The events of Captain America: Civil War continue to ripple throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tony Stark/Iron Man is moving the team’s headquarters from Avengers Tower to a facility upstate, while Steve Rogers/Captain America is now deemed a war criminal and his whereabouts are unknown. Having been recruited by Iron Man for that airport brawl which pitted Avenger against Avenger, Peter Parker now returns to his daily life in Queens, New York where he’s no Avenger — just your friendly neighborhood, Spider-Man.
During the day he attends high school and in the evening, under the guise of a Stark internship, Peter patrols the city and reports back to Happy Hogan. He juggles his academics, social life and crime-fighting as best he can, but he also yearns to use his abilities to do more than retrieve stolen bikes and help sweet old ladies with directions.
Then one evening, Peter intervenes in an ATM robbery where the culprits are armed with some seriously advanced tech. This encounter sends him on a wild chase, investigating an illegal weapons ring that’s been stealing other-worldly technology from government black sites.
And after almost drowning when battling with the guy in charge — Adrian Toomes, former owner of a salvage operation who lost out on the Battle of New York clean up gig to the Stark-backed Department of Damage Control and who now flies around in a vulture-inspired, metal winged suit — it’s clear that Peter is in way over his head. But who can be bothered about a Spanish test or the Homecoming dance when the fate of the whole city is at risk?
There weren’t many clamoring for yet a another Spider-Man movie, but it’s impossible to deny how utterly charming and damn near-perfect Tom Holland was in the role when he briefly appeared in Civil War. Still, that great performance aside, it was hard to feel genuine excitement for the fifth Spider-Man film in 15 years and what is now the third attempt at the character.
Thankfully, my lack of enthusiasm was wholly uncalled for because Spider-Man: Homecoming may just be the best Spider-Man movie ever. Not to suggest that either Spider-Man or Spider-Man 2 or even the first Amazing Spider-Man were terrible films (we all know which those are), but Homecoming comes closest to capturing the tone of the Spider-Man comics. There’s melodrama, to be sure, but also comedy and action and, most importantly, a hero who wants to be the hero and doesn’t feel burdened by his powers and abilities.
Much of the credit for why this Peter Parker feels so genuine and real goes to Holland. The youngest actor to play Peter, his joy in the role is infectious and it gives the whole production an earnest quality. This guys loves playing Spider-Man and it’s great fun to watch him onscreen. Not only does he deftly handle the acrobatics required (Holland got his start dancing in musicals after all) but his comedic timing is on par with more experienced actors and he easily embodies the anxieties of high school and adolescences.
And that may be Homecoming’s greatest achievement, that director Jon Watts (and the slew of writers credited on the film) give Peter’s social life just as much a focus as his Spidey-life. We see him spend just as much time with his friends, a few of his teachers, and Aunt May as we do Tony Stark, Happy Hogan or Adrian Toomes’ Vulture. Within Homecoming, there are two stories being told — Peter’s life as an Avenger-in-training and him being a normal teenager with a crush and a desperate need to seem “cool”. Watts pulls just as much inspiration from the John Hughes-style high school comedy as he does comic book adventures, and the result is a Spider-Man film that manages to feel fresh and new — an almost herculean feat.
Along with capturing the essence of a high school superhero, Homecoming also does something that even the best-received Marvel movies struggle with — a strong villain. Michael Keaton’s Toomes/Vulture is easily on par with Hiddleston’s Loki in adversarial quality, though he couldn’t be further away from a super-powered maniac who wants to rule the world. Toomes is just a wronged man who finds a lucrative opportunity to support his family and his work crew. His viewpoint isn’t radical and the way in which he’s disrespected by the Stark Industries-supported government agency in some ways parallels Tony’s disregard for Peter’s capabilities. There’s a solid link between Toomes and Peter, making their conflict all the more interesting and engaging.
Speaking of Tony, Robert Downey Jr. isn’t in Homecoming nearly as much as the marketing would have you believe, and that’s all for the better. His role is little more than an inflated cameo but it’s effective nonetheless, neatly tying Spider-Man’s adventures into the wider MCU. The whole cast, from Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned, to Zendaya’s sarcastic Michelle “MJ” Jones, and even the minor, supporting roles are exceptionally well-cast, adding to that sense of realness around the high school-centered plot. (I demand a tie-in one-shot comic starring Hannibal Burress’ Coach Wilson).
All the thrills and spills that come with Spidey are in fine display, but Homecoming becomes even more interesting when it upends our expectations. Spider-Man in the suburbs is a great example of this, exploring the concept of a web-slinger in fun, new ways. It’s hilarious, too. Not just that scene, but practically the whole movie mines Peter’s social life and super-heroics for comedy. Homecoming is without a doubt the funniest superhero movie since Deadpool, just far more PG.
It isn’t all gags (though there are some of Marvel’s best in this film) as Homecoming manages to also delve into Peter’s sense of responsibility without trotting out a dying Uncle Ben and that age old line. Marvel and Sony aren’t known for making especially dark superhero films, but Homecoming is bright spot regardless. In some ways, Peter has replaced Steve Rogers as the hopeful, moral core of the MCU, embodying all that’s good about superheroes.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun comic book adventure, a hilarious and awkward high school comedy, and an interesting experiment for sharing characters and building continuity. It’s an earnest film that doesn’t care it’s one of many in a long line of superhero films (let alone Spider-Man movies), bringing a fresh perspective to a stale genre in the process.