Spider-Man: Homecoming is “John Hughes with Superpowers” or “Freaks & Spider-Geeks,” a movie about everyday nerdy Peter Parker trying his hardest to be a hero and not lose all his friends, grades and future in the process.
It’s not just the most grounded Spider-Man on film (although maybe not the best overall film), it’s also the first Marvel Studios film to feel as groundbreaking as the origina Iron Man. The classic (wow … classic?) Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire are hard to beat in romance and grandiosity, so Homecoming doesn’t try. It embraces the small, the everyday, the friendly neighborhood aspect of the character that truly makes Peter Parker tick. Spider-Man is the crown jewel of the Marvel brand and Homecoming is, at last, a film that truly proves why.
You know how Peter Parker (Tom Holland) became Spider-Man, so Homecoming skips all of that and drops us into his life eight months after “Captain America: Civil War,” withPeter passing the time as a student by day, local hero by night. But recovering a stolen bike and stopping a car thief don’t really compare to flying to Germany to help Tony Stark, who hasn’t called him since. Peter wants to be an Avenger and, desperate to prove himself, runs into a villain way beyond his league in the form of high-tech thief the Vulture (Michael Keaton).
Previous Spider-Man movies generally explore the tragedies that drive Peter Parker, but none has ever really explored him as a character with a real social circle or life outside of being Spider-Man.
Homecoming overcomes this tremendously. Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) is Peter’s best friend (he has a best friend this time), Michelle (Zendaya) is the “no-shit” rebel who tolerates Peter, Liz Allen (Laura Harrier) is captain of their Academic Decathlon team and Peter’s crush, and Flash (Tony Revolori) is his nerdy rich-kid nemesis. Each “high-school movie” archetype is here, but well fleshed out. They’re all real teenage characters whose reactions to Peter matter in the story. They’re the ones asking where he disappears to at night, why he misses meetings, why he’s acting so strange. The tension doesn’t come from whether he’ll save the world; it comes from whether he’ll make it to his homecoming dance or help his team win at Nationals.
Keaton’s performance as Vulture only furthers his place in superhero movie canon. He is not a dark father-figure to Peter (a trope overwhelmingly present in all previous outings), and Peter doesn’t have to save the whole city from him. Vulture is a thief with a grudge against Tony Stark; to say more would spoil.
In Homecoming, Peter embraces the opportunity his fate has allowed him. In a way it feels as though Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige and his team of producers looked at the opportunity they had with introducing Spider-Man into their own established universe and decided with real clarity and vision that he should represent the absolute best of what their films embody: heroism, pure and simple for the sake of it, without cynicism or vendetta.
Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t just bring Peter Parker into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s also the first movie in the series to really bring the audience into Peter’s world. Small Easter eggs build the environment and establish a status quo. These are kids at school who just happen to learn about the Sokovia Accords (from Captain America: Civil War) in history class, and watch educational videos featuring Captain America. We’ve been engaging in this alternate reality for almost a decade and it’s fun to live in it for a few hours.
Humor is a hallmark trait of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this might be the funniest entry in the franchise. It’s a joke-a-minute movie that never feels stretched or desperate. The script is attributed to six writers (Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Dlaey, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers), and it may well be the first blockbuster with that many hands in the cookie jar to turn out this well.
Any criticisms? Sure. Some of the action sequences are so high-speed that they’re hard to follow; the pacing of the film itself is so full of incident that it feels like a two-hour season of television. compressed into two hours. But above any other Marvel hero, Spider-Man has always deserved an episodic narrative, one that can really dig into his world and the drama that comes from being a friendly neighborhood superhero. It works here.
Spider-Man has finally received a film worthy of everything the character represents. It’s a joke-a-minute, heart-filled take on the premier teenage superhero, and it’s about time.