While Marvel movies have always attempted to explore different genres, Spider-Man: Homecoming is perhaps the most successful attempt. Mining 1980s John Hughes movies (there’s even a clip from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), the movie creates effective characters and meaningful plot points to make the movie feel fun and exciting, despite it being the sixth Spider-Man film in recent memory.
Written by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (budget Lord & Miller) and a slew of contributors, comes the youngest Spider-Man yet. Much like the original Spider-Man (2002), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is 15 years old. Despite a memorable second-act cameo in Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) doesn’t think Spider-man is ready to be a full-time Avenger. Parker, naturally, is frustrated with his status as local crime fighter, and wants to move on to bigger and flashier things.
Spider-man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is not an origin story. If anything, we get much more backstory on the villain. Granted, it is (potentially) Marvel’s best villain so far. Michael Keaton runs a salvaging company who gets the gig to clean up the city after The Avengers (2012), but his payday swiftly vanishes when the government takes over. Forced to pivot in order to provide for his family, Keaton starts stealing alien materials from government clean-up sites. With his alien technology, robotic wings and conniving snarl, we get The Vulture.
What makes The Vulture a great villain is emblematic of what makes Homecoming a good movie. The Vulture’s backstory isn’t particularly complex, but he has a valid character motivation, and develops further as the story progresses. Similarly, Spider-Man: Homecoming has a narrative that is easy to follow, but it isn’t so straightforward that the audience stays miles ahead. The end result is obvious (Hint: Spiderman will return), but the journey provides us with ample twists and turns.
Tom Holland is great as the titular spider monstrosity, but the film’s biggest strength lies in its supporting characters. Along with frequent appearances by Stark and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Parker is joined by a diverse ensemble of high school friends. Utilizing simple character archetypes, each of Parker’s friends, enemies, and lovers build to create a charismatic yet realistic look at high school. Highlights include newcomer Jacob Batalon as Parker’s best friend, Zendaya as the mysterious loner and Tony Revolori (yes, from The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Parker’s bully.
As far as the adults go, most of them are underused. It’s fitting that Hannibal Buress used a stunt double for the LA premiere, because the teachers/coaches played by him and Martin Starr are both just a couple punchlines. Donald Glover shows up for no discernable reason—maybe only because Marvel can? And Marisa Tomei returns as Aunt May, ever a criminally underwritten role.
As he fights more and more intense crimes, Spiderman tends to harm as much as he helps. He’s still impressive, but not nearly as impressive as he wants to be. The joy in the action sequences is not in the action themselves—for the most part they’re as bland as you’d expect—but in watching Peter grow. The best scene arrives early in the second act as Spiderman must save his friends at an incredible height, and everything after that feels forced and unnecessary. The other scenes, however, involving boats and invisible planes, feel forced.
If I knew Peter Parker in real life, I would think he’s an irreconcilable jerk. He is constantly abandoning his friends and disappearing when he is needed most. However, he is a reliable protagonist, and one that is somehow still easy to root for. While Spiderman: Homecoming will likely not match the influence of Raimi’s franchise, it is still a thrill, and one of Marvel’s best.