Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie. It’s lots of fun, has some excellent performances, and solidly establishes young Peter Parker’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (timeline plotholes aside). The execs at Sony can breathe a sigh of relief that they finally have their first unqualified blockbuster hit in a long time and must be thanking Kevin Feige and Jon Watts for saving their asses after their complete failure at building a “Spider-Verse” independent from Marvel. But is Homecoming the best Spider-Man movie? Not even close.
Thirteen years, one disappointing sequel, and two reboots of varying quality later, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 now feels like a relic of a different era, but it still stands up as one of the best superhero movies and summer blockbusters of all time. In an era before “shared universes” became Hollywood’s biggest buzzword, the success of Raimi’s Spider-Man films paved the way for the superhero domination at the multiplex we experience today, and Spider-Man 2 was the rare sequel to exceed its already solid predecessor in every way imaginable. It would be awfully difficult for any new Spider-Man movie to top Spider-Man 2‘s achievements. Homecoming made a solid effort, but here are 15 reasons why Spider-Man 2 is still the superior Spider-Man film.
BIG SPOILERS for Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
15. MORE COMPELLING CLIFFHANGERS
This is a double-edged sword because Spider-Man 3 was not the satisfying continuation people were hoping for. But think back to 2007 when you just HAD to see Spider-Man 3. Why was that? Partially because Spider-Man 2 was so damn great, but also because it ended on a note where you NEEDED to see what was next. Mary Jane leaving her fiancee for Peter, Harry Osborn swearing revenge and finding the Green Goblin mask, everything left audiences on a high.
Marvel actually mastered the cliffhanger anticipation build in the form of its post-credit scenes, but Homecoming dropped the ball in terms of strong leaves. All the post-credits scenes have is a minor villain tease and an admittedly funny joke at the expense of people expecting something more exciting. The best tease pre-credits — Aunt May finding out Peter is Spider-Man — is better, but played in a way that feels oddly low-stakes.
14. MORE CLASSIC WEB-SLINGING
Speaking of swinging around, there’s surprisingly little of that in Homecoming. The little web-slinging there is goes by quickly and casually in scenes that, while likeable, feel small. The emphasis of how Watts directs these scenes is to get across how relatively small Spider-Man’s world is compared to the scale of the Avengers. That’s understandable given the plot of Homecoming, but even working on a small scale, Spider-Man’s powers have the potential to feel big and exciting in a way Homecoming doesn’t set out to demonstrate.
Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, is a film in love with Spider-Man’s web-slinging abilities. The Spydercam system allowed the filmmakers to shoot from any angle and capture their hero’s perspective. Forget the whole organic vs. manmade webs argument, when it looks and feels this good swinging between skyscrapers, it doesn’t matter how the webs are made.
13. NO SUIT GIMMICKS
Having a normal, effective but not overpowered spider suit that Peter designed himself wouldn’t normally be one of the main things you’d talk about when praising the Raimi movies, but it has to be commended when comparing the films with Homecoming.
The frustrating part of the Tony Stark-designed, AI-enhanced, absurdly powerful spider suit in Homecoming isn’t its presence. For a while it seems like it could be the perfect accompaniment to Peter’s arc in the film: over-eager to be an Avenger and overextending new powers he can barely handle, messing up and having the suit taken from him, then saving the day in his own suit. The problem is the ending, where Tony sends the suit back to Peter. This should be a Spider-Man movie, not Iron Man-lite!
12. MORE INNOVATIVE SPECIAL EFFECTS
The effects in Spider-Man 2 do show their age, and Homecoming‘s as polished as you’d expect for a blockbuster in 2017. But polished as they are, Homecoming‘s effects just aren’t that special. There’s nothing that hasn’t seen before, nothing jaw-dropping or wildly better than previous films.
Spider-Man 2, in contrast, was a big leap forward. The CGI action scenes had more weight than the previous movie, and even if the CGI Spider-Man double wasn’t 100% realistic, the animation still looked cool. Most impressively of all, Doc Ock’s tentacles, a complex combination of CGI and stunningly realistic practical effects, were designed expressively, each tentacle with its own personality, and still look amazing to this day. Spider-Man 2 won the Best Visual Effects Oscar for 2004 (and deservedly so). Homecoming definitely won’t win for 2017 and might not even be nominated.
