into the film. It’s hard to divorce the film from its corporate roots when you have characters showing up every ten minutes to remind you this is a purely monetary endeavor.
The screenwriters (of which there are 6) made the mistake of spending a large portion of the movie on Spidey’s new suit, and essentially made him an Iron Man rip-off. It’s no longer about his webslinging abilities, but instead focuses on Peter’s conversations with his suit’s AI. Flashes of Iron Man are hard to ignore when you see Peter arguing with his suit about the best suite of abilities to use. It’s not that it was unreasonable… it’s that it was unnecessary. I’m not sure if the studio execs decided that the audience would relate more with Spiderman being a less cool Tony Stark, or if it’s just them being tone-deaf.
Why did we need such a bloated cast of B and C characters? We spend way too much time in the movie getting to see the kitschy, one-dimensional interactions between Peter and his mathletes team. Who cares? Why do we care if Peter is getting bullied by some random nerd? Is it to pay off the barely memorable scene later where he takes his car? Why do we care if Zendaya is stealing every scene as Michelle? Is it just to have us hope and beg for Michelle being MJ in a future film? Why do we spend way too much time with teachers and students who are utterly irrelevant to Peter’s character arc? is it to fill the gaps in the movie where nothing happens?
Speaking of nothing happening: let’s talk about those action scenes, because hoo boy, did they need some fresh insight. Homecoming tried really hard to make me give a shit about whatever action sequence was happening, but seemingly it didn’t care. It went through the motions of it, but god, I was actively rooting for the movie to get past each setpiece so I could see something interesting. A lot of that is tied to the fact that Peter’s abilities are limited, and instead of seeing him grow, we see him fail and get rescued time and time again. It takes Iron Man saving him several times before Peter realizes, “Oh, hey, I have superhuman strength!” And by the time he realizes it, it’s supposed to be a big moment. We don’t care. He’s always been strong. He never needed the suit. Why do we care now?
All in all, it’s sad to see the new Spiderman franchise turn out this way. With Holland and Keaton on board, this was a recipe for success. And the best moments in the film exist when those two get to work with each other. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is a hodgepodge of market tested bullshit where nobody cares what’s happening.
When you send in Iron Man every single goddamn time to save Peter from his own incompetence, it doesn’t lead to a natural build in the character arc. When you focus too much attention around bit characters, it leads us wondering why we are spending another stupid scene with Martin Starr. When you try to make a movie feel intimate, it makes us wonder why you’re spending so much time tying it back into the multi-billion dollar franchise at stake.
It doesn’t work. Maybe after this obligatory film where the two corporate bodies have to come together to slop out something, we can see it evolve. Maybe the supporting cast will dwindle and the stupid best friend role will evaporate. Maybe we won’t waste time on a romantic interest that doesn’t matter. Maybe Tom Holland will grow in his acting ability and stop getting scenes stolen out from under him by Marissa Tomei, Hannibal Buress, Michael Keaton, and Zendaya. Maybe this is just a speed bump on the way to something better.
But until then, I won’t hold my breath.
Will Hare is a web marketing and digital media professional residing in Durham, NC. When he’s not on the job, he likes to consume and critique board games, video games, films, and television.