There is no doubt about it: Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the most entertaining movies of the year. It’s also one of the most accessible. As Owen Gleiberman from Variety notes, we have never seen a character with the myth of Spider-Man portrayed in such a user-friendly and after-school special way. For the most part, that’s a good thing, since many of us remember watching the
Spider-Man cartoon after coming home from school.
The performances in the film are also fantastic. Tom Holland makes a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man as he greatly reflects the characters from the original comic. Michael Keaton’s performance as Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture, outdoes almost every superhero movie villain in existence. Jacob Batalon is charming as Peter’s nerdy best friend Ned, and Laura Harrier mostly succeeds in her role as Peter’s love interest Liz—even though she isn’t given quite enough character development to work with.
But if you’re looking beyond the surface, there’s not much else. It’s a good film. However, in order to be great, a superhero film has to have a story so compelling it seems realistic, even though its characters that have out-of-this-world powers. A perfect example of a film that combines entertainment and a great story is 2004’s Spider-Man 2, which is possibly the best superhero movie to date.
If I were teaching an English class on story elements, it would be difficult to come up with a specific theme for Homecoming. However, the theme of Spider-Man 2 is clear from the beginning: With power comes great responsibility. Even if the deceased Uncle Ben didn’t appear in Peter Parker’s dream to tell us this, the film spells it out. Peter Parker’s power affects both his professional and personal life, and he has to make some ultimate sacrifices that the viewer identifies with.
The biggest sacrifice he has to make is giving up girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) because he doesn’t want her to be hurt. The love story between Peter and Mary Jane is touching, sad, and poignant—one that you usually only expect from movies like Titanic or The English Patient. The scene where Mary Jane leaves fiancé John Jameson (Daniel Gillies) at the altar, finds Peter, and tells him she wants to be with him despite his responsibilities is as exhilarating as any of the action scenes. Unfortunately, there is no depth to the relationships in Homecoming, but perhaps the audience isn’t looking for it.
Sam Raimi’s 2004 version of Spider-Man doesn’t project the feeling that he tried too hard. The same can’t be said about Jon Watts, who goes overboard in trying to thrill the Homecoming audience. Spider-Man’s AI-enhanced suit is a perfect example of something that seems like a good idea on paper but doesn’t quite work in the movie. The suit, which wasn’t even designed by Parker himself, takes away from the enjoyment of the film by talking too much and, at times, trying to out-do Peter.
That’s not to say that everything about 2004’s Spider-Man is better than 2017’s version. For one thing, the special effects in 2004’s movie look dated. Even then, one could feel that some of the effects, especially with Spider-Man’s web-slinging throughout the city, were made using Adobe Flash. While a few scenes in 2017’s film look too digitally enhanced, most look impressively real. Of course, one can’t really hold this against the 2004 film, which used the best technology that was available at the time.
Then, there is humor. While there would be a smidgen of truth if someone said that Spider-Man 2 takes itself a little too seriously, the same isn’t true about Homecoming, the funniest Spider-Man movie ever made. There is the hilarious scene where a waiter tries to hit on Aunt May by giving her free rice pudding, and another in which Peter attempts (and fails) to interrogate The Prowler (Donald Glover). Who could forget Spider-Man’s golf course run? Though Spider-Man: The Comedy wouldn’t quite work, Homecoming offers just enough humor.
Even though Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t a masterpiece, it’s still good enough to overcome the wreckage of The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, starring (unfortunately) Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man. This past weekend, the film grossed $117 million—the record for a Spider-Man film. However, Spider-Man: Homecoming 2, set for release in 2019, will have to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. Perhaps John Watts should seek advice from Sam Raimi on how to direct a successful sequel.