Like most teens, Peter Parker wants to be one of the cool kids. Only for him, the “kids” he wants to be like include a sentient android; a vaguely Nordic, hammer-holding alien; and a genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist.
Yeah, the rich kids’ new Beemers can’t quite compare to a quinjet. Even the priciest designer jeans fall somewhere short of a suit made of nitinol. The high school football team just skunked its archrival, you say? Well, that’s great. Just great. Really. But have you beaten back a horde of intergalactic invaders recently?
Yeah, that’s right: Peter hangs with the Avengers now and then. OK, once. Why, Tony Stark—Mr. Iron Man himself—made Peter his very own high-tech Spider-Man suit. Makes regular ol’ high school feel a little blah, y’know?
But Tony hasn’t been in touch lately. And Happy—Mr. Stark’s ironically named assistant—doesn’t return Peter’s messages. Still, that doesn’t keep the teen from leaving another one. Just in case.
“Just call me,” he says. “It’s Peter.”
“Parker,” he adds.
Sure, maybe Peter’s superhero alter ego, Spider-Man, isn’t as bulky and intimidating as the Hulk, or as powerful as Vision, or, I dunno, as Valhall-rific as Thor. But Peter thinks he still has skills to offer the A team. He’s got those web shooters, after all. Not to mention his super strength and his ability to climb up walls and … those web shooters. Those would be super helpful against the next alien attack, wouldn’t they? He may only be 15, but Peter’s convinced he’s already way more useful than, say, Hawkeye.
But in the meantime, Peter keeps himself busy: If he can’t be a superhero to the world, he can at least be one to the neighborhood. After school, Peter slaps on his outfit and apprehends petty thieves, plucks cats from trees and gives the occasional old lady directions.
But one night when making the rounds, Peter sees something strange down by the local ATM. Some run-of-the-mill crooks are stealing cash using some not-so-run-of-the-mill tools and weapons. Spidey foils their nefarious scheme, but he wonders where their the weaponry came from. Clearly, the would-be robbers got these glowing, high-tech doodads from somewhere—and that somewhere could spell much bigger problems.
But Happy’s dismissive. Iron Man isn’t answering.
Guess it looks like a job for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: Homecoming marks the third reboot of the Spider-Man franchise in the last 15 years. This film begins after the typical origin story is over, though: after that famous radioactive spider bite; after Uncle Ben dies; and, thus, after Ben gives Peter one of superherodom’s most inspiring nuggets of proverbial wisdom: With great power comes great responsibility.
We never hear that pithy slogan. But Peter still feels a tremendous responsibility to be a hero.
Spidey’s all about saving lives in this movie, not ending them. He rescues high schoolers from certain death and works like the dickens to keep a loaded ferryboat afloat. He even saves a bad guy or two, risking his own life to do so.
But Homecoming isn’t just about Spider-Man playing the hero: It’s about him becoming one, too.
This superhero story concentrates as much on Peter’s high school life as it does on his heroics—and how some of the decisions he makes are the wrong ones. He quits extracurricular activities just to be available for a call from Tony Stark. He bails on his friends. He skips class and even walks out of detention. And in his zeal to help people he sometimes harms them instead. Tony, playing a father figure to Peter, shows him some tough love and takes away his suit. When Peter protests that he’s “nothing” without it, Tony says, “If you’re nothing without the suit, you shouldn’t have it.” It’s a harsh moment, but it forces Peter to come to grips with what being a hero really means.
We see plenty of positivity elsewhere, too. Peter’s best friend, Ned, puts himself at risk for his pal. Peter’s high school crush, Liz, is remarkably kind and understanding when he flakes out on her. Even the movie’s primary antagonist, Adrian Toomes, is not without merit. Yes, he’s a criminal. But he loves his family dearly. “I’m not doing anything to [them],” he rationalizes to Peter. “I’m doing this for [them].”
None, unless you see Spidey’s sacrificial, stretched-out pose while trying to rescue a sinking ferry as a visual symbol for Jesus on the cross.
