Thanks to North Korea hacking Sony in 2014 we all learned that the studio was in talks with Marvel to create some kind of unprecedented deal to share the Spider-Man IP, which Marvel had licensed to Sony in the 1990s back when everyone thought super hero movies were a waste of time. Ah, the naivete of youth.
With the rights in hand, Sony went about making Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man film, which was a smash hit. This led to Spider-Man 2, which many geeks consider to be a high-water mark in the genre. Drunk on money, Sony then went on to strangle the series with a third installment that is widely agreed to be a turdburger, before re-booting it a few years back with a couple bags of garbage for no reason other than that if Sony doesn’t make a film every 5 years the rights to the IP will revert back to Marvel. It appeared then that the viewing public would be doomed to see Sony mechanically turn out shitty Spider-Man movies every few years for the rest of eternity just to keep Marvel from getting the character back.
Then a strange thing happened. By 2014, Marvel (imbued with a revolutionary creative vision, top-notch talent and Disney money to throw around) had totally eclipsed Sony when it came to making comic book movies that people actually enjoyed watching. Sensing an opportunity to make money even while being bad at their jobs, Sony entered into a partnership where they would finance a new Spider-Man film and book most of the profits but Marvel would retain creative control of the project and include Spider-Man in their Cinematic Universe. The deal is complicated and all of the details are not known (such as, I believe, the profit splits) but it is pretty revolutionary.
And thus was Spider-Man: Homecoming born. Andrew Garfield, who I thought stunk as Peter Parker, was re-cast with Tom Holland (perfect casting), and Marvel hit re-set on the franchise. They cast Michael Keaton as the main villain (brilliant casting, and also rife with self-reflexive meaning if you are a fan of Tim Burton’s Batman or Birdman). Iron Man and a few others from the Marvel Cinematic Universe pop in to keep things light and fluffy.
But just on its own, this is a good movie. This CGI spectacle set pieces didn’t do much for me, and were easily the laziest and least interesting parts, but this movie succeeds because it’s not built just as an excuse to splash fake looking digital fight scenes on the screen. The film is more concerned with telling a coming of age high school story. Everyone is drawing comparisons to John Hughes, and I think it’s pretty apt — if Judd Nelson could scale the outside of the Washington Monument.
Peter Parker is only about fifteen in the movie, so this actually sets up some interesting thematic material, like how would a kid — an actual kid, not Tobey Maguire masquerading as a kid — deal with the onset of incredible powers that must be kept secret? And how will he deal with the age-old high school problems of fitting in, falling in love and joining the Avengers? In some ways it is pretty cookie-cutter stuff, but the fact that it works is a testament to how well Marvel and its creative team understand this world and can take even well-worn tropes — the responsibility of being a super-hero and figuring out who you REALLY are! — and make them not only work, but hit some pretty solid emotional beats.
It helps that the casting is rock-solid all the way around, so this goofy slightly off-kilter high school world feels pretty lived-in. The film has a lot of genuinely funny moments, many of which are built on the chemistry between the high school cast (especially Peter’s chubby sidekick pal). And Holland is so right for this role: nervous, geeky energy and confidence mixed with just the right amount of self-doubt. But for me, the movie passes the one true test for a high school coming of age film: as you are watching it, and once it is over, does it leave you with a kind of wistful, bittersweet nostalgia?
For me, the answer is Yes, meaning the film served its real purpose of re-creating that unique, awkward high school vibe which at the time you might have hated but you look back on now and miss a little because you can never get your youth back. Or maybe that’s doing a bit too much of a deep-dive into a movie about a kid who gets bit by a radioactive spider and starts swinging around New York in his underpants. Anyway, the point is still the same — this is a good movie.