Spider-Man Homecoming has pretty much everything you would want in a Spider-Man movie. It’s got teenage Peter Parker, which is the best Peter Parker. It’s got a really interesting villain who has a lot more going on than you might think, and it has that small time, friendly neighborhood vibe going on that differentiates Spider-Man from most heroes and makes this latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) feel unique and different than just about any other Marvel movie thus far. It also might have the best villain since Loki… but I haven’t made up my mind yet. Considering the weird legal status of this movie, who the rights belong to and where the character even stands in future Marvel films, I consider us lucky that we got such a good film as we did.
The movie opens right after the alien invasion from the first Avengers movie where Adrian Toomes and his salvage company are screwed out of their contract to help clean up the city by Damage Control, which is a government agency being sponsored by Tony Stark? I’m not sure where that came from exactly, but whatever, this move forces Toomes and his crew to take to stealing all the alien technology and selling it on the black market, which they do for almost a decade; in that time Toomes develops flying armor that resembles his Vulture persona from the comics. The movie jumps to the current day, after Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has helped out Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War; Peter is now a sophomore and spends the bulk of his time flaking on his friends and academic decathlon teammates to patrol the not so mean streets of Queens and reporting into Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and getting the run around from Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr.) Peter stumbles upon Toomes and his crews criminal enterprise and they eventually clash in a pretty cool fight around a Stark Jet taking off from Avengers Tower. Also, in classic Spider-Man fashion, the two characters are much more connected to each other than we previously thought.
Tom Holland makes for a great Spider-Man, thought I think a lot us thought we already knew that from his brief appearance in Civil War. But that suspicion is completely vindicated here. He gives Peter that sense of vulnerability and mad-cap-can’t-quite-keep-his-world together energy that is the essence of who Peter Parker is. Unlike the other Marvel heroes we have seen on screen, Peter pays a real price for his powers; the movie never actually utters the lines “with great power comes great responsibility” but Peter Parker lives it every second he is on screen and the movie really hits that aspect of his character home in a great way. The various Spider-Man movies have had really good Peter Parkers, both Toby McGuire and Adam Garfield were good, but Holland brings a better sense of being a teenager to the character than either of them ever did, not that that’s their fault per se. Watching Peter struggle with having to still be a teenager, even though he has all this power and ability is a lot of fun and something the past movies never did enough with, least in my opinion.
Here is a *spoiler* example of how good Holland is; at the beginning of Spider-Man and the Vulture’s big third act confrontation, the movie does an overt homage to a scene from Amazing Spider-Man #33, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, which has probably the most iconic Spider-Man panel ever. And it works in the movie because Holland sells it so well. He is buried under rubble and being slowly crushed to death and is scared and afraid that he is going to die. He calls out for help but of course there is nobody around to help. So, he finds the inner fortitude and courage to save himself and lifts the wreckage and escape. It really is great on the screen because Holland plays the journey from scared kid to determined superhero perfectly.
Peter Parker’s various friends are all pretty great as well, though the actor playing bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) just does not have the physical appearance for a bully, but its fine, he is still very entertaining. There was a lot of buzz over Zendaya and who she was secretly playing in the film and *spoilers* it’s a really weird version of Mary-Jane Watson. And she’s good in the film, just nothing great. She’s also not in it a whole lot, so maybe I should just cut her some slack. All the kids in the movie are smart, abnormally so when you really think about it, but the movie still lets them be teenagers, which gives the movie a tone and context all its own. Teenage characters can be some of the most versatile vehicles for storytelling, i.e., Buffy and the Scoobies, and this movie uses its teenage cast to great effect.
The adults in the movie are equally good, though some get much less screen time than others. Marisa Tomei plays the youngest version of Aunt May in the movies by at least three decades and is really good, she’s just not used that much. But the last scene of the movie hints at much more for her to do in future movies, so I’m very hopeful for the future. Robert Downy Jr. as Tony Stark is, of course, great. I really like the role he has in Peter’s life, even if he is a bit more of jerk about everything than I would like; post-Civil War Tony should not be quite this disinterested in Peter and his progress and destiny as a superhero. That’s not where the movies have taken the character, but it still works here.
Michael Keaton, and the version of the Vulture that the screenwriters and director Jon Watts came up with just might be the best part of the film for me; Holland might edge him out, but only just so. Spider-Man, for all his fame and popularity throughout the decades, is a small-time superhero; unlike even Batman, he doesn’t generally defend even a whole city, just most of it. And generally, his rogue’s gallery are not wholly evil people. Yes, they are criminals, they will kill you if you get in their way, but they often just want to make a living. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s silly to think that anybody’s only recourse in life is crime, but the backstory they give Toomes is the best “disgruntled blue-collar guy out to get his” story I’ve seen in quite some time. He feels his family obligations and responsibilities to their fullest and while that doesn’t justify anything, it is fun to see done so well. Plus, the scene has with Peter Parker where he figures out who Peter is just so great, one of the best parts of the movie. I also love that Marvel can reach back five years to the first Avengers movie and give us a new part of that movie to deal with.
Sidebar… there is an old Xbox video game called Spider-Man 2, which I played for probably hundreds of hours for mainly one reason, which was the web swinging mechanics; zipping around low-rez, digital NYC is one of my all-time most beloved video game memories. I watch YouTube clips of that game now and I can tell you where buildings are, when and how streets are going to curve or intersect with each other, I know that town better than I know aspects of the real world I travel through every day! Flying, obviously, is the choice to be had if you could get a transportation based superpower, but web slinging always seems like the most fun way to me. This movie has almost none of that. Which makes sense when you realize that swinging in the way the comics, other movies and video games has us think about would only work for a small part of NYC. Peter runs around a lot in this movie, he jumps on subways and trucks and boats and he even steals a car at one point to get across NYC (which is a really nice call back to the comics version of Peter who notoriously can’t drive). The creators really burst the web slinging bubble for me, and for that I can probably never forgive them.
That being said, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a pretty great movie that grew on me quite a bit. The cast is great, it tells a uniquely Spider-Man story that gives a lot of love to some of the smaller things that make Spider-Man and his small corner of Marvel so special. If the future movies go the Sony solo route and veer away from the Marvel universe, I will be pretty bummed, but hopefully they learned enough making this one to know what they need to do to continue making new, worthwhile, interesting Spider-Man movies. Which, considering we’ve had like six and a half of them, is probably more difficult than we think.