Shaking off the cobwebs from the well-intentioned but disappointing 2012 reboot (and that god-awful 2014 sequel), Spider-Man: Homecoming rightly pulls back on the grandeur and delivers a fresh, sharp, and down-right wonderful piece of cinema featuring the best movie version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) yet. Yes, better than Tobey Maguire. *runs and hides*
Before we begin this new chapter of Spider-Man, an ingenious flashback sequence introduces us to our villain, Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture (Michael Keaton). Toomes, an engineer tasked with cleaning up New York City after the events of The Avengers, loses his job when the government steps in to takeover his contract. But our scrappy Vulture manages to stash a few choice pieces of alien weaponry before he’s booted out. Uh. Oh.
From here, Spider-Man: Homecoming thankfully spares us having to sit through the complete origin story for a third time. No, you won’t have to watch Uncle Ben perish, yet again. Even Peter snarks he’s sick of talking about that radioactive spider. Instead, we’re plonked right into a behind-the-scenes look at Spidey’s brief, but scene-stealing, appearance in last year’s Captain America: Civil War.
It’s no surprise this taste of superhero action leaves Parker wanting more, and it’s not long before he’s begging his new mentor, Tony Stark (a typically smarmy Robert Downey Jr.), for a new mission. But he’s got some learning to do before he can earn the right to be a real Avenger, so he’s relegated to laying low and given a training Spidey suit of sorts (voiced by Jennifer Connolly, which is the most delicious casting, given her husband Paul Bettany voiced Jarvis aka the voice in Iron Man’s suit).
Being an impatient teenager, Peter naturally rebels against his boss’ wishes, and sets off to find missions of his own, with varying degrees of success. Whether he’s stopping a bicycle thief but failing to find its owner, helping an old lady with street directions or thwarting a car robbery (with hilarious results including the obligatory Stan Lee cameo), it’s just not enough for Peter. Spider-Man deserves better than these neighbourly gestures.
When Peter stumbles upon a group of thugs (hidden by Avengers masks, no less) robbing an ATM with the help of powerful alien-enhanced weaponry, he may have finally found his big mission to prove his worth.
The man behind that weaponry is our old friend Mr. Toomes, who’s turning his scavenged (get it? Because he’s the Vulture?) old alien parts and turning them into high-tech battle pieces to peddle on the black market. And, of course, he’s crafted a giant birdlike machine to help him swoop around and steal more parts for his scheme. Spider-Man quickly becomes a thorn in the Vulture’s side when he attempts to put a stop to his dastardly operation. But is Peter ready for such a task?
Keaton is the perfect choice to play the Vulture, and delivers a menacing and powerful foe for Spider-Man, whether he’s in the bird-suit or not. The temptation would have been there to give us a big, over-the-top performance with this character. It’s a man in a mechanic bird-suit, for crying out loud. But Keaton reins it in for a much more understated turn, which makes his role far more interesting and impressive.
It’s also decidedly refreshing to see a villain in one of these films who’s not focused on ending the world completely or destroying an entire city and all its residents. The Vulture has a much more grounded and realistic purpose in mind. Yes, he’s an opportunistic criminal, much like most Marvel baddies, but he’s not exactly after world domination, and sometimes, that’s all we need in a villain. There’s also a fantastic plot-twist involving his character which elicited genuine applause from my audience and flips the entire film on its head. It will hit you like a tonne of bricks.
This genre naturally demands impressive action sequences, and Spider-Man: Homecoming delivers. The set-piece involving Spider-Man desperately attempting to keep a sliced-in-half Staten Island ferry together is impressive and visually spectacular. But it’s an elevator rescue at the Washington Monument that’s the real star of the show; made even more genius by a gag reference to that infamous upside-down kiss from the 2002 film that still has me chuckling. As Peter’s first real test of his solo superhero character, it perfectly showcases his incredible abilities but also his painful flaws, while delivering truly glorious and gripping action.
