The problem with most comic book movies is the origin story. Before jumping into the heart of the action, writers often feel obligated to bring viewers up to speed on who the main characters are and what drives them. That’s not always a problem when you have comics previously untouched by Hollywood, but when it’s a character fans have seen on screen many times before it can border on repetitive and predictable. In the case of Spider-Man, who’s been portrayed by three different actors in the span of the past 15 years, the idea of sitting through a sixth film that explains how Peter Parker got his powers sounds excruciating. I mean, did Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice really need to open with a rehash of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents? Thankfully, Spider-Man: Homecoming sidesteps the backstory approach and thrusts the audience into a world that already knows Spidey exists. The end result is arguably one of the best movies in the MCU to date.
Technically Homecoming is the first Spider-Man movie in a new trilogy, but it feels more like the second; a film with a succinct story arch and clearly defined characters with no filler. (Think: Superman II, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or The Dark Knight). There’s no radioactive spider bite, no tragic Uncle Ben death scene, and no with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility monologue. Instead you have a teenaged superhero diving right into the action without trudging through the prerequisites of your standard first-in-a-franchise comic book movie.
Without that emotional baggage, Homecoming can get down to the business of being an amazing movie that is as funny as it is fun. Marvel Studios tipped its hat to this novel approach when Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man debuted in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Despite the character being added to the movie after a last minute deal between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures (Sony has had exclusive movie rights to Spider-Man since 1999), the Russo Brothers did a masterful job of seamlessly introducing the Web Slinger into the MCU without it feeling forced. That intricate story weaving continues in the latest solo Spider-Man film.
Directed by Jon Watts, who also co-wrote the script, Homecoming perfectly captures teen angst and reimagines many of the characters in a way that feels fresh, new, and authentic. After a couple of bumpy years, Spider-Man just needed to start from scratch. In fact, Homecoming actually begins several years in the past, tying the origins of the film’s primary antagonist The Vulture to the events that transpired immediately after the Battle of New York in Marvel’s The Avengers. The story then leapfrogs to “A Film By Peter Parker” that hilariously documents Spider-Man’s personal behind-the-scenes footage on his road to Civil War, before setting things up for the remainder of the film to take place parallel to the goings-on in the rest of the MCU.
While the splintered Avengers are off dealing with the aftermath of their most recent skirmish, Spider-Man is left to his own devices back in Queens, NY waiting for his next mission from Mr. Stark. Spoiler Alert: It never comes. It’s in this limbo that the heart of the film can be found. Spider-Man might be able to stop a bus with his bare hands, but the 15-year-old boy under the mask can’t even stop someone from stealing his backpack. Peter Parker might have superpowers but he also has average teenage problems: He doesn’t know how to express his crush on an upper classman named Liz (Laura Harrier); he’s constantly picked on by the school bully Flash (Tony Revolori); and he can’t get anyone to take him seriously—especially Mr. Stark and his head of security, Happy Hogan.
Armed with a hi-tech suit, Peter goes on a journey of self-discovery that leads him to a better understanding of his powers and eventually the Vulture’s underground smuggling ring that has been putting dangerous alien-enhanced weapons in the hands of local criminals. Determined to prove his mettle as a hero and worthiness of being an Avenger, Peter takes on the organization by himself—with a little help from his new suit’s AI, which he affectionately dubs “Karen.”
Through it all, Holland portrays Spider-Man with a wide-eyed innocence and excitement that echoes back to what people loved about 2002’s Spider-Man before Sam Raimi’s OG series starring Tobey Maguire fell off the rails. Holland isn’t as aloof as Maguire or as brooding as Andrew Garfield (Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man series). The British-born actor infuses so much pure joy into his performance that you almost forget he’s a 21-year-old man playing a high schooler and in the process he makes the character wholly his own. But he’s not the only star here.
The established on-screen chemistry between Holland’s Peter Parker and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is further enhanced by Homecoming’s supporting cast, which is a perfect mix of fresh-faced newcomers and veterans (Marisa Tomei as a hot Aunt May is brilliant!). Jacob Batalon’s comedic timing shines in any scene he’s in as Parker’s best friend Ned. Similarly, Zendaya’s deadpan portrayal of loner Michelle makes for some of the film’s best surprise laughs. But, of course, the most notable performance is that of Michael Keaton who breathes life into the Vulture. In any other actor’s hands, the character could have been nothing more than Mr. Burns with feathers, but Keaton reimagines the role and creates a truly terrifying villain. And when the plot twist that no one saw coming hits, it leads to a menacing exchange between Parker and Vulture that’ll make you never look at Keaton the same again.
The same can be said for Spider-Man. After Sony’s trilogy reboot stalled out with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the character’s legacy seemed forever tainted. But by allowing Marvel, which has a nearly flawless box office batting average over the past nine years, to include Spider-Man in their cinematic universe, he has shaken off the wack juice and given the opportunity to soar to amazing new heights.
When I first heard that the subtitle for this movie was Homecoming it didn't do much to get my Spidey senses tingling. I thought it sounded more like a name for a project in Kanye West's original album franchise (where's Good Ass Job, ’Ye?) than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But after seeing the film the title now seems more fitting as Spider-Man is back home where he belongs not only in Marvel’s capable hands but also in the hearts of fanboys and fangirls alike. All hail Spider-Man, the new King of the box office.