9.5 out of 10
Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Directed by Jon Watts
Spider-Man: Homecoming Review:
When Marvel and Sony announced that Peter Parker would, at last, be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was important to the series, and not just for the box office. Spider-Man fills a niche that before now hadn’t been seen in the MCU, and one that is vitally integral to these movies – we hadn’t got our real “everyperson” superhero yet. And for Marvel, that is essential. Spider-Man is us. He’s every kid struggling with school, home life, and the added weight of power and responsibility. So far, we’ve seen gods, super-soldiers, billionaires, mercenaries, thieves, androids… but we ordinary folk aren’t represented in any real way. To me, that is why Marvel tried so hard to get Spider-Man into the fold. It speaks volumes to the integrity of Marvel Studios that this wasn’t done for any real profit motive, but simply because the story arc required it. And so we finally get Spider-Man: Homecoming, a movie that fits perfectly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, builds on what has come before, and fills spaces that desperately needed to be filled.
And how utterly fantastic Spider-Man: Homecoming turned out to be. This is one of the very best MCU movies yet, full of fun, joy, excitement, and everything that we have loved Spider-Man for. Jon Watts and the many screenwriters involved eschew the origin story and instead focus on Spider-Man’s first serious test of his abilities and of his heart. Technically, this is an origin story, I suppose, because it sets Peter Parker (Tom Holland) on a path from eager but immature kid to a hero for the ages. And what’s most astounding is that it does so in such an effortless way. Spider-Man: Homecoming feels inspired by John Hughes movies, the television show Freaks and Geeks (several people from that production were involved in Spider-Man: Homecoming), and even pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps entrepreneurial spirit movies like Tucker: The Man and His Dream. There’s a lot of DNA in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it all feels natural and organic.
Homecoming is also the funniest film yet in the MCU catalog. There are such great moments of humor, and it almost all comes through character interaction. Tom Holland does such a fine job here, and it almost seems like he won’t be given enough credit for it, because he may very well have the hardest job of all the actors in the MCU so far. He’s got to juggle the angst of Peter Parker, suffering from loss and full of personal obligation, but he’s also a kid excited to be in the vicinity of these gods and billionaires and super-soldiers. Holland’s Parker is winsome, funny, but also serious about what he wants to become. Instead of beating us over the head with the “With great power comes great responsibility” line, Holland shows it in his face, that he’s a kid who has been granted a gift, and sometimes he has to put aside what he wants to do good things. Holland carries the film on his shoulders, and he does fine work. He embraces the character in the way that Chris Evans embraced Captain America – he makes it his own, but never forgets the essential goodness and truths of Peter Parker. Holland is incredible.
The opening moments of Homecoming are some of the most charming of the series so far, as Parker hangs around Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, given so much to do this time and the MCU is better for it), recording all of this for posterity. Parker’s enthusiasm is contagious, and Stark sees someone that, potentially, could be better at this superhero thing than he is. But he also fears for the kid’s safety, so he tells Peter that he should probably stay focused on school and doing the little bit of local heroism that he can. Peter wants more, though; he desperately wants to join the Avengers, and be useful. And as the outside world comes to discover Spider-Man, Peter finds himself challenged in his relationships, especially with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and the senior captain of his academic squad Liz (Laura Harrier), who he likes a lot. His Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, who is wonderful) worries about Peter, bearing all this obligation (his Spider-man forays are explained to everyone else as an internship with Stark).
Meanwhile, entrepreneur/businessman Adrian Toombs (Michael Keaton), who lost the salvage contract to Damage Control when the Chitauri attacked New York, still has a lot of alien technology that he will happily convert to weapons and sell to anyone who wants to pony up the money to buy it, and these weapons are finding their way onto New York City streets. When Spider-Man encounters this tech, he manages to trace it back to its source, and realizes that he has stumbled on something big. But no one – no Stark, not Happy Hogan – seems to believe him, and so Spider-Man decides to handle it on his own.
Jon Watts handles both the action and the comedy with real grace, while never forgetting that this is, essentially, a coming-of-age story. All of the kids are great – Jacob Batalon’s Ned is hugely a fan of Peter, but he’s also a loyal friend. Laura Harrier’s Liz likes Peter, but can’t commit to someone who seems so flighty and leaves people in the lurch at inopportune moments. Even Zendaya’s Michelle, an outsider equal parts The Breakfast Club’s John Bender and Allison Reynolds, seems to take an interest in Peter Parker. I also love how Watts nails the general chaos and noise of high school, something that I haven’t seen handled so adeptly since, well, John Hughes and Cameron Crowe. Watts fills Spider-Man: Homecoming with a diverse cast, and makes high school feel real and genuine. That’s important because it’s a huge reason why Spider-Man: Homecoming works so well – we see the stakes that Peter is faced with, and the difficulties he has navigating the world of high school and the world of being a superhero. It’s one of the most important themes of the comic book, and essential to the movie. Jon Watts and the screenplay get that aspect of Spider-Man completely right.
I love also how Homecoming fits squarely into the MCU. It gives us a little more meat on the world we’ve seen so far, including the day-to-day existence of these people living among these crazy happenings. Robert Downey Jr. still fills Tony Stark with heart and real emotion, even when he isn’t carrying the movie. I am overjoyed to see Jon Favreau take a bigger role in the MCU, and I love how he is equalliy exasperated and full of admiration for Peter Parker. We get a lot of Easter Eggs and cameos, but they don’t distract from the story, but add essential character and verisimilitude to the film.
If there’s a weak link to Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s in a couple of the action sequences, which play overly dark (visually, not in tone). But Tom Holland has a physical grace to him that makes him very believable. Keaton’s Vulture is also a formidable villain, with real skill and tact, and Keaton plays Toombs with agency and threat. Keaton, in fact, may be one of the most well-rounded villains so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But most of the action sequences are very well done, including a bit on the Staten Island Ferry that might be one of the best sequences so far in the MCU.
But in the end, it’s these characters we love, that we take to our heart, and Spider-Man: Homecoming gets Spider-Man in a way that we haven’t seen since Sam Raimi-s Spider-Man 2. But while that film gets a lot right, Spider-Man: Homecoming is better. Bold statement, I know, but there it is – Spider-Man: Homecoming is grand summer entertainment, full of heart, laughs, cheers, and action. Tom Holland may have a hard road ahead, because he so completely fills Peter Parker’s shoes that it might be difficult to see him as anything else. There is so much charm in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it’s a joy to take with you when you leave. Even the after-credit sequences add to the joy and fun of this movie. This is one of the very best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and one of the best films of the year.