Peter has a serious crush on Liz, and she seems to return his affections. When they go to a homecoming dance together, Liz’s father tells Peter to have a good time—but not too good a time. We see Liz and other high schoolers in bathing suits. She and her friends play a conversational game of “F, Marry, Kill” (with the “F” standing for an obvious profanity used in a sexual context), regarding which superhero they’d like to do each of those things to or with.
When Ned gets caught by a teacher in the computer lab (where he’s secretly helping Peter), Ned lies and tells the teacher that he’s looking at porn. One of Peter’s classmates mocks him by calling him “penis Parker” instead. (At a party, several revelers chant that modified moniker as well.) Tony makes a rather suggestive comment about Peter’s Aunt May, and a delicatessen owner refers to her as a “very hot Italian woman.” Aunt May can dress rather alluringly at times.
A couple kisses.
I think only one person dies in Homecoming, and that apparently by accident: Toomes points a futuristic weapon and vaporizes one of his henchmen, and the villain seems quite surprised that the weapon wasn’t the antigravity gun he was anticipating. But Toomes repeatedly says he’d like to kill Spider-Man, and he does his upmost to make that happen.
As mentioned, Peter doesn’t want to terminate anybody, even repeatedly telling his interactive, Stark-built suit to turn off its “kill” mode. But Peter does use his webs to thwack people with various hard implements he fashions, and he occasionally resorts to fisticuffs, too.
Peter momentarily stifles a gun with a great deal of webbing (unsuccessfully); holds on for dear life to the back of a car with another person (his body skids into various barriers and brick-encrusted mailboxes); and falls from a pretty big height when his web doesn’t stick as intended. (But he’s a superhero, so he can take it.)
There’s also a huge fight on an airplane—literally on the top, bottom and side of the plane—that looks like it’d be pretty painful. Peter’s knocked unconscious in the back of a truck. He’s beaten badly by a nemesis, and we see that a bit of blood trickles from his bruised face. A teacher, whose students experienced a brush with death, tells a television interview that he “couldn’t stand to lose a student. Again.”
Someone utters an incomplete f-word, and we hear a couple of other stand-ins for it (“frigging,” “freaking”) as well. At least three s-words are used, along with “a–,” “b–tard,” “d–n” “h—” and “crap.” God’s name is misused a dozen or so times. We see one crude hand gesture. We hear the crude phrase, “You screwed the pooch hard,” and some joking banter about it.
A teen party features some red Solo cups; it’s unclear whether there’s alcohol in them.
Peter’s valorous pastime naturally involves a lot of sneaking around. He lies to friends and even to his Aunt May. (He tells Ned that if Aunt May knew what he did after hours, she’d surely put a stop to it.)
Oh, Spidey. Tony Stark was right: Your enthusiasm is admirable, but sometimes you could be a little more … prudent.
Spider-Man: Homecoming displays its immaturity mainly in its sometimes salty language. Sure, it’s nothing more than most middle- and high schoolers hear during passing period, (or than we hear in many other superhero movies these days, for that matter). Still, the use of s-words, near-f-words and the crude twisting of Peter’s first name feels jarringly out of place in this otherwise fun, fresh-faced flick.
Forget the grit and angst of Spider-Man’s last incarnation (The Amazing Spider-Man series starring Andrew Garfield). This new Spidey, anchored by a very young-looking 21-year-old Tom Holland, is as much a teen comedy as it is a superhero actioner, its webbing stuffed with young love, geeky best friends, school competitions and intimidating dads. The whole thing even kinda-sorta culminates with a high school dance. See? Just like ’80s coming-of-age movie Pretty in Pink, only with better messages.
Well, and more action, too, though it’s a bit less violent than your typical superhero flick. Yes, Homecoming still boasts plenty of slinging webs and flying bodies. But few folks are seriously injured in the midst of the mayhem. The story concentrates as much on Peter’s inward growth as it does his derring-do. We ultimately see that a suit’s just a suit, no matter how high tech it is. What really matters is the person inside.
It’s a pretty enjoyable movie overall. At times Homecoming veritably dances. And that makes those moments when it steps on your foot all the more disappointing.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.