Comedian W.C. Fields famously stated he never wanted to work with children or animals. This was due to their scene-stealing abilities; Fields wanted the audience’s attention, and eyes, always on him. In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Fields’ admonition to Spider-Man would be to watch out for scene-stealing villains. This advice would be right on the money since veteran actor Michael Keaton as villainous Adrian Toomes/the Vulture captures the audience’s attention much more than Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
Keaton’s Toomes opens the film’s pre-credit action. The owner of a salvage business, Toomes and his workers are cleaning up the aftermath of a battle between space aliens and the Avengers (this is one of many times in “Homecoming” that the film’s multiple screenwriters assume their audience has been faithfully following the Marvel super hero saga, on-screen and off, and needs no backstory). The crew is stopped by the head of the Department of Damage Control (Tyne Daly) who tells them the clean-up contract belongs to Stark Enterprises. Feeling cheated, Toomes decides it’s time his team enters a new business, which turns out to be stealing weaponry and re-packaging it for criminal use.
Fast forward eight years and Peter Parker/Spider-Man is introduced making a goofy video of his most recent “internship” with the Avengers. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) rightly believes Parker has some growing up to do. So, while he gives Parker a new Spidey suit, Stark leaves its capabilities in “training wheel” mode, hoping to temper the young Parker’s enthusiasm and powers for the time being.
This doesn’t deter Spidey from pursuing criminals in his spare time. On one of his nightly web-swinging adventures, he comes across an ATM robbery. During the confrontation, Spider-Man experiences the capabilities of the weaponry being concocted in Toomes’ headquarters. But, when he tries to alert Stark, Spidey’s concerns are dismissed by Stark’s assistant, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau).
Inevitably, this will lead to future conflicts between Spidey and Toomes as the Vulture. With the help of his best friend Ned (an amusing Jacob Batalon), Parker will also discover hidden capabilities of the new Spidey suit and, ultimately, himself.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming’s” plot targets a pre-teen/ teenage demographic (note to parents- the PG-13 rating for language is accurate). Many of the scenes focus on Parker’s school experience. From his crush on high school senior Liz (Laura Harrier) to being bullied by Flash (Tony Revolori), Holland’s Parker comes across as unsure and bland. Maybe that’s why, even though he’s the strength of his Academic Decathlon team, Parker’s teammates never stop snobby Flash’s repeated taunts of “Penis Parker.” And, when he’s disguised as Spider-Man, Parker leaves a trail of unintended destruction in his wake, much like a puppy playing with a pair of shoes.
The blandness of “Homecoming’s” Spidey is mainly due to the script. As the third actor to play Spider-Man on film since 2002, Holland has been asked to take on a characterization which lacks the angst previously exhibited by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s portrayals. Only the slightest reference is made to how Parker obtained his super powers and that his Aunt May (now a much younger, “hot Italian woman” played by Marisa Tomei) has been through “a lot.” Without the conflicted moments that are part of Spider-Man’s makeup, Holland’s Parker simply appears an awkward, impulsive teen for most of “Homecoming.”
Fortunately, filling the dramatic void is Keaton as Toomes/the Vulture. Even though his character doesn’t receive nearly as much screentime as Parker/Spider-Man, Keaton takes advantage of every opportunity to present a menacing presence. Keaton successfully channels his character’s hypocritical self-pity to good advantage as Toomes drives a luxury car and lives in a modern McMansion yet calls himself working class.
As fans of Keaton’s work as Batman for director Tim Burton know, even when he plays a super hero Keaton adds a subtle edge. That extra unpredictability helped give a “darker” side to his Caped Crusader. As both the Vulture and Toomes, Keaton masters a dead-on stare that communicates determined anger. Definitely the audience and Spider-Man get the message this is someone to be taken seriously.
The special effects in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” are well-executed, especially Spidey’s ceiling crawling capabilities and his creative use of webs. Unfortunately, in some of the fight scenes, the editing is so quick that the action becomes a blur. While Spidey’s new tech suit looks great, it’s Costume Designer Louise Frogley’s jacket with the ragged collar for Toomes’ that really makes his character look like a vulture. The tie-ins with the Avengers series extend from Stark’s attempts to guide Spidey, to PSAs provided by Chris Evans’ Captain America (there’s one for the audience after the film’s end credits but it left some viewers feeling pranked). And fans of Spider-Man creator Stan Lee will have no problem spotting his cameo.
The final scenes of “Homecoming” seem to indicate a maturing of Holland’s Parker/Spider-Man. The webslinging super hero’s fans can hope the inevitable sequel will follow through on that potential and also continue Keaton’s role in Spidey’s progression.