Full disclosure: I was, once, a full-blown Spider-Fan.
While I had little interest in other now-popular Marvel properties like Iron Man or Captain America – or any other superheroes, for that matter – I once made weekly stops to the local comic book shop to pick up the latest issue in one of four Spider-Man collections that bowed each week in the early 1990s.
I’d eventually read the entire 300+ issue (at that time) run of The Amazing Spider-Man, collected in reprints, and savor each storyline like classic literature. There was something about the character, his journey through not only superherodom but also life, and the general theme of ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ that was innately appealing, and led this unusual creation to become one of the most popular superheroes of the 20th century.
And Spiderman: Homecoming just nails it.
But after twenty-five years, three film franchises and a deluge of superhero movies at the multiplex every year, and I had little interest in yet another take on the character.
Sam Raimi’s first and third Spider-Man films with Tobey were fitfully fine, but he caught lightning in a bottle with Spider-Man 2, which I rate alongside The Dark Knight as the best comic book film ever made. And still, it didn’t quite bring the Peter Parker from the comics to life; while it covered some of the same thematic material as later Amazing Spider-Man issues, Raimi turned it into its own thing.
Homecoming, meanwhile… well, it gets Stan Lee-Jack Kirby Spider-Man character perfect.
Back in the MCU after Marvel negotiated a deal with competitor Sony (who owns the cinematic rights to the character), a great deal of care and attention has gone into getting the character right this time around, and it really shows.
Tom Holland stars as Peter Parker, a high-school sophomore and superhero-in-training who already exists as Spider-Man before the events of the film are set into motion: no radioactive spider, no Uncle Ben, heck, no “with great power…”
No, one of the best things about this film is that the origin story is jettisoned. By now, we can accept the existence of a super-powered hero without knowing exactly how their powers came to be.
Nearly half of the film is John Hughes-like high school comedy with an academic decathlon, a road trip to Washington, and the titular Homecoming dance. Along for the ride are Peter’s friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), crush Liz (Laura Harrier), bully Flash (Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori), and the mysterious Michelle (Zendaya), a character who might have more significance in future films but gets little to do here.
Other scenes are dedicated to Peter tracking a super-powered gun-running criminal known as The Vulture, played by Michael Keaton – presumably, as a take on his previous roles in Batman and Birdman.
Peter wants to prove to the world he’s ready for the big time (and The Avengers), but he isn’t quite there yet; discipline issues lead to finger-wagging from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau) and repossession of the Stark-powered Spidey suit Pete received in Captain America: Civil War.
Keaton is quite wonderful here: his Vulture is one of the best villains the MCU has managed to bring to the screen, even if the three-dimensional portrayal of a working-man isn’t the prototypical supervillain (we almost want to root for him). The dynamic between his multi-layered character and Peter drives the film’s climax; while most of these films crash during the action-packed finale, Spider-Man keeps everything (relatively) low-key and close to the heart.
But best of all here are the small moments: Captain America (Chris Evans) giving student PSAs via video, comic relief from teachers played by Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr, Peter’s dialogue with his Siri-like Stark suit (voiced by Jennifer Connelly). The movie even slyly sets sets up future and villains (Donald Glover, Michael Chernus, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael Mando, all play characters who figure to return) without feeling gratuitous.
In the tradition of big-budget blockbusters plucking talented directors from the indie world, Homecoming was directed by Jon Watts (Cop Car), who does an excellent job with the diverse story elements here, though some of the larger action setpieces tend to get a little choppy.
One of the best movies yet to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (though I’d still rate the first Guardians pic at the top), Homecoming gets Spider-Man right, and in an age of Superhero fatigue it feels like a breath of fresh air with its high school perspective. All that’s missing here is the cinematic flair of a director like Sam Raimi to give it some real oomph.