Spider-Man: Homecoming features 21-year old Tom Holland as the youngest Spider-Man yet, and though the highest highs of the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films are not met in Homecoming, it is a worthy successor to the franchise, far surpassing the mediocre-to-terrible Amazing Spider-Man films.
As the title suggests, Homecoming is both set around a high school homecoming, as well as being a figurative homecoming for the Spider-Man character, welcoming him back into the Marvel cinematic universe. Much has been made of the deal struck between Sony and Marvel in order to engineer this return, but some of the most satisfying elements of Homecoming are the ones that have nothing to do with the larger Marvel cinematic universe.
Homecoming makes the smart decision to skip over depicting the weighty backstory that we’ve seen twice already; instead, we jump right into the action, and it couldn’t be more appropiate. This is how we should be seeing Spider-Man, in action constantly, light on his feet and quick with his words. To other characters, being a super-hero is a constant burden, but to Spider-Man, that’s only sometimes true; to him, just being able to help people is enough. Part of what makes Homecoming great is that he really does just like to help people.
Featuring a crackerjack soundtrack by the legendary Michael Giacchino, Homecoming is propulsive, well-acted, the most diverse superhero yet, and most importantly, really really funny. Homecoming features a cast full of comedic actors in roles both big and small. Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr., both appear here, getting some of the most funny work they’ve done in ages. Appearances by actors like Martin Starr, Donald Glover, and Hannibal Buress supplement things well, and Zendaya gets a fun appearance as the catty Michelle (MJ, maybe?). This is also the most diverse superhero film in ages – maybe, even, ever – if one were interested, they could probably write a whole essay on how huge that is; there’s no commentary on race here, but people of every color show up and boy is that great to see.
Comedically, even Marisa Tomei gets in on the action, as for the first time, Peter Parker’s Aunt May is not exclusively there as a voice of reason and guidance. In some ways, this is the most caring we’ve ever seen Aunt May, and yet for the first time they’ve instilled in her some semblance of personality. The film still struggles to actualize her beyond her guardianship of Peter, and I’d certainly welcome that, but heck – I’ll take what I can get of Marisa Tomei here. (High waisted jeans? Yes, please.)
But most importantly, Spider-Man himself, Peter Parker, is funny – this is easily the wittiest, most light-hearted of the three cinematic Spider-Men we’ve seen so far. Tom Holland, a British actor, is, dare I say it, the best actor to play this role yet, far more comedically suited than Tobey Maguire, far more convincing as a nerdy teenager than Andrew Garfield. He’s skinny and gawky and they’ve styled him in the most geeky of shirts, filled with math jokes and science references.
Putting Homecoming in high school creates a whole set of new challenges for Spider-Man, and director Jon Watts navigates these challenges well working from a screenplay-by-committee that has been punched up well. Like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, some of the best parts of the film are the parts that are 100% Peter Parker and 0% Spider-Man, a feature that the Amazing Spider-Man films lost. The writing team here clearly understands high-schoolers, something that can be very difficult.
Vulture, as played by Michael Keaton, presents an interesting villain for Spider-Man to fight, less a counter-point to him, more a counter-point to his mentor, Iron Man. It’s a smart choice – he’s a blue-collar guy, who just wants to look out for his family. When he says to Spider-Man that he (Spidey) just doesn’t understand the world, he’s not entirely wrong – and actually, if you really start to think about it, Vulture really isn’t evil by any means. Questionable methods, but he’s really not entirely wrong. Vulture, as depicted in comics, can seem more silly and cartoonish, but Keaton brings an unshackled, nervous kind of energy, and the way that they light his Vulture suit is absolutely terrifying against a night sky.
Homecoming suffers in its execution of some of the action scenes, which verge on being hard to follow and almost incoherent. The visual logic isn’t quite there, though it’s hard to imagine this won’t be corrected by the time the next Spider-Man film comes around. There is, however, some clever use of the idea that Spider-Man functions best in a city – when he finds himself stuck in the suburbs, without tall buildings to leap between, well, you get the picture.
All told, this is a really successful reboot. Sam Raimi brought a more experienced and nuanced touch to the films themselves – to this day, Spider-Man 2 remains the best film about the actual reality of living life as a superhero – but it’s so refreshing to see this take on this character that I’m willing to look at it on its own terms rather than in comparison to the Raimi films.