First of all, after being somewhat skeptical of Tom Holland’s casting as Peter Parker/Spidey – as well as tired of all the reboots – I found myself really looking forward to seeing Homecoming as its release date drew closer. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the flow of positive reviews in my Twitter feed certainly helped.
While I won’t go as far as some and claim that it is the “best Marvel movie yet,” watching Homecoming was a fun way to spend an afternoon. The film has a lot of heart, and it’s also quite funny. There were countless moments when the entire theater burst into laughter.
Simply put, there was a lightness and verve to Homecoming – two aspects that were aided by Parker’s age (he’s portrayed as a 15-year-old) and his sheer excitement at the idea of being a hero. Of course, that eagerness leads him into several bouts of trouble and sets up much of the movie’s plot. Homecoming may not be an origin story, but it still hits all of the notes of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
Because of this initial take, when the lights came up in the theater, I assumed that I would be joining the ranks of those extolling the film’s virtues. But the more I thought about it, the more it began to fall apart.
I kept thinking about the problems with the film’s overall timeline, especially as it relates to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, which Kofi Outlaw details over at comicbook.com. Then there was the fact that the three primary female characters – Aunt May [Marisa Tomei], Liz [Laura Harrier], and Michelle [Zendaya]) – were, as Dana Schwartz writes in Marie Claire, “woefully underwritten.” And I couldn’t quite overlook the throw-away line by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) at the end dismissing bloggers, which stung, even though I was prepared for it.
So as I crawled into bed on Saturday night, mulling over all of these things and whether or not they changed my general enjoyment of the film, I started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, we might be taking some of this stuff a little too seriously. After all, as Holland himself argues in the latest Nerdist podcast, acting is not a serious job – he is, essentially, dressing up in red-and-blue tights and lying for a living.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the above complaints are all valid: However minor it may seem, thinking about the mismatched timelines took me out of the film from the very beginning; female characters have long been given short shrift development-wise; and bloggers put a lot of heart, soul, and unpaid time into seeing and reviewing films, among a whole host of other things.
At the same time, Holland’s portrayal of everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is easily the best one to date and Michael Keaton is incredible as the film’s big bad, Adrian Toomes/Vulture. In fact, Toomes is the most developed character, with a clear (and relatable) motivation – providing for his family. As Abraham Riesman notes in Vulture, he’s actually the first villain we’ve seen who seems to be interested in something other than taking over the world. With something as simple as a quirked eyebrow, Keaton can change the entire feeling of a scene and demonstrate just how far Toomes is willing to go to protect the ones he loves.
In the end, I know that it is possible to enjoy a film, but still wish that certain elements had been done better. Entertainment is not a zero-sum game. I guess it’s more that it had started to feel like it was. Superhero films in particular are either uniformly praised or roundly dismissed – there often isn’t much of a middle ground. But perhaps with Spider-Man: Homecoming there can be.
We can enjoy the fresh life that has been breathed into the character, while also wishing that the film didn’t sacrifice some of the plot for the sake of Easter eggs and setting up future additions to the franchise. We can applaud the fact that Parker’s two love interests (one present, one future [maybe]) are women of color, but still note that the six people credited with writing the screenplay are white men. We can, as Schwartz notes, like the film, but still hope for just a little bit more.