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Welcome Home, Webhead

Spider-Man: Homecoming. This was very enjoyable – certainly far more enjoyable than the Andrew Garfield films, and it’s really close to the first two Tobey Maguire films. (I think it falls short of Spider-Man 2 but is dead-even with the first Spider-Man for similar reasons). This is a Spider-Man who is still in early stages and figure out the whole hero thing. It definitely changes things for the character that he now occupies the world where he has idols and heroic role models. It gives him motivation beyond the whole great power/ great responsibility thing and avoids the need to kill Uncle Ben on screen again to establish Peter’s motivation. (He’s not even mentioned directly – there is one reference to all the things Aunt May has been through, but that’s it.) But that said, the conflict between Peter’s sense of responsibility and the demands of the non-costumed life is central to the character, so I hope it comes out more than it did in future films. At this point, he’s in early years high school, so the stakes for his personal life don’t rise higher than an academic competition.

Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is a good villain. The Vulture, not quite as much. When Keaton is out of costume, he’s really good with solid motivation, but in a costume that hides his face in a blank mask, he doesn’t do as well. In this sense, he’s very much like Willem Dafoe in the first Spider-Man movie. So far, the only one who can get away with acting in a face-obscuring mask is Robert Downey Jr., and it’s no accident that they frequently cut to show him inside the helmet. (I think Downey was used just about the right amount, and there are some amusing Chris Evans cameos.)

If there was one thing that bugged me, it was the underuse of the female characters. Aunt May is barely present and Liz Allen, the mandatory love interest (or crush interest in this case) only barely passes the Sexy Lamp test. There’s teasing of possible things in the future with Zendaya’s Michelle, but other than firing off a couple of quick quips, we don’t learn anything about her in this film. It would be problematic in any film, but when you have talent like Marisa Tomei and Zendaya, it’s a borderline criminal failure.

This film may not work as well for people not steeped in Marvel lore and conversant with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unlike films like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies or Doctor Strange, this film requires some understanding of events and characters from earlier films. Not a huge amount, but there is an assumption that you understand what they are referring to when they talk about the Triskelion or Ultron.
Overall, a good film – a solid integration of one of the iconic Marvel characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not a transcendent film, not without flaws, but definitely a solid, entertaining and often funny piece of filmmaking. Welcome home, Webhead.

Guest Post by Sanjiv Sarwate

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