I say without any hint of hyperbole that SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING may be the most anticipated film in movie history. For so long, Spider-Man struggled under Sony to find his voice. The Sam Raimi films starring Tobey Maguire were certainly strong, but not exactly the Spider-Man that we had all known and loved since 1962 (or whenever after that you were born). He was too wrapped up in his own problems, often prioritizing himself over the greater threat at hand.
So, after things fell apart between Sony and Raimi, Sony regrouped and started over. They hired upcoming director Marc Webb and rebooted the character and the series under the title THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. In some ways, things were better. Peter Parker was now proactive as the titular hero, rather than reactive. And he was witty and funny. Like, funny on purpose, which was also a huge component of the character missing from the Raimi films. But he characterization of Peter, himself, when he was out of costume, missed the point. Peter was still an outcast, but because he was too cool to care about what others thought. Despite that, the first film was good and pretty well-received. But then Sony bit off more than they could chew with the sequel. They longed to duplicate the success of Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe with their own Spider-Man universe, not fully grasping that that would happen organically if they just kept making Spider-Man movies. Instead, they bogged the sequel down in world-building exposition designed to pay off in future movies. On top of that, they gave us a hammy, over-the-top Electro as a villain who would have felt right at home in one of Joel Schumacher’s Batman films, and a metro Harry Osborn played by the miscast Dane Dehaan. Audiences didn’t care for it and it was the lowest-performing Spider-Man film at the box office, yet.
Fans knew Sony needed help. Sony knew they needed help. And everyone knew who could help them. If you can’t beat them, join them. And that’s what Sony did when they arrived at a deal with Marvel Studios to share the movie rights to the Spider-Man character. Sony could make money based off of the work and ideas of people who had a better idea of how to use and present the character. And Marvel could finally make films with the character who has been the face of the company for over fifty years. John Galt wouldn’t be happy with that setup but it was a deal that felt too good to be true for the fans. After all, as incredible as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been, can it truly feel like Marvel without Spider-Man?
Marvel introduced the new Spider-Man in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Now played by Tom Holland, Peter is once again a high-schooler (as he was introduced by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in AMAZING FANTASY #15 in 1962). He’s selfless, he’s witty, he’s socially awkward, and he’s everything that long-time fans have ever loved about Spider-Man. And this is exactly what those fans have wanted since Iron Man hit theaters in 2008. Spider-Man is home. And, now, in Spider-Man: Homecoming, we have the first Spider-Man film ever made by Marvel, themselves. So, how does it go?
Perfectly. Marvel Studios has mastered the art of making movies that are aimed at general audiences while pleasing the diehard fans and that tradition carries on with the greatest Spider-Man movie ever made. And that particular competition isn’t even close. As impressed as I’ve been with Tom Holland’s commitment to preparing for the role, I quite frankly forgot I was watching him during the film. I was seeing Peter Parker truly coming to life in front of my eyes for the first time. Holland does everything right, but his greatest contribution to the role is his earnestness and sincerity. There is genuine joy in his performance and it radiates from Peter as he gets to do things that make a real difference in the world. And that is his top priority in life. He does his best to balance his responsibilities to the good people of New York with his personal life, but this Spider-Man fights for the greater good above all, even if his relationships may suffer.
The three primary relationships he strives to maintain are those with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon. Note to comic fans: Ned is Ganke. They call him “Ned” and officially that’s his name, but I don’t know why. If it looks like a Ganke, walks like a Ganke, and talks like a Ganke, it’s a Ganke.), and his crush Liz (Laura Harrier). Making his life difficult is Adrian Toomes/the Vulture (Michael Keaton) and his gang of criminals who are benefitting from the fallout of the Chitauri’s attack on New York City in The Avengers. Doing his best to help Peter along the way as he adjusts to his new lifestyle is Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.. But you probably already knew that.).
The Vulture and Liz are very calculated choices by Marvel to serve as Peter’s yin and yang. The Vulture is getting older and has struggled to find relevance in life. Peter has also felt overlooked in life and wants to be something important to society. The different ways that the two go about their attempts to find their places in the world naturally bring them into conflict. They are two sides of the same coin. Liz represents the other half of Peter – the half that understandably just wants to live for himself. She’s smart, she’s kind, she’s caring, she’s sincere, she’s beautiful, and she sees the best in life. She’s his temptation – not to do wrong – but to shirk his responsibilities. On the surface, the primary conflict appears to be between Spider-Man and the Vulture but, underneath, the conflict is inside the heart of one extremely mature 15-year-old boy.
Here’s the deal. All of these elements combine to result in a giant spectacle of a film that is best summed up by one, simple, three-letter word: FUN! The humor, the action, and the dialogue come at the viewer, nonstop, all while being constantly entertaining, intelligent, and unpredictable. It’s everything we go to the movies for. General moviegoers will get their expected escape from reality. Hardcore fans will get the Spider-Man they’ve always longed for, including classic moments from the comics, big and small (you true Spidey geeks will know the big, defining one!). I got goosebumps during the Marvel Studios logo at the beginning of the film and it never once slowed down. It was almost two-and-a-half hours of my childhood (okay, and adulthood) come to life.
I can’t imagine what would had to have happened in one’s life for someone not to enjoy this film. Spider-Man – the true Spider-Man – is here. He’s brought into the present through technology, but firmly rooted in his past from a characterization perspective. This is the character I’ve loved since the age of two years old and now everything I’ve always loved about him is out there for the whole world to enjoy. So, go. Enjoy.
Now, what will it take for Marvel to gain creative control of the Fantastic Four?
(Note: Ten minutes before the movie started, word broke that Stan Lee’s wife Joan had passed away. She was his inspiration and they shared a long, joyous life together. Without her encouraging Stan to write something he believed in, we never would have gotten the Fantastic Four. And that means that we never would have gotten the Hulk, the Avengers, the X-Men, . . . or Spider-Man. My thoughts are with Stan. And thank you, Joan.)
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