Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) is not a coming of age story, despite what its promotional materials say, which is why Richard Brody can have a field day trashing the contradictions and superficialities of the film; rather, it’s a return to the classic superhero secret identity plot, in which keeping the identity secret is the major conflict. Ever since Tony “save-the-world-with-technology-and-has-never-read-Heidegger” Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) outed himself at the end of Iron Man (2008), the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been lacking this most traditional of superhero narrative elements. Well, now it’s got it. And because Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is a kid, the film gets to incorporate that most annoying of kid movie tropes, the Cassandra who’s right about everything but listened to by nobody. Thus, because it’s a return to generic form, skin-deep characterization is not a letdown but just baked into the pudding.
That being said, the real letdown is the shittily structured CGI scenes. Maybe I’m just getting old here, but I could barely follow the action set-pieces, having to depend on my gestalt understanding of the situation to reconstruct the series of events. For example, in the final showdown on the plane, there were so many sparks and lunging figures that I really couldn’t tell what was going on—and I was watching in a blacked-out room, too. Great action is structured so that no matter how messy the visuals are or how shaky the camera is, the viewer can always tell what’s going on. This is usually accomplished by using subtle tricks, like repeating a few frames from cut to cut to let our eyes adjust to the shift in angle (Jackie Chan), or having the camera follow a single moving object or body part for every shot in a series of quick cuts (Paul Greengrass). Here, though, the editing and camerawork just can’t keep up with the action, and we all suffer for it.
If the film does have a lesson, it’s not a coming of age story, but a reassertion of the reality principle. Like at the end of The Dark Knight (another 2008 film), the protagonist learns to accept the limitations of his superpowers and obeys the law of the father, here embodied in Stark, but even more so in Jon Favreau (who plays Happy), director of Iron Man, the film that first kicked the MCU into the stratosphere.