Content Warning: This review contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming. If you have not yet seen the film and wish to avoid spoilers, save this link and read it after you have!
It’s been a long time since the world has seen a good Spider-Man film. The Tobey Maguire movies had heart and some great villains, but they starred Tobey Maguire. And Spider-Man 3 actually happened; we can’t let that go. The Andrew Garfield movies weren’t “amazing.” Although he was great in costume, the second one sucked so bad it is buried with the likes of Catwoman, The Last Airbender, and, well, Spider-Man 3. But let’s get one thing clear: Spider-Man: Homecoming is the real deal.
Eight years ago, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) was a simple contractor working on cleaning up Chitauri tech after the Battle of New York. However, he is bankrupted once the Tony Stark-backed Damage Control takes over, forcing him and his crew to step aside. They decide to make a living selling the leftover technology from the heroes’ battles. With the help of the Tinkerer, Toomes becomes the Vulture and they make a decent underground living with a couple other friends.
Fast forward to the present day: Fifteen-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is summoned to Berlin by Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to help capture Captain America and his rogue team of “enhanced” individuals. Of course, Parker films the entire thing with his phone, much to the chagrin of Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), who is tasked with keeping an eye on him. After the airport battle, he is asked to keep sharpening his skills on the streets until Stark needs him again. And so he does, helping “the little guy” until his first run-in with Vulture’s crew presents an opportunity to show Stark just what he’s made of.
Despite being the sixth Spider-Man film since 2001, Homecoming is a breath of fresh air. The comedy is great without people breaking character or ruining dramatic moments. The action is fantastic without being steeped in bad CGI. The writing — for both plot and dialogue — was good; characters all seemed to act their age while the plot was focused on the struggles of the hero and villain.
The cast is heartwarming and incredibly diverse: Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), Liz Allan (Laura Harrier), Michelle Jones (AKA “MJ”, played by Zendaya), and Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) are all people of color. Donald Glover and Hannibal Burress had great cameos. In fact, Glover makes a great reference that will make comic fans speculate about the end of Parker’s five-film character arc. Michelle and Ned both steal the show as side characters without powers; both serve their own narrative and comedic purpose. Ned acts as a sort of Alfred Pennyworth, “the guy in the chair” as he described himself, constantly helping Peter when asked. He and Michelle bring consistent awkward humor that reminds you of high school.
Unlike his predecessors, Holland is a believable high school student, and is perfect as both Parker and Spider-Man. In fact, one of the core strengths of Homecoming is that it finally gets the dichotomy between the two personas right. Peter Parker is actually nerdy and awkward: He can’t really talk to his crush. He gets anxious about going to a party, even as Spider-Man; he would rather be at home building a LEGO Death Star with Ned. He spends time in Calculus watching Spider-Man YouTube videos, and toys with new web fluid concoctions during Chemistry.
Parker wants to do more, and is tired of the monotony of his normal life. He sees Spider-Man as both an outlet and a means to a better future. He has moments of believable weakness, showboating, and whining, which make sense for a fifteen-year-old. In fact, Peter’s young age makes his combat comedy more genuine: he quips to keep himself focused because he’s nervous and still figuring things out. But, when it comes down to the wire, he ultimately does “the right thing.”
Keaton, the Birdman himself, plays a sympathetic Vulture. Unlike most of the villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), his story and motivations are constantly built up throughout the film. It toys with the parallels between him and Parker, both as “little guys” screwed over by rich and powerful men like Tony Stark. He plays a bit of a dark, selfish Robin Hood, stealing from the ones who screwed him over in order to help make ends meet. He wants his crew to keep a low profile, and tries not to kill if not necessary. After all, he has a family to look after. I wish he would have cawed to seal the Birdman deal, but a man can dream.
My main point of criticism lies with the Spider-Man suit. Don’t get me wrong: It looks great design-wise. But it is ultimately too high-tech. Its artificial intelligence, multiple types of web attacks (reminiscent of the old video games), and reconnaissance mode make it seem more like a Batman costume or Iron Spider prototype than a traditional suit. While much of this is played for entertainment or cool factor, it can seem overwhelming to fans expecting something lighter. Thankfully, he uses the goofy, low-tech suit from Civil War in the third act, adding much more weight to the final showdown with Vulture. It seemed to be a useful narrative device for Peter to learn more self-reliance; we’ll see how that plays out over time.
I am also confused with Phase Three’s timeline. Apparently, Doctor Strange took place in 2016; Guardians 2 took place in 2014, six months after the original, and before Age of Ultron; and Homecoming takes place eight years after the first Avengers film and two months after Civil War. Does this mean that it takes place in 2020, or was the 2012 film retconned to take place in 2008? (Someone get Kevin Feige on the phone ASAP!)
Notwithstanding, it’s nice to see Spider-Man at home in the MCU. His character feels modern yet mostly accurate, with both comedy and heart. Like the comics, he’s a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore who gets superpowers and faces off with villains like Shocker and Vulture. Spider-Man: Homecoming is great for new and old fans alike, even if his suit is more high-tech than some are used to. It’s amazing. Sensational. Spectacular, even! Given time, it may prove to be the best Spider-Man film yet.