A while back, I compared the first movies for each of the Spider-Man actors that Sony has put into live action movies: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, starring Toby Maguire, and Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield. To sum it up, neither movie was perfect. Neither actor ever nailed down the balance between Spider-Man and Peter Parker either. Maguire leaned a bit too far into the awkward nerd, to the point where he was still awkward three movies in. He was however very convincing as a high school student in the first movie. Garfield leaned too far into the confident young man, which gave the impression that he didn’t need all that much growing up. In fact I’d go so far as to say that while Garfield made for a better in-costume Spider-Man, he never felt anything like Peter Parker. He also looked too old to be playing a high school student. That didn’t help.
But the largest sins that either series made were their overstuffed final entry. Spider-Man 3 had some great moments, like most of Sandman’s scenes, some of Harry Osborn’s darker acts, and some great action scenes that have aged fairly well. Amazing Spider-Man 2 on the other hand was a near complete disaster. It was basically a decent romantic comedy trapped inside a terrible, overstuffed superhero movie. It doesn’t help that Aunt May of the Garfield movies is completely oblivious to pretty much everything that’s happening, making her a useless character. That’s a sin that neither of the other iterations committed. Aunt May in the Raimi movies was at least supportive, and managed to give Peter great advice that applied, even though she had no idea he was Spider-Man. And the Aunt May of the new movie knows that there’s something going on even before that final shot.
Thankfully, the casting of Tom Holland found the perfect balance between the previous two Spider-Man characters. He’s timid in his civilian life, always hesitant to ask out the girl he’s attracted to. He’s teased a lot by most of the other students. Yet at the same time he feels like a mad genius. While wearing the spider suit, he quips a fair amount without being obnoxious. He’s confident, but he’s also clearly a bit of an amateur. He learns a valuable lesson in humility during the movie, and he also learns that he really needs to figure out a better balance between his life as Peter Parker and his work as Spider-Man.
I talked a bit about the deal Marvel Studios made with Sony Pictures to share Spider-Man film rights in my Civil War post. When Disney and Sony announced the deal, they said right away that Holland had signed on for six movies, three of them being solo Spider-Man outings. They went for a much younger actor from the start, with the Russo brothers having a huge say in the final casting. As part of the casting process, they narrowed it down to six actors, and then tested said six actors for screen chemistry with both Chris Evans (Captain America) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man). Holland emerged as a clear favourite of theirs after this testing. His background in dance and gymnastics also helped. The Russo brothers worked closely with Spider-Man Homecoming director Jon Watts to make sure Peter’s bedroom in Civil War would match his bedroom in Homecoming.
Watts cited John Hughes movies as a major influence as to how Parker’s personal growth and development would take place. He also wanted to use Spider-Man rogues not yet seen in the movies. Marisa Tomei was soon cast as Aunt May, and Michael Keaton also signed on as The Vulture, the movie’s main villain.
Writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley aimed for a coming of age story from the beginning. They cited movies like Can’t Buy Me Love, Say Anything…, and Almost Famous as both their favourites and heavy influences for the film. This is what actually attracted Watts towards directing the film. He already wanted to direct a coming of age story, and everything just fit. For further inspiration, director Watts read through a number of old Spider-Man comics. That helped him come to a realization that he could have Peter look at the crazy Marvel Cinematic Universe from “a regular person’s perspective on it.” He also specifically referenced Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, and Amazing Spider-Man issue 33 as inspirations. 33 in particular is the famous issue where Spider-Man is trapped underneath rubble, something that the movie directly adapts.
Spider-Man Homecoming released in early July, 2017, to an impressive $880 million worldwide on a $175 million budget. It was considered the second-most anticipated blockbuster release of the summer, behind Wonder Woman, and ended up being the highest grossing superhero movie of 2017. It also received a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 7.6/10. Richard Roeper described the movie as unique and refreshing, praising the lower stakes and the focus on Peter’s school life. He, along with many other critics, praised Holland’s performance as Peter Parker.
Personally, I’d say this is the best of the Spider-Man movies so far. Like the others it’s not without its faults, but the lighter tone and focusing on Peter growing up works in the movie’s favour. Also in a cinematic universe that is continually getting more and more over the top with its sense of scale, a smaller movie is more than welcome.
After returning home from his trip to Berlin during the events of Civil War, Peter is a bit overconfident with his work as Spider-Man. He misunderstands how much Iron Man respects him, and is eagerly awaiting his next mission as a future Avenger. But after several weeks of not hearing anything back despite his many messages to Happy (played by Iron Man 1 and 2 director Jon Favereau), he starts getting anxious. He stumbles upon an arms deal where someone is selling advanced weapons based on Chitauri technology. Frustrated with Iron Man not willing to send in the Avengers, he starts his own investigation.
The movie as a whole is fun, with Parker’s investigation taking on multiple amusing directions. It’s also fun watching Peter deal with all the challenges coming his way. This includes everything from a complete lack of tall buildings to swing from to being stuck in a lock-up facility. But he also makes a huge mistake during the second act, one that nearly kills a bunch of people before Iron Man comes along and saves the day. This leads to Peter learning that he’s not ready for the big time yet. He realizes that he needs to focus on smaller threats for the time being, at least until he gains some experience.
He also focuses too much on his Spider-Man work up until that lesson, neglecting several friendships. It’s after that lesson where he learns to value the smaller things in life again. It’s that growing and maturing aspect of this movie that works the best. That and Keaton is fantastic as the Vulture.
Most of my complaints about this movie are more personal taste than they are actual criticisms. I found Peter’s friend Ned mildly obnoxious and annoying, but not to the point where he soured me on the character. And as much as turning Flash Thompson as more of a rich smug kid than an intimidating jock kind of works as a more modern version of a bully, I’m not a fan of that direction.
Overall, this is a fun Spider-Man movie that’s just a bit short of being great. It wisely skips the origin story that we’ve already seen in two cinematic adaptations since the turn of this still young century. It makes some bold choices with Parker’s character that work in the movie’s favour. And in case you haven’t seen this movie, I won’t spoil the final shot, but I look forward to seeing how Far From Home continues from that point. I would say that if you still want to see Spider-Man’s origin, it’s probably better to watch the first half or so of Raimi’s Spider-Man, and then skip straight to Civil War. The Raimi movie does tell Spider-Man’s origin better than Amazing Spider-Man, even if Amazing is the overall better movie of the two.
Next up is Thor: Ragnorok. After that, we’ve got only four movies to go before Avengers: Endgame. That would be Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant Man and the Wasp, and the recently released Captain Marvel. I’ve now seen Captain Marvel, but I won’t say anything about my thoughts until I get to it. I’m definitely on pace to covering all the movies before Endgame releases, which is one of my end goals here.