With 5 movies released in the last 15 years, the Spider-Man franchise has had entries ranging from wonderful to unwatchable. This left the newest installment, Spider-Man: Homecoming with a lot of baggage, both good and bad, to overcome. Thankfully it manages to skirt most of the land mines with great casting, a well-developed story and a little help from the MCU’s existing world.
Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to have a coherent story that still fits within the parameters of a superhero movie and the demands of the MCU. The film opens with a salvage crew cleaning up the debris after the Chitauri invasion in The Avengers. When the Department of Damage Control takes over the site, forcing the team out of a job, the head of the crew Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) decides to use their small supply of alien technology to find a new way to make money. At this point Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) story takes over and we pick up on his life just after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gives him the super suit along with a warning not to get into trouble and sends him off with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his contact.
This film spends a lot of time with Peter in high school and with his friends, the most prominent of them being Ned (Jacob Batalon), his best friend and a source of comic relief. While these scenes could have been boring, they are a great part of the film. It shows the viewers that Peter is a well-adjusted, smart character using his everyday life experiences. It isn’t until about 15-20 minutes into the film that we get to see Peter as Spider-Man and it is well worth the wait. The CGI is gorgeous, and the first few scenes of him swinging through New York, fighting bad guys, and quipping like a pro are everything they should have been.
The movie wastes no time establishing that Peter loves being Spider-Man and that he is just as concerned with helping everyday people as he is with the state of the world in general. But despite how much Peter enjoys being the helpful Spider-Man, he is desperate to prove himself to Tony Stark and take his place as an Avenger. When Peter stumbles upon Adrian Toomes’s alien technology weapon operation, he sees his opportunity to make a difference and earn Tony’s approval. As he starts looking for answers, his regular life begins to suffer and Peter realizes that something will have to give.
Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds because of how well it blends the source material with the modern day, while applying a much-needed upgrade to the setting and characters. The New York of the movie has a much closer resemblance to the New York that exists in our own world, with people of a variety of skin tones and ethnicities represented, and not just as the victims and perpetrators of crime, but as Peters classmates, friends, and neighbors. The last remnants of the 1950’s stereotypes that were present in previous iterations have been cut. Peter is a regular teen of the current generation, not a sweater vest in sight.
Tom Holland’s acting is spot on, as he captures the playful humor and enthusiasm that is at the core of Spider-Man’s personality, while also displaying the self-doubt and desire to do good that drives Peter Parker. Jacob Batalon was a surprise hit of the film, funny and vibrant and with his own role to play in Peter’s adventures that is a great addition to the mythos. Peter’s love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) does her best with the material she is given but what is there feels flat as she mostly exists to be rescued and provide Peter with a reason for more traditional teenage angst. Zendaya as his classmate, the cynical Michelle, is a delight whenever she is on screen, but she isn’t given much to do in the film which is a sad oversight.
Tony Stark continues to be the arrogant and troubled jerk that we can’t help but love and Marisa Tomei fulfills all the promise that we caught a glimpse of in Captain America: Civil War. Her portrayal steps well outside the traditional character; she isn’t fooled by Peter’s statements that everything is fine, but she never becomes overly protective of him. She is doing the best she can to try to help Peter make it through life unscathed. Michael Keaton is at his best, not quite chewing the scenery but leaning into the role with a fierce determination that makes for an interesting iteration of The Vulture.
So often superhero movies resemble myths or fairy tales, with fabulous stories stretching across countries or planets with the fate of humanity or more hanging in the balance. Spider-Man: Homecoming eschews these concepts and tells a comparatively small story that focuses on Peter learning how to incorporate being Spider-Man and being a teenager. The film manages to accomplish this without using any of the traditional tokens of the character; for instance, there is no mention of an Uncle Ben, or of power and responsibility. The choice to make such a different story was a bold one, and it made for an exciting and fun film that has plenty of callbacks to Spidey’s villains and the MCU while also feeling new and intriguing.