11. DOC OCK’S STILL THE BEST VILLAIN (THOUGH IT’S CLOSE)
Michael Keaton as The Vulture is the best thing about Homecoming. He’s a bad guy with a believable down-to-Earth motivation that serves as a parallel to the hero in significant thematic ways, and Keaton completely sells every moment of menace. Between Vulture and Ego in Guardians 2, it seems 2017 is the year Marvel Studios finally figured out how to write interesting movie villains who aren’t Loki.
But great as Keaton’s Vulture is, Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock is still the gold standard for comic book movie villains. While the previous Spider-Man did a similar Jeckyll-and-Hyde angle with the Green Goblin, the combination of the great tentacle effects and the real pathos Molina brings to the role pushes it to the next level. He’s a villain who poses a serious threat but is still someone you desperately want to see redeemed for his own sake. When his redemption does come, it’s tragically beautiful.
10. AUNT MAY’S CLOSER TO THE COMICS
Marissa Tomei is fine as Aunt May in Homecoming. No adaptation is going to be an exact replica of the source material and it’s not unthinkable for there to be a younger version of Aunt May in a movie. What’s more annoying is just how much the film draws attention to it. Almost every scene she’s in, in Homecoming as well as her Civil War cameo, feels the need to emphasize that she’s relatively young and hot and ooh, isn’t that different from what you expect with Aunt May?
Rosemary Harris in the Raimi films not only looks the part more but she’s the films’ heart and soul. She’s both wiser as Peter’s maternal figure and more vulnerable as someone Peter needs to care for and protect. Tomei’s just another background player in a packed cast, where Harris in Spider-Man 2 gets to eloquently capture the meaning of heroism.
9. NONE OF PETER’S NEW CLASSMATES = HARRY OSBORN
Peter’s classmates in Homecoming are likeable and entertaining. Jacob Batalon’s funny as Peter’s best friend Ned, and Zendaya completely steals every scene she’s in as MJ, though she has disappointingly little screen time. If either of them gets appropriate development in future films, they could lay claim to being the best supporting characters in a Spider-Man movie. But Homecoming is just too packed with supporting characters to give anyone the same level of depth that the Raimi films gave Harry Osborn.
Now he might be weird and annoying and vaguely creepy, but at the time James Franco was a revelation as the series’ most conflicted character, the best friend of Peter Parker yet the sworn enemy of Spider-Man. Multiple characters learned of Spider-Man’s secret identity in Spider-Man 2, but none of these revelations was as intense as it was when Harry discovered the truth and moved down the path of evil.
8. A STRONGER MUSICAL SCORE
One of Marvel Studios’ relative weaknesses is their scores. Outside of a few notes of the Avengers theme and that one Alan Menken song in Captain America: The First Avenger, can anyone remember ANY original music from any of the MCU films? The few memorable musical bits in the MCU have been set to pre-existing songs (classic rock in Iron Man, ’70s and ’80s hits in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies) rather than original compositions. Homecoming continues the trend: good pop songs, forgettable score.
To be fair, Spider-Man 2’s score isn’t wholly “original.” Danny Elfman actually had a falling out with Raimi over Raimi’s demands to copy part of the Hellraiser 2 score, prompting Raimi to actually get Hellraiser 2 composer Christopher Young to complete the rest of the score. Still, Elfman’s compositions are bold, epic, and memorable, capturing the feeling of swinging through the sky.
7. THE ROMANCE IS MORE COMPELLING
The romance between Peter and MJ was key to making the first two Spider-Man films work. The first movie’s most iconic scene is the upside-down kiss, and Peter’s rejection of a potential relationship made for one of the sadder endings in a summer blockbuster. The second film dealt with the consequences of Peter’s choices, how he chooses to balance his responsibilities as Spider-Man with feelings that haven’t gone away, while giving MJ a fuller personal life and some big choices of her own, leading up to an incredibly romantic ending scene.
Zendaya’s MJ might actually be better than Kristen Dunst’s, but she’s not the love interest in Homecoming. Instead, Peter’s love interest is the relatively nondescript Liz (played by Laura Harrier). For a high school movie, the romantic subplot is serviceable, but it won’t have anyone swooning.
6. RAIMI HAS MORE TONAL RANGE AS A DIRECTOR
This isn’t meant as a knock as Jon Watts. He’s clearly a promising talent. But there’s a difference between an experienced cult favorite like Sam Raimi having auteur-level control over a film and a relatively inexperienced director forced to conform to the Marvel assembly line.