As much as Spider-Man: Homecoming is about the action adventure we’ve come to know from Marvel, it’s equal parts an understated high school movie, with just as many scenes set at the hallowed halls of Midtown School of Science & Technology. It often plays more like something you’d expect from John Hughes (there’s even a Ferris Bueller reference WITHIN a Ferris Bueller reference), with plenty of teen-angst and youth-orientated humour. Remarkably, the teenager’s dialogue feels entirely authentic, and not a grown-up’s attempt at teenage authentic.
The chemistry between our teenage cast is also wonderfully engaging, particularly between Peter and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), a self-aware science nerd, desperate to be Spider-Man’s “guy in the chair” aka his helpful sidekick. The friendship is a true delight and a bold choice, given Peter Parker (and Spider-Man) has always been somewhat of a loner. It’s a refreshing change to see Parker truly connect with someone that genuinely has his back.
For an ensemble piece, the supporting cast is as good as it gets for a film like this. Tony Stark/Iron Man is sparingly used (this is definitely not Iron Man 4), and his character is omnipresent but never dominates the film. Downey Jr. has this role down-pat now, and his scenes with Peter are typically brilliant and entertaining. The awkward romance between Peter and high school knock-out Liz (Laura Harrier) is delightful to enjoy. Sarcastic and monotone Michelle (Zendaya) delivers the laughs and some of the film’s best lines. But the screenplay spreads the comedy throughout, and almost every character gets to deliver some laughs at some point.
It wouldn’t be a Marvel film without the obligatory Marvel cameo, and if you’ve seen the trailer, it’s no spoiler to tell you it’s Captain America (Chris Evans). Cap appears via corny, inspirational PSA videos Peter and his classmates are forced to watch. But after the events of Civil War, the school’s coach (Hannibal Buress) hilariously remarks “I’m pretty sure this guy is a war criminal now.” References to other Marvel heroes in Disney’s franchise are also peppered throughout (plus a playful stab at Deadpool), just to remind you Spidey is part of a bigger picture now. Thankfully, the film does stand on its own, and never feels like just a setup for what’s to come next.
The real star here is Tom Holland, who gives us the best movie incarnation of Peter Parker and Spider-Man yet. Holland, a British native, not only nails the American accent, he perfects Peter’s awkward and squeakish voice in a way we’ve never seen before, particularly when he’s nervous or excited. Adding to that, Holland also achieved 90% of the film’s stunts himself, which perhaps explains why he can deliver such a keen performance. Holland is not just playing Peter Parker and then handing the role over to a stuntman, like others have. He’s also playing Spider-Man during the film’s crucial action scenes, and the results speak for themselves. Ultimately, Holland brings a jittery uncertainty to Peter and Spider-Man that makes him so relatable, lovable, believable, and genuinely fun to watch.
And that’s the greatest joy of watching Spiderman: Homecoming – it’s fun with a capital f. The comedy is genuinely funny. The action is genuinely entertaining. The screenplay is authentic and light. And there’s something so enjoyable about watching a budding superhero come into his powers, while still battling his impatience, uncertainty and awkwardness.
There are some minor flaws to gripe about. The film’s climactic showdown between Spider-Man and the Vulture suffers from a touch of the ridiculousness, much like Wonder Woman’s finale, earlier this year. For a film made so impressive by its sense of understatement, it feels a little out of place, even if it is “genre necessary” to end it this way.
Marisa Tomei is also sadly wasted as the new younger version of Peter’s Aunt May. Tomei has always had fantastic comic timing (the woman has an Oscar for a comedic performance), and when she is used, it’s a true delight. The movie could use more of her though. However, she does get to deliver the final line in the film…and it is a doozy.
But also much like Wonder Woman, it’s unfair to pick on these minor wrongs in a film that gets so much right. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a triumph of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the most fun you’ll have in a cinema this summer blockbuster season.