My aim over the years as a movie reviewer has always been to try to find the one overarching impression I’m left with immediately after a film completes and find a narrative center in that.
It isn’t always easy and sometimes a struggle to try to a new thought or idea so as not to just repeat a review I’ve already written before, and I’d be lying if I suggested that hasn’t occurred to meet a deadline.
I knew I’d struggle with this again immediately after seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming Wednesday, but not for the usual reasons. Not because I couldn’t think of a narrative center, but because I could think of too many, and as not to bury the lede, was grinning from ear-to-ear during the closing credits.
Homecoming is an enormous amount of fun, particularly for hardcore fans of the MCU, but even for new fans like my 10-year-old daughter, not just attending her first MCU screening with her dad, but seeing her first MCU film ever.
The ONE thing I could think of was just that – simply how fun it all was. But breaking that down to one thematic reason indeed wasn’t coming easy. So what follows is an experiment – a highly-detailed but spoiler free review in multiple parts meaning I’m just going to start writing about how much Homecoming is another tremendous Marvel Studios (by way of Sony) success story and what comes out comes out…
Reason #1: Tony Stark Is in a Happy Place (and That’s a Good Thing)
‘Ol Shellhead has been on somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster over the years. Part of what made 2008’s Iron Man the original ‘most fun’ MCU film was something I’ve written about many times before – how much Tony Stark enjoyed being Iron Man, and how much Robert Downey Jr. clearly enjoyed being Tony Stark.
His embracing his superhero-dom was a pitch-perfect way to launch the MCU. But since then it’s been more downs than ups for the Armored Avenger.
Iron Man 2 was a bit of a slog with Tony being terminally ill and all, with its somewhat perfunctory one-scene tip of the hat to “Demon in a Bottle,” and a fallout with Rhodey. Being Iron Man became a burden for Tony – not the direction fans wanted to see things go, I think.
Avengers got Tony back on the beam mostly, particularly since he now had other superheroes to snark off of, but the climax set Tony up for a sort of PTSD Iron Man 3, still feeling the literal weight of the world on his shoulders in Age of Ultron, and need we talk about the climactic scene of Civil War?
But in Homecoming Tony seems back to being the full-on glad-he’s-Tony-Stark-and-no-one-else-is we first met in Iron Man (which I hope carries over to Infinity War), and he perfectly embodies the joyful spirit of the film, and sets up one of the film’s best pay-offs for true MCU fans.
But we’ll talk about that another time…
Reason #2: Homecoming Is a Lot Like Iron Man (a That’s Also a Good Thing)
Given the now-depth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we can start to compare and contrast films, even when we arrive at the conclusion there are no comparisons. Guardians of the Galaxy was certainly its own thing (originally). Winter Soldier was its own thing, etc.
The earthbound ‘origin’ films are somewhat comparable, but Homecoming feels fresher than anything since Iron Man - a neat trick considering it’s the sixth film starring Spider-Man.
Ant-Man was cool, Benedict Cumberbatch carried Doctor Strange on his shoulders, but somehow, some way, Homecoming recaptures the joy of discovery that made Iron Man a singular MCU event. And that's maybe because Peter wholeheartedly embraces being Spider-Man more than any other Marvel hero since Tony Stark.
Seeing a patten here?
Reason #3: Homecoming is NOT an Origin Story (an … Okay, You Get It by Now)
Now if you’re a hardcore fan, you probably weren’t expecting that anyway, but Homecoming stays almost completely away from Spider-Man’s origin story. Like blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-stays-away-from it.
The film, in fact, exists in this rare idyllic sweet spot – free of the burden of a usual ‘Part 1’s prototypical need to tell the origin, but at the same time not under the Part 2 weight of having to top Part 1. Homecoming hits the streets swinging, literally and figuratively. It gets to introduce moviegoers to this Spider-Man without having to introduce moviegoers to a Spider-Man, if that makes sense.
Homecoming’s filmmakers, who we will talk about more as we go, wisely take full advantage, allowing Peter’s best friend Ned (Leeds? played by the excellent Jacob Batalon) be the vehicle to have the film ‘meet’ Spidey through new eyes, without having to make it a formal introduction.
It’s kind of like getting the thrill of the first kiss, without having sweat out the first date.
Reason #4: The Vulture Is Hand Down the Best Marvel Villain
Sorry, Tom Hiddleston/Loki aficionados, but he’s been demoted.
Michael Keaton's The Vulture is … wait for it … revelatory, not just for MCU villains, but action-adventure screen villains in general. And I don’t use the word lightly.
In happens in a moment, and again, I won’t spoil it for you, but you won’t see it coming. And it does something that frankly is hard to do these days - it genuinely surprised me. And I don’t mean a plot twist I didn’t figure out ahead of time, but just a simple twist on the very idea of comic book movie villainy I never would have even anticipated. A simple, unexpected choice that takes just moments that flips the script from Marvel villains being total embodiments of evil incarnate or nihilism, to a real human being who makes complicated choices.
And Keaton nails it.
You’ll think you know it when you first see it, but wait a few seconds for its implications to really make themselves known.
It’s frankly a spectacular, standout choice in the entire MCU catalog and worth the price of admission alone.
To Be Continued...