By Diego Cagara
The friendly neighborhood Spider-Man swung into theaters for the seventh time on July 7 successfully, packaged with a refreshing storyline, gripping action sequences and a huge serving of humor throughout. Being the second reboot featuring the arachnid-based superhero since 2002 and the sixteenth Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, lead actor Tom Holland and director Jon Watts collaborated to stand up to the overall building pressure and hype that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” certainly encountered for years.
Holland does a commendable job in fusing the best parts of the two previous filmed depictions of Spider-Man: retaining Tobey Maguire’s incarnation of the nerdy yet humble Peter Parker and maintaining the cool factor Andrew Garfield projected when in costume. A sophomore at Midtown School of Science and Technology, Holland fully embraces the high school setting as Parker is shown as an academic decathlon member, having a major crush on fellow student Liz (Laura Harrier), attending the Homecoming dance and being bullied.
While Parker struggles to gain respect, entry into the Avengers family and more “missions” from mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), he has to deal with Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton), who operates an alien-technology-augmented winged apparatus.
The film revitalizes Spider-Man for cinema as it does not include an origin story and any appearance of gunshot-prone Uncle Ben. Holland is also accompanied by a diverse cast, hence making his high school scenes much more realistic. Hawaii-born Jacob Batalon portrays Ned, Parker’s best friend who discovers his secret, this initially-dramatic-sounding revelation becoming a source of great humor as Batalon constantly asks Parker questions about being Spider-Man and wanting to be somewhat of a sidekick. Disney star Zendaya is Michelle, a reserved and awkward classmate, and Tony Revlori notably portrays bully Eugene “Flash” Thompson differently, as he is not white and verbally taunts Parker, not physically. Not directly adapting high school characters from the comics helps liberate this film even more while stirring curiosity as to whether famous names like Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn will ever appear in a MCU film.
Like Alfred Molina’s Doctor “Doc Ock” Octopus, Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a compelling villain who carries emotional weight as he gives several understandable reasons for his actions: providing for his family, and being angry at the rich like Tony Stark who unknowingly pushed him out of his salvaging business and the Avengers whose actions damaged Manhattan. A disturbing plot twist also unexpectedly makes the Vulture relatable, a far better characteristic than just simply being an evil villain doing evil things.
Watt’s direction helps make the film truly feel like a high school film, with elements of director John Hughes’ teen movies like 1985’s “The Breakfast Club” and 1986’s “Pretty in Pink.” This is due to the emphasis on Parker’s civilian career as a mere student “with a Stark internship,” living with just his aunt, May Parker (Marisa Tomei) in a petite apartment. The high school scenes are carefully juxtaposed with the events of past MCU films since the film begins with the aftermath of 2012’s “The Avengers” as Manhattan was damaged from the so-called Battle of New York. The MCU references continue as Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) show up, with Captain America comically appearing as in televised public service announcement-like videos.
While Spider-Man’s “spider-sense” strangely is not depicted, he gains a technology-amplified suit from Stark which gives him more power and crime-fighting combinations, ensuing hilarity as Spider-Man struggles to get used to his new capabilities. He now has artificial web shooters, a built-in spider-shaped drone and artificial intelligence to aid him. This further rejuvenates the film while Spider-Man evolves into quite the 21st-century hero simultaneously.
A major message this film presents is whether a super suit turns a hero into a true superhero.
This was powerfully portrayed whenever Parker wants to be taken more seriously by Stark and Hogan, leading to Stark lecturing that “if you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it,” surely becoming yet another thought-provoking quote like “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Herein lies the raw emotion the film thrives on as Parker desperately wants to both be an Avenger and fit in in high school, not always realizing he does not need a super suit to carry out his heroic deeds and he already has his best friend, Ned, to depend on. When Stark strips Spider-Man of his new suit, Parker is left with his homemade suit, akin to a Halloween costume, alluding to the beginnings of his days as Spider-Man.
The film’s most memorable moment arguably was when after the Vulture crushes Spider-Man with sheer rubble, an unmasked Parker frantically yells for help but after seeing his pained reflection in the water, he regains his strength and gradually frees himself through the agony, making for an excellent poignant scene. This brings up why some superhero films fail as they mainly highlight the superheroes’ powers, forgetting that their civilian alter egos should be focused on too. Holland hence fully embodies the character’s dual identities, being the best portrayal since Tobey Maguire’s in the 2000s.
One of two smart ways to continue featuring Spider-Man in the MCU is to showcase his growth, both as a teenager and a superhero. Having him struggle to juggle his civilian and superhero duties makes him relatable, something the Spider-Man character has triumphed in for decades. His personal growth does already kick in at the film’s end when he politely rejects Stark’s offer to officially join the Avengers, opting to return to his humble roots and low-key nature. The second is to introduce much more intensity as the film is mostly lighthearted.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the best adaptation since 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” although each film approaches the character differently, the former being more comical and the latter much more emotional. Despite being portrayed by three actors in cinema now, Spider-Man still surprisingly can deliver by amassing a giant web of action, humor, emotional depth and impressive casting, complemented by being in the MCU.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.