While some critics exaggerate just how homogenous the MCU is, and Homecoming has a distinct enough identity as a more youthful film than the rest of the MCU, it’s clear that they only allow for a limited amount of risk. Where Homecoming picks a tone and sticks to it, not allowing for too much emotional range, Spider-Man 2 was able to pull off scenes as grotesquely horrifying as the hospital massacre, as somber as Peter throwing the suit away, and as gleefully campy as the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” montage all in the same movie.
5. PETER’S MORE BELIEVABLY DORKY
In Homecoming, Peter’s supposed to be uncool, but telling isn’t the same as showing. He’s shown to be a geek, but he’s a hip geek with a solid social circle. Flash Thompson’s still a bully but Tony Revolori’s version of Flash isn’t a jock but a fellow nerd, only bothering Peter because he’s jealous of an internship and because he likes the phrase “Penis Parker” a bit too much. Tobey Maguire’s Peter, in contrast, is a full-fledged dork. Viewers who complain that he’s annoying miss the point: he’s supposed to be!
Peter being at the bottom of the social food chain has long been central to his character. Homecoming‘s changes in characterization can be defended as a sign of the times; geeks are cool now, ironically in part due to films like the early Spider-Mans. But if Peter’s not suffering for being a nerd, he needs to suffer over something…
4. SHOWS MORE OF THE HARDSHIP IN PETER’S LIFE
One key aspect of Spider-Man which the Raimi movies nail that Homecoming doesn’t is that things almost NEVER go well for Peter Parker, and they don’t tend to go so hot for Spider-Man either. In Spider-Man 2 he loses a job, he can’t pay rent, he loses his powers out of emotional angst, everything in his life is a struggle because the responsibilities of both superheroism and everyday working class life are both heavy to bear.
While Homecoming does have some “Do super-thing or do normal teen thing?” conflicts, they’re lighter, and it feels like Peter’s life isn’t suffering for it. More of the conflict in the movie is based around the question of “Do low-key super-thing or do big Avengers super-thing?” which just isn’t as relatable.
3. NOTHING BEATS THE TRAIN SCENE
Homecoming‘s action scenes are fun but generally forgettable, turning towards the generic in the third act as too many superhero movies tend to. It’s notable the film’s biggest action scene, where Spider-Man struggles to hold the Staten Island Ferry together with his webs, owes A LOT to the climactic train scene in Spider-Man 2. Aside from the team battles in Avengers and Civil War, the train scene in Spider-Man 2 is probably the finest superhero action scene ever.
A high-speed battle with Doc Ock makes way for an intense rescue, all of which stretches Spider-Man to his physical limit. The action is as intense as possible, but what really sells the scene as an all-time great is the sheer gratitude and common decency shown to Spider-Man by the passengers he rescued. Christ symbolism in superhero movies can get obnoxious, but here it feels just right.
2. IT HAS J. JONAH JAMESON
Has there ever been a piece of casting as perfect as J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson? The makers of Homecoming must have known they couldn’t possibly top it, so they didn’t even try. Still, even if the JJJ of the comics has already been perfectly represented onscreen, the character’s absence is felt. Without his anti-Spider-Man rants going around, it just adds to the feeling that Holland’s Spider-Man has things too easy.
Surely there were ways Homecoming could have pulled it off. There were rumors going around that Donald Glover was going to play Jonah reimagined as the head of a Gawker-esque website; that could have been fun. There are multiple TV news broadcasts in Homecoming but they’re all celebratory of Spidey; couldn’t there have been a Jonah-esque talking head on a panel or something? Hell, just bring Simmons back; if the Bond films can bring Judi Dench back despite changing Bond actors, why not?
1. THE STORY HAS MORE EMOTIONAL RESONANCE
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when they found out the third Spider-Man reboot in less than two decades was mercifully not another origin story. Everyone knows Spider-Man’s origin and it doesn’t need to be shown yet again. But not showing Uncle Ben’s death again doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be felt. The lessons of great power and great responsibility that Peter Parker learned on that dark night are the major reason that Spider-Man has such a lasting emotional resonance.
As entertaining, clever, and overall likeable as Spider-Man: Homecoming is, the way it misses on touching upon this emotional core is a failure on its part. Where in Spider-Man 2 Peter’s guilt about Uncle Ben hangs over all his actions, there’s little sense in Homecoming that Peter even has this guilt. Combine this with the previously listed problems, and Homecoming just feels minor compared to Raimi’s masterpiece.
What do you think? Is Spider-Man 2 still the best Spidey movie ever, or has Homecoming usurped the throne? Let us know in the comments!
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