Aliya Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sorry, didn’t really like this! When Jake Gyllenhaal stood on a bar and gave the world’s laziest exposition dump, I felt myself check out of this film.
Now there’s fun to be had here. I think the plot is far too obvious, but it’s a twisty good time. For whatever reason, this is the performance that has me singing Tom Holland’s praises— I don’t claim it’s his best performance (arguably even of this year), but it struck me as his best iteration of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Gyllenhaal is out of place in a Marvel film but fun nonetheless. I don’t really enjoy this MJ (she’s fine) but Zendaya is good here. Some of the effects are pretty dodgy but nothing had me openly rolling my eyes, in fact one sequence was pretty awesome. The film isn’t bad.
But it’s just so nothing. So blah. First of all, why is the MCU averse to putting Spider-Man in New York? It takes so much away from him, the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” he sees himself as, to keep him away from his neighborhood. We miss a lot from him as a character, but I personally just love seeing New York movies and Spider-Man is a golden chance to do that right. (Next step: get him in Queens instead of Manhattan.)
The film constantly feels so weightless. It feels like there are no consequences. Things are dealt with in a joke that should hold more weight. Even, again, moving the action to any number of foreign countries doesn’t up the stakes, it makes things feel less permanent. This high school is an absolute joke: first of all called “Midtown High” in Queens, second taking these elaborate and ever-changing European trips, and third having no purpose or responsibility for the children. It was so distracting to me and only furthered the feeling of no stakes I got from this film.
Now I get it. This film is fun. It’s not super serious. But it is when it wants to be. It wants us to feel the stakes of Peter’s crush, of his being alone and missing Tony, of all that. But it’s hard to feel in sync with a film that is so all over the place about what counts. It’s frustrating when big things happen and are ignored (the implication of EDITH technology) or passed off and used light-heartedly (Aunt May at the end of Homecoming discovering that her nephew is almost constantly at risk of dying). When big things happen (REDACTED from the after-credits), I genuinely don’t know how to take it. It feels cheap either way.
Stakes have always been Marvel’s problem. But Spider-Man, it seems, has become their way of passing off a lack of stakes as part of being a kid or something. This film felt like nothing to me: like nothing was at stake, like nothing was advanced, like a fun time for the minutes you could turn off your brain entirely and unnecessarily confusing if you thought about it at all. I’m excited to be on the Holland train now, just waiting for him to have a better film behind him.