Funny, bright, and charming, this younger version the web-slinger in Spider-Man: Homecoming breathes new life into the character and superhero genre.
The bright colors, catchy soundtrack, and witty dialogue make this incarnation of Spider-Man the most light-hearted. However, what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming the best movie in the many versions of the character so far is that it’s hyper-aware of what it is, who the character is, and has something completely different than both the 2002 and 2012 versions: Tom Holland. For all the genius direction and strong screenplay, the memorable supporting performances and top-notch character development, the best part of Spider-Man: Homecoming is the man — or should I say boy — himself.
Holland, at 21, is closer in age to the original Peter Parker than Tobey McGuire or Andrew Garfield, which is already an asset to the film. It makes the character’s plights and personality more understandable. However, Holland brings even more. He gives Spider-Man a playful and endearing energy. He is truly a boy looking to live up to the name and the suit that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gifts to him in Captain America: Civil War. But first and foremost, he’s a teenager. In this version of Spider-Man, Peter Parker is a 15-year old teen living in Queens with his Aunt May (a criminally underused Marisa Tomei), attending a science and technology high school, and is constantly drooling over the school’s it-girl Liz (Laura Harrier). It feels more like the set-up for a John Hughes movies or an episode of Freaks and Geeks. Except, this time the geek has superpowers.
Luckily for us, we’re spared the retread of Peter’s all too familiar origin story. The movie even makes jokes at its expense. Instead, we’re thrown right into Peter’s quest to prove himself worthy of The Avengers, while also balancing school, friends, and the all too familiar teen urges. All the while, Stark acts like big brother, keeping a close eye on Peter with the help of Happy (Jon Favreau). Peter wants to do so much more than just be “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” as Tony puts it.
However, as we see in the opening scene, there are bigger problems than a bike thief or giving a Dominican woman directions as we see in a hilarious sequence of Spider-Man performing good deeds. Immediately following the events of The Avengers, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) wins a contract with the city scrapping the alien artifacts and debris from the damaged New York. But before he can get far in the cleanup, he is stopped by Tony Stark’s U.S. Department of Damage Control who take over. Toomes is enraged. But when he discovers he still has a truck full of alien artifacts leftover, he, along with his crew, start producing advanced weapons that he sells on the black market.
Peter discovers the plot and wants to pursue it, but Stark won’t let him until he’s proven himself. At one point he says to his friend Ned (a delightful Jacob Batalon), “I’m sick of Mr. Stark treating me like a kid.” To which Ned replies, “But you are a kid.” However, like any teen told that they can’t do something, he does it. But still, he’s a teen in high school and must attend to his responsibilities like homework, the academic decathlon team, and ogle his crush.
Superhero movies are balancing acts. No good superhero movie is just a single genre. The Dark Knight is also a crime movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is also a conspiracy thriller. Spider-Man: Homecoming is also a high school movie. For every scene of high action is a scene in detention or gym class or a party. Peter builds a Lego Death Star in between his crime-fighting activities. He uses his decathlon field trip as a cover for his investigation of the advanced weapons. The two storylines intertwine seamlessly until a reveal that sends them careening towards each other. The screenwriters unearthed the full potential of having a teenaged Spider-Man by letting him act like a teenager. One of the funniest gags throughout the movie is Ned’s inability to get over the fact that Peter is Spider-Man. “Can you summon an army of spiders?” he asks at one point. It’s the reaction you’d expect from a geeky teen finding out his friend is a superhero.
Batalon isn’t the only supporting player that does great work here. Keaton is a clear highlight in the supporting cast — he’s almost too perfectly made for the part. However, actors like Zendaya, who plays one of Peter’s Academic Decathlon teammate, makes the most of her short screen time. She steals scenes with single lines and even looks.
“I like drawing people in crisis… it’s you.”
Hannibal Burress and Martin Starr both have short, but memorable roles as the school’s gym teacher and decathlon coach, respectively. Bokeem Woodbine is deliciously campy as the shocker. Chris Evans has a hilarious cameo as Captain America delivering an “after school special” type lesson via video. And Tony Revolori — best known as Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel — gives us an updated version of Eugene “Flash” Thompson that feels in and of his time. However, the success of the movie still all comes back to Tom Holland and his sensational performance as the web-slinger.
The success of Spider-Man: Homecoming can be boiled down to one thing: this Spider-Man loves being Spider-Man. Who wouldn’t? If you were a geeky 15-year old finding out that you had superpowers, you would too. As he swings down the Manhattan streets, he cheers. Holland is having the time of his life the same way his character is. One of the movies greatest virtues is that it’s hyper-aware of what it is. It’s a bright, splashy superhero movie that knows how to have fun with itself. However, that doesn’t mean it loses perspective in the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s still about what it means to be a hero and the consequences doing good may have on the world around you. But Jon Watts and the six screenwriters also have an incredible sense of the character and what it means to be a hero specifically to him. With great power comes great responsibility, but great responsibility requires great self-awareness of oneself.
In the end, Spider-Man: Homecoming stands on its own apart from the rest of the MCU — though there are several fun references to other movies. It doesn’t feel beholden to the franchise or obligated to launch a sequel, like 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It’s a scaled-down version of a superhero movie, which is one of its many assets. Even its final battle feels close to the ground compared to the ones in movies past. But still, it leaves you craving for more. Aunt May makes sure of it with her blistering final line that will drive audiences to their feet.