PG-13. It's the Marvel Cinematic Universe, folks. The MPAA doesn't even need to watch these. It's going to be PG-13 until the end of time. The only reason I can think is that the Vulture is a little scary. The more I think about it, this might be the most PG superhero movie ever. Can someone remember a reason why it earned the PG-13?
DIRECTOR: Jon Watts
I know I'm going to go spoilery on this one. We're going to be doing a podcast on Spider-Man: Homecoming and probably the Spider-Man franchise as a whole, but I do like getting my thoughts into writing first regardless. In general, I try to avoid spoilers, but there's a lot I want to unpack here, so consider the opening paragraph to be one giant SPOILER WARNING.
I know a lot about Spider-Man. I think I might know too much about Spider-Man. I love Spider-Man. I have every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man to present and I keep reading comics. I watch the movies. I absorb the entertainment news. I think it might be the fandom that gets me the most response because everyone nowadays has a fundamental understanding of the character thanks to Sam Raimi's 2002 film. When I saw Tom Holland in Captain America: Civil War, I was blown away. I'm a defender of both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. I feel like Andrew Garfield gets a bad rap, but I thought he added a ton to the character. Tobey Maguire got Peter Parker perfect, but the Spider-Man stuff I could take or leave. Andrew Garfield really nailed the in-costume Spider-Man, but Peter Parker came across as a little too cool for my liking. Tom Holland gets the balance and, despite the fact that I too what reticent about what Marvel execs were saying, that is because Spider-Man needs to find is identity in high school. Andrew Garfield kept both of his films in high school, kind of. But he always felt like an adult pretending to be a kid. Tobey Maguire graduates high school in the first half of the first film. Tom Holland is 20, I think. But the kid looks and acts like he's a fourteen-year-old. Seeing a kid react to superpowers at that age is something great. This might make Spider-Man: Homecoming as unique. Every superhero movie that keeps the kid young is aimed at a really young audience with potty humor. Think 3 Ninjas Kick Back. Not the first one. Calling out the sequel is a better joke. If the audience is adult, the movie deals with adult themes with a very thin veil of high school. Tom Holland's Spider-Man feels like he is in a high school with high school problems. It works so well.
This isn't to give all of the credit to the setting alone. Holland himself is perfectly charming in the role. He gives an innocence to the character that I really haven't seen on screen before. He gets humor and timing, and that's part of what makes the movie work. The movie is founded on Holland's performance as both Peter and Spider-Man. He isn't the Spider-Man of canon that we all know and love. He's a kid who sucks at his job of being a superhero and that is interesting. We see a bit of that in the first Iron Man movie with the creation of the Mark II, but that is one moment in time and there is such a quick learning curve for Tony Stark. Maybe that's why the decision was made to put Tony as Peter's mentor. Yeah, there's the comic book Civil War stuff, but I don't really get the same vibe as that Tony. Besides, that Tony / Peter relationship was between two veteran superheroes. This was a very different relationship. Perhaps the metaphor stemmed from the fact that Homecoming is a unique movie in itself, a new outing. Having the partnership with Sony feels like a brand new opportunity for the MCU and having the initial Avenger who started the whole MCU seems appropriate. Regardless, Spider-Man in this movie isn't about stopping the world from ending or the death of his whole family. It is a very small story about a kid finally running into a real crime worth the attention of his abilities and how hard it is to take control of even a small situation. The thing that the movie gets right about Holland's Spider-Man is that his choices don't necessarily affect him as much as they affect the world around him. He is constantly disappointing those around him and that's kind of what Spider-Man is about. It is about doing the right thing and not getting praise for it. It is knowing that the greater good really is about sacrifice. It isn't about ticker tape parades and a key to the city. It is only being noticed by a select few while those around you tolerate you for your moral uprightness. That really works with the smaller scaled Spider-Man. The Netflix MCU kind of deals with the same thing, only this is far more light-hearted. When Joss Whedon (I need to stop name dropping him) said that the only way for the MCU to grow was to introduce smaller stories, I think this is the movie that he wanted to make. It is the biggest name in comic books right now and it is the smallest story outside of Ant-Man (pun intended). Actually, the more I think about it, this movie very similar in plot to Ant-Man. This movie probably handles it better.
