When a film gets a character as right as Spider-Man: Homecoming gets Peter Parker, it can go a long way towards making a great movie. There’s no doubt that Homecoming’s biggest strength is its titular hero. Tom Holland is a natural as both sides of Peter Parker’s identity, as he embraces the role with a wide-eyed enthusiasm and excitement missing from previous cinematic iterations of the character. Indeed, the film works best when it contrasts Peter’s struggles with his familiar sophomoric high school troubles and his desire to be a part of the Avengers. Unfortunately, it’s the film’s attempts at connecting with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and laying out a sprawling cast of characters that cause it to stumble, and those mistakes make Homecoming no more than an adequate Spider-Man reimagining.
Homecoming certainly starts off on an extremely strong note. There’s a hilarious sequence where the audience is introduced to Holland’s Peter via a series of home videos, and they are goofy, genuine fun. This energy pervades Holland’s performance, which is amplified by the fact that the majority of Holland’s supporting cast feel incredibly one-dimensional when compared with Peter Parker’s dynamism.
If Homecoming was relegated to being a standalone Spider-Man film, or even just a high school drama starring Peter Parker, it would be a much better film. It’s the pesky superhero bits that get in the way of the film shining, and they never allow for the film’s other major characters to flourish in any real way.
A microcosm of this issue is Michael Keaton’s villainous Vulture, who is the main villain of the film (although there are several other side villains to muddle the proceedings sufficiently). Keaton’s character Adrian Toombs gets off to a promising start, as the film depicts him as a down-on-his-luck blue collar worker who turns to a life of crime. The issue with Toombs is that the transition from hard-working father trying to support his family to murderous psychopath happens in an instant. It feels as if there are entire scenes involving Toombs that are missing, and the resulting villainy feels more unearned and out of nowhere than anything else in the film. He has flashes of promise to break Marvel’s long running issue of forgettable villains, but he soon relapses into more typical fare, and a late twist concerning his connection to Peter gets played off for laughs rather than for tension.
As promoted in the film’s marketing campaign, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is in the film, and his screentime is refreshingly limited. Homecoming eschews the all-too-familiar Spider-Man origin story, so Stark takes on an Uncle Ben-like role as Peter’s mentor. He’s never in the film too much to steal the spotlight from Peter, but Stark’s sardonic quips grow tiresome and make the lessons he teaches Peter fall flat. The references to the wider MCU are plentiful and range from the obvious (a hilarious cameo by Captain America) to the more subtle, like a mention of the Sokovia Accords during one of Peter’s classes. The references begin to weigh the film down as it moves along, to the point where the denouement is almost entirely MCU-related, save for one character beat.
The rest of the cast of characters play their parts well enough, but they feel too one-dimensional and suffer from a lack of development: there’s the nerdy friend, the high school crush, the cynical, jaded friend, the out-of-touch teacher, and the list goes on and on. Even Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May has little to do besides worry about Peter, squandering the promise she showed in Captain America: Civil War. It seems as if some of the characters exist solely for the purpose of putting them in sequels. Donald Glover’s character suffers this particular fate, as he receives barely five minutes of screentime (although he owns all five minutes of it).
By the time the relatively generic finale rolls around, one can’t help but wish that Homecoming had spent more time on Peter’s high school life and friends and less on MCU worldbuilding. Unfortunately, there just isn’t much in the film to warrant repeat viewings. Director Jon Watts does a perfectly serviceable job with the screenplay he’s given, which receives a whopping six screenwriting credits. The directing lacks any sort of real style or memorable shots, and the set-pieces feel way too generic to do anything other than drag down the character beats. Watts is adept at humor, and his choice of musical cues is perfect, although the jokes can oftentimes undercut the tension of a sequence.
There’s an excellent Spider-Man movie trapped somewhere inside of the mediocre Marvel-assembly-line production that is Spider-Man: Homecoming. Holland is great, and his performance bodes well for the future of the Spider-Man character. But at a certain point, the Marvel machine gets in the way, and bogs down the film with too many characters and generic set-pieces. There’s no doubt that Homecoming will get a sequel, and Spider-Man will be appearing in next year’s Avengers film, so there’s a promising future ahead. But next time, let Spider-Man sling on his own; he’s proven that he’s more than capable of it.