There’s no denying that in the Marvel Comics canon, there is probably no one as popular as Spider-Man. Other Marvel titles have their own level of popularity but Spider-Man probably has a universal appeal. The overall story, about an awkward teenager discovering a greater responsibility due to his new found abilities, is a solid metaphor for growing up. We all know what it’s like to be that age & feel like we’re changing yet we can’t quite get it all together. This is why Spider-Man is the superhero for everyone. He deals with this angst daily & despite living in a comic book world, it’s all grounded in some kind of reality.
There have been many Spider-Man films (6 when you include this latest entry) & while some have been successful in terms of getting the narrative right, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first one to truly capture the essence of the character & the world he inhabits. The film never forgets that Peter Parker is a teenager navigating in a grown-up world. While the other films have explored the high school angle before, this is the first one to completely get it right because it’s an integral part of its story. We get the comic book action, CGI & spectacle but at its core, this is a coming of age story & a damn good one at that.
The homecoming aspect of the film represents a few things. The most obvious, & most public, is that Spider-Man is finally back within the MCU fold. His extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War was his initial return to his true Marvel form after the character had been owned by Sony Pictures for many years but this standalone project is his true welcome back to the family moment. Marvel has become a prime example of getting these films right & it’s obvious from the start that their signature stamp of approval is all over the film. There is a bit more polish & a bit more prestige that sets it apart from the other films that have come before it.
On the other hand, the homecoming also represents Peter’s realization that he’s needed in his neck in the woods, more than the larger scale battles that he initially has a kid lime exuberance to be a part of with his affiliation with The Avengers. This movie is all about growth, proving your self-worth & knowing your purpose. Peter may desire to be a part of the big battles but he gradually learns that you need to start small in order to get big.
We’re spared another telling of the origin story. Spider-Man: Homecoming opens with a recap of the title character’s role in Civil War. We learn that he’s a “ground level” hero who wears a homespun costume to foil minor crimes. Spider-Man is a YouTube star but he hasn’t yet broken through with the mainstream media. He has his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) on his side and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). He’s a member of the academic decathlon team & his cluelessness is extreme when it comes to the opposite sex – he pines after longtime crush Liz (Laura Harrier) while ignoring Michelle (Zendaya), the girl under his nose. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) shows up frequently to give Peter a brand of tough love that the kid needs in order to figure out how to truly become a hero. He gives Peter a suit filled with gadgets (and a voice provided by Jennifer Connelly) and hands him over to Happy (Jon Favreau) who has better things to do than babysitting a kid. So Peter is left to his own devices.
Spider-Man’s enemy this time around is a nasty piece of work called The Vulture (Michael Keaton). A scrap scavenger who has been lucky enough to come into possession of alien technology, The Vulture is a black-market seller of super-powered weaponry. Along with his henchmen, The Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and the two Shockers (Logan Marshall-Green and Bokeem Woodbine), The Vulture prepares heists of high-value targets to increase his inventory. That’s when Spider-Man starts interfering and because Stark is temporarily distracted, Peter is forced to battle The Vulture on his own.
Tone is essential to these kinds of films & Marvel has always kept things a bit more light. This works exceptionally here because they need to capture the high school spirit & they do so expertly. A big distraction would be attempting to play high school. There are no attempts here whatsoever. This feels very high school & it’s a strong aspect of film’s overall tone. The humor is top notch & while a lot of it is played for straight comedy, the film knows when to shift to something more serious when necessary. Peter fumbling through his first attempts at heroism are wonderfully displayed while a true hero moment later in the film (complete with debris literally caving in on him) is a goosebump inducing moment that makes you wish all comic book films could achieve this.
Casting is key & Tom Holland is our best Spider-Man yet. Tobey Maguire & Andrew Garfield have shined in their own right, but Holland inhabits the exuberance of the character & gives us our most relatable portrayal of the web-slinger. This is perfect casting at its finest & I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Also, perfect casting is Michael Keaton as The Vulture, who gives us a villain with some layers. He’s not your typical I want the world to burn bad guy. He has deeper motivations & Keaton handles these layers wonderfully. That’s not to say he isn’t menacing. He has moments later in the film after a particular reveal is exposed, that is absolutely chilling in its execution.
The supporting cast is also exceptional. Robert Downey Jr. could play Tony Stark in his sleep at this point but he never phones it in. He’s used just enough & his scenes work in providing a mentor of sorts for Peter. Jon Favreau gets his fair share of laughs as Happy. He was used much more than I thought they would but I was more than happy to have him there. Maria Tomei puts a fresh spinning Aunt May that I think works for this particular film. Some may not like it, but it is one of the examples of the film breaking away from the norm. The younger supporting cast is also effective, particularly Zendaya as Michelle who becomes an instant fan favorite with her portrayal. She doesn’t have a lot to do but she steals her scenes & it’s clear by the end, her character will be much more important in the future.
Spider-Man: Homecoming works because it doesn’t try to be a retread. We’ve seen his origin many times. We’ve been exposed to the same characters over the years. If this was going to be rebooted again, it needed to be fresh & that’s exactly what this is. It makes you remember why you fell in love with Spider-Man & I absolutely can’t wait to see what’s to come from this franchise.
Reel Talk gives Spider-Man: Homecoming 4 Reels