When two studios join together to make a movie, the end result is always questionable. Too many cooks in the kitchen tend to make for a terrible meal. Rest assured, dear reader, that Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios have prepared the most delicious of summer cinematic treats with their fun, effulgent, airy, and oh-so-scrumptious Jon Watts-directed Spider-Man: Homecoming. This is the Spider-Man movie audiences have wanted since Sam Raimi’s 2004 Spider-Man 2. Homecoming focuses on Peter Parker, a gifted high school kid struggling to find his way on the verge of becoming the web-slinging hero we’ve known since his first appearance in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15. Ladies and gentlemen, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is back!
After the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to his comparatively slow-paced life in Queens, New York, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and goes to Midtown High School with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). Peter spends his week days in school while spending nights and weekends roaming the streets of New York City as Spider-Man. This takes an enormous toll on Peter as he’s split between being the man he wants to be and the superhero he thinks he is. Meanwhile, in the background lurks Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a man ruined by superheroes who turned to a life of crime, salvaging scraps from Avenger’s battles across the globe to become one of the most sought-after weapons suppliers. As these weapons proliferate throughout the Five Burroughs, Peter decides to track down the supplier, pitting himself against a foe he’s not yet ready to face.
Audiences already have a sense of Holland’s ability to capture the essence of Peter Parker given his introduction in Civil War via Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. With Homecoming, Holland solidifies this, proving he’s more than capable of taking on the mantle of Spider-Man and of headlining his own film. Holland conveys the great joy Peter feels in being Spider-Man – whether stopping bike thieves or just giving directions – as well as the internal struggles that come from living a secret life. Every superhero needs a proper opponent and Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is exactly that. Not since Loki (Tom Hiddelston) in Thor has there been such a fully-formed antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It’s clear from the start who Toomes is and what he wants (more on this later). Impressively, despite having eight writers taking credit for the screenplay and story, Homecoming is possibly the most coherent Spider-Man story to date. For example, the beginning serves a dual purpose. First, it begins by introducing Toomes and his motivations. Coincidentally, this character introduction also helps establish a more solid timeline within the MCU. Second, it reminds the audiences who Peter is, what his abilities are, and lays out his current relationship with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the Avengers. While multiple introductions tend to drag on audience’s attention, these duel-introductions are necessary to establish Toomes and Peter as two-sides of a similar coin.
Previous films frequently tried to make Peter’s journey about his abilities instead of his responsibilities and it’s always been a mistake. In Homecoming, the struggle comes from Peter’s desire to do more, to be more than just a high schooler – a universal feeling that everyone in their teens encounters. No longer a child, not yet an adult, Peter believes himself ready to join the Avengers despite having so much to learn. Smartly, the story applies this notion by keeping Peter’s focus on an antagonist – I hesitate to call Toomes a villain– whose mission is small – he only wants to do right by his family. Keaton, an actor who’s enjoying a wonderful resurgence lately, is fantastic in the role. Keaton never feels like a larger-than-life character – a technique many of the actor’s playing villains use – but rather like a honest, real individual who, for the sake of his family, has been driven to a life he’d rather not be in. It’s the deep performance characterization lost to Spider-Man films since Spider-Man 3’s deeply tragic Flint Marko, a.k.a Sandman, as played by Thomas Haden Church. There is no city-destroying, apocalypse-preventing, end-of-life-as-we-know-it battle that Peter must overcome. Rather, his opponent is a man, much like Peter, who’s smart, clever, and only trying to do right by the ones he loves. The rest of the supporting cast is chock full of wonderful actors bringing to life some well-known and some lesser known characters from Spider-Man lore. However, to dive into who they are and what they do would ruin many of the wonderful twisty surprises of Homecoming.
And what would any comic book movie be without Easter eggs reminding audiences of stories past or hinting at stories to come. Homecoming is brimming with them – from 80s movie references to deep dives into the Spider-verse – and, just like in the source material, they’re all subtly woven into the fabric of the story instead of shouting “look at me! I’m a thing you should understand!” This suggests an increased maturity from both Sony and Marvel who both tend to lean toward waving their geekdom in front of audiences for the sake of that delightful “I know that” moment. As much fun as that is, waving Easter eggs like this disrupts the story for general audiences and aren’t worth the pause in narrative. Not only are the Easter eggs in Homecoming largely subtle, but their brilliance is beyond description. (LGM!)
However, not everything is wine and roses in Homecoming. Though the story smartly doesn’t delve into Peter’s past – a story that’s been rehashed over-and-over in five other films – Homecoming feels a bit slow in the first part as it takes too much time setting up this world. It’s not boring, but it could be trimmed to increase the pace and get to the meat of the story faster. Additionally, while it’s wonderful not to have a large, exhaustive final act battle to contend with, the final battle does take place at night t which makes the action hard to follow. That said, the film ends beautifully.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an absolute delight. It mixes the discomfort of growing up with the joy inherent in the character of Spider-Man. It shrugs off saccharine teen drama for the MCU hijinks that make coming to their movies so much fun. Oh, and make sure you stay through the credits for what’s possibly the best stinger in all of the MCU. So rejoice, true believers, your favorite web-slinger is back!
Final Score: 4 out of 5.