The double-edged sword comes from the fact that the mythology of Spider-Man has hardly been touched. Out of any character, Spider-Man probably has the most exciting collection of citable stories. He has major character development moments and the other films have covered them. So the good news, this movie is brand new! Spider-Man can be whoever the MCU wants him to be because this movie was not beholden to some of the greatest stories that Marvel has ever written. However, it also sometimes didn't feel like Spider-Man either. The character was still there, but those moments in Spider-Man history have given him a ton of baggage to deal with as well. The Harry Osborn story brings character development. Gwen Stacy brings character development. Spider-Man vs. the Vulture? Perhaps that moment wasn't the most important in terms of character development. But the other movies did those stories already and they always felt a bit rushed. Spidey's world was always the worst because he went from one major outing to another and kept on pogo sticking between the different stories. There probably was a bit of mythology fatigue, so a small story kind of works. After all, the comics didn't start in the middle of Kraven's Last Hunt. Green Goblin was kind of a throwaway character while he was fighting for the Hulk. If the MCU is aiming for that attitude, boy-oh-boy, that is ambitious. But probably the one adjective I could give to the MCU is "ambitious", so that's not necessarily a bad thing. And that's not to say that there weren't elements of the mythology shoehorned in there. SPOILER: Liz Allen's story really was just Harry's story if you think about it. I admit, I always get really excited for a Norman Osborn tease in these films, but I guess that goodwill has been spent. After all, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasted that collateral with a dying Chris Cooper.
The weakest part of the story is late in the first act and early in the second act. I remember my wife getting remarkably bored at one point in the movie. I tend to get less bored with movies, but I admit that the pacing was a bit more rough than I cared to admit. The movie really established how much of a small fry Peter was in the grand scheme of things and that does get a bit tiresome. Watching a dude fail over and over again gets a bit blah, but once the main plot actually picked up, the story really works. I also have a problem with the Iron Spidey suit that Peter ends up with. I don't like the idea of Peter being dependent on other for his technology. Everyone always thinks it is weird that Peter Parker, a high school teenager, was able to create such a cool looking suit. I always chalked that up to suspension of disbelief. But I believe the creation of the costume and the inventions was part of Peter accepting his mantle as superhero. Having Tony Stark do all of the heavy lifting makes Spider-Man kind of feel like Iron Man, Jr. Having Peter wear an Iron Man suit is hilarious and really works for a first movie. Having Peter shed the influence of Tony Stark and become his own person is what I'm really looking for in terms of character development. Maybe it is the fact that the suit interaction is so good, that the filmmakers decided to go forward with it. For all we know, Homecoming 2 will start with the destruction of the suit and Peter having to recreate it. The final thing that I have mixed feelings about it Ned / Ganke. I love Ganke. I love the actor who plays Ned. The actual execution of this character is as good as it can get. I just don't know why he's being used in this movie. Is Harry too cool to tell jokes? I know that Ganke's creator, Brian Michael Bendis (a moment of respect, please) was confused to see that Ganke had been usurped into Ned and I wonder the same thing. Part of what makes Miles work is his relationship with Ganke. That has now been given to Peter Parker and I don't know where it can go from there. Is there going to be a meeting of Ganke and Ned? Regardless, I recommend reading what Bendis did in his book. It's pretty hilarious.
The final comment about Spider-Man: Homecoming is that the world seems a bit small. EVERYONE seemed like he or she had a tie to a comic issue or something. The sheer amount of super villain introductions in this one was borderline silly. Maybe it is just establishing that these actors will get their due. After all, Spider-Man has quite the rogues gallery, but there was a bit too much coincidence for my liking. I know Stan Lee was a fan of characters meeting each other in New York, but I could have made a checklist for how many references there were in this movie. Please, for your health and safety, do not make a drinking game based on Spider-Man comic book shout outs. You will die. Regardless, the movie is fun and I'm stoked to see it again sometime.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.