It’s been fifty-five years since Spider-Man made his comics debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 and it’s been fifteen years since his cinematic debut; of the latter we’ve had franchises under the helms of Sam Raimi and Marc Webb that applied their sensibilities to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation, resulting in both highs and lows. After making an appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Captain America: Civil War, much to the delight of fans, the big question regarding his solo outing is how this young kid from Queens can prove to himself as a hero compared to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?
Following the Avengers’ internal dispute, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) resumes his studies after his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tells him he is not ready to become an Avenger. As he puts more focus onto “the Stark internship” — a cover for his crimefighting activities as Spider-Man — and pulls double duty with his life in high school, Peter confronts the arms dealer Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who having salvaged tech from numerous Avengers battles, is the Vulture.
Given that this is the third filmic incarnation of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler since 2002, we all should know the iconic origin story by now and the first stroke of genius Homecoming delivers is to skip all that and jump right into where we left Peter off after the events of Civil War. As it stands, we only get a throwaway line about Peter being bitten by a spider and there’s not one mention of Uncle Ben.
However, despite the high-tech spider-suit developed by Stark, Peter is still learning to be Spider-Man, who is introduced as your friendly neighborhood do-gooder — only the streets aren’t that crime-ridden and we get more along the lines of Spidey saving cats out of trees. Throughout the film, Peter is making mistakes, risking the lives of others and we see how this kid learns the meaning of “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Give credit to Tom Holland, who is not only the youngest actor to play the eponymous role, but the best on-screen Spidey to date; he is charming but cocky and even when he’s under the mask, we still hear the youngish voice hilariously trying to put the “Man” in Spider-Man.
With a greater focus on high school than any of the previous movies (look no further than the movie’s title), Spider-Man: Homecoming plays out like a modern spin to the John Hughes films under the guise of a superhero movie. Stepping up his game after his 2015 low-key thriller Cop Car, director Jon Watts once again pulls great performances from a youthful cast; from the two spicy female leads Zendaya and Laura Harrier as Michelle and Liz to The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s Tony Revolori as verbal bully Flash Thompson. However, the standout is Jacob Batalon who delivers big laughs as Peter’s over-excited best friend Ned, who drops a Lego Death Star after the big reveal that his best friend Peter is Spider-Man.
Compared to the cosmic adventures of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the upcoming Thor: Ragnorak, Homecoming is a much smaller movie in scope, and yet Jon Watts still manages to deliver a spectacle; from Spider-Man looking futile going head-to-head against the extravagant Vulture to him webslinging through New York City. However, the re-emphasis in Homecoming is Spidey as a working class man and those motives are mirrored in Keaton’s Vulture — whose motives are based on a big score as opposed to world destruction/domination. Keaton delivers a performance that is menacing, but suitably subtle, which is a step-up from the typically mediocre villainy we’ve seen from this universe.
Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t rely too heavily on referencing other MCU installments, although some of the links rise and some don’t: most notably Robert Downey Jr., who seems to be phoning it in after the intense drama of Civil War and another former Avenger who makes some of his funniest appearances to date. There are certain liberties from the source materials that will upset hardcore fans, as well as a recurring problem from previous Spidey flicks, which is a forced personal connection between hero and villain.
Following through on his promising, scene-stealing appearance in Civil War, Tom Holland as the best on screen Spider-Man ever in his first standalone outing pays off greatly as director Jon Watts balances high school dramedy and superhero spectacle, with a central character focus that holds it all together.