Sound Off! Spider-Man: Homecoming

Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, reload your web-shooters and discuss Spider-Man: Homecoming, which premiered in the United States on Friday, July 7, 2017.

Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places: you may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching.

Now, join J.L. Gribble, Nancy O’Toole Meservier, and Howard Kleinman as they talks about Spider-Man: Homecoming! [Note: Minor spoiler for an event seen in the trailers.]

J.L.: I saw the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. I saw bits and pieces of the first Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movie. Despite my love the 90s animated show, Spider-Man was never really a character after my own heart. But I am a huge Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fan, so I was in the theater last Friday night. And I absolutely fell in love. I most appreciated that this wasn’t yet another origin story re-telling, instead picking up right after Spider-Man’s first appearance in Captain America: Civil War.

I’d heard rumors that the next phase of the MCU would, in a way, be told from Spider-Man’s perspective. He would be the stand-in for the audience, the normal person, in this new age of superheroes, aliens, and gods. “But how could that be?” I asked. “Peter Parker is just as much a superhero/alien/god to us.”

In the movie I saw, however, Peter Parker was 100% refreshingly human. He was a normal kid (if a bit brainy) thrust in this world and genuinely just wanting to do his best. I’m more than happy to follow along with him for the next phase of films.

Michael Keaton plays a delightfully well-rounded villain, and it was pretty cool to see a bit of his backstory at the beginning of the movie. There’s a genuine “gasp out loud” moment during a major reveal, and even though I have QUESTIONS about how his crazy flying armor works, the fight scenes were dramatic and daring enough for any MCU movie.

The rest of the supporting characters, those already familiar from the MCU and newcomers such as Ned and Aunt May, were enjoyable. (I desperately want my own Suit Lady.) The movie doesn’t even come close to passing the Bechdel Test, but there are some lovely moments of diversity, and I’m honestly just happy to write a Sound Off post that doesn’t make me link to the Fridge Trope. (Seriously, I’m not linking it. Go google it if you have to.)

My husband says this is his new favorite film in the MCU. I’m not sure where it falls in my rankings, but I’m happy that I’ve finally found my Spider-Man.

Nancy: “Holy crap, has it really been eight years since The Avengers?”

These were the thoughts that plagued my mind after watching the opening scene of Spider-man: Homecoming, as Adrian Toomes (aka The Vulture) picks through the wreckage left in the aftermath of the Battle of Manhattan. Although the math doesn’t totally line up (I looked it up, and it’s actually been only five years. Way to make me feel old, Marvel!), the results are the same. The MCU has been churning out movies for a while now. For a comic book fan like myself, this means high-quality superhero fare two or three times a year, but for a fifteen-year-old kid like Peter Parker, that means living in a world where superheroes like Iron Man have been a major force for the majority of his short life.

It kind of makes the whole fanboy-level Tony Stark hero worship thing make even more sense.

This is something that actor Tom Holland does beautifully, bringing Peter’s enthusiasm and youthful energy to the screen. That energy is mirrored in the film’s fast-moving, fun-filled script. Spider-man: Homecoming is one of the more humorous films of the MCU, and unlike other recent offerings that have tried to shoehorn in banter (aka Doctor Strange), the humor here feels more organic, whether it’s the back and forth between Peter and his best friend Ned, or the way Peter trash-talks the crooks he takes down on the street.

That’s not to say that the movie is a complete laugh fest. Spider-man: Homecoming features some more serious beats, as well as moments of genuine character growth. Peter Parker desperately wants to leave high school behind and become an Avenger. He has the moves as Spider-man after all, and a brilliant mind to boot. Unfortunately, as a fifteen-year-old boy and newbie superhero, he lacks the good judgment that comes from experience. And it’s this lack of good judgment (not to mention Tony’s failure as a mentor) that leads Peter to make costly mistakes, that he will have to make up for if he ever wants to achieve his Avenger-level dreams.

The casting of Peter Parker is admittedly brilliant, but to be honest, we knew that going in, given what we saw of the character in Captain America: Civil War. What’s also satisfying is seeing how well the rest of the cast works. Even relatively small roles (Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, Zendaya as Michelle) feel as if they were chosen with care. The movie also has a couple of satisfying twists that I did not see coming, and the set pieces live up to the high standards we’ve come to expect from movies in the MCU.

Spider-man: Homecoming is an incredibly strong entry into the MCU, standing head and shoulders above other single-character entry points (with the exception of Iron Man). By focusing on new characters and situations rather than re-treading ground covered by previous cinematic incarnations of the character, Spider-man: Homecoming ends up feeling fresh, new, and infinitely rewatchable. I’m so glad I saw it opening weekend.

Howard: I’ve been a Spider-Man fan since I was about nine years old, and since that time he’s been my favorite superhero. At his core, Spider-Man is easy to relate to. He’s simply a guy who is trying to do too much. If you know what it’s like to be overextended, you can understand what Peter Parker’s life’s about. He’s not rich like Batman, and he’s not nigh invincible like Superman. He’s just a guy who has enough super powers to know that there are choices only HE can make, and those choices always seem to come at an intense personal cost.

Peter Parker is occasionally selfish. There are things he wants for himself that he can’t get because, ultimately, being a good person means doing things that can take away from your own happiness. This can be played dramatically, as was done in the previous best Spider-Man film, Spider-Man 2.

And yet, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to get at Spider-Man’s core struggle while not forgetting the OTHER half of why people love Spider-Man. The guy is funny. He’s a borderline slapstick superhero who has a phenomenal sense of humor and powers that are tremendously fun to watch in practice. Tom Holland brings a joy to the character that’s been lacking. He doesn’t yet hate being Spider-Man. He’s got drive and ambition, but he also has that conscience that keeps making him make choices that cost him personally to do the right thing. Here, he’s growing in to becoming Spider-Man and watching that growth is part of the fun.

Spider-Man: Homecoming largely dispenses with the angsty half of Spider-Man’s appeal, but that’s okay, coming off of the largely dour and joyless Amazing Spider-Man duology that squandered the great lead pairing of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. In its place is an incredibly fun superhero film loaded with action, humor, and just enough pathos to make us care about what happens to Peter Parker and his friends.

It’s a small thing, but I do love the way that Peter’s neighborhood in Queens feels like a place that he lives in and not a backdrop. People know and care about each other, even if the relationships are built on loving snark. But there’s a store that gets blown up at one point in the movie, and I genuinely cared about the collateral damage. That’s really rare, and I give the filmmakers praise for never forgetting that Spider-Man, for all his intelligence and power, is not to big to care about the little guy. This film subtly recognizes that we live in a world with diverse peoples and class strata, and embraces it. This New York feels like the New York I know and not a studio backdrop. It’s a small thing, but I appreciate it.

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