It was the summer of 2002. Spider-Man was swinging into theaters under the steady guidance of Sam Raimi. The result was impressive, a comic book movie that would further define the blueprint of the superhero film. Two years later the sequel would come out, a film that I still hold as one of the top three best comic book movies ever made.
Fast forward a mere 15 years and audiences are getting their sixth overall film and second reboot of the Spider-Man saga. While it would be easy to write this film off because we have seen a version of this story six times already, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first film to be controlled by Marvel Studios; it is also the first Spider-Man film to make the character a piece of the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Director Jon Watts, coming off the acclaimed Cop Car, takes control of the film this time around. Tom Holland steps into the role of Peter Parker, previously occupied by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield; the noticeably younger version of Spidey is a welcome arrival, providing a tone for the film that can switch from high school comedy to action summer blockbuster with a simple change of costume. While Spider-Man: Homecoming plays all the safe bets and hits many of the same high notes as the earlier films, it importantly tries to add something different, some much-needed life into the smaller elements that compose the web-slinging superhero.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is just a kid in high school. He deals with many of the same concerns kids in high school have always faced—trying to fit in, find a girlfriend, and deal with the school bully—but Peter is also unlike many kids in high school because he's hiding an alter ego, one that was recruited by his famous friend, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Together, and with help from other Avengers, they fought to keep the superhero peace. Now, Peter is itching for his next opportunity to be a hero, but Tony is reluctant to give a teenager so much responsibility. Peter, wanting to prove his worth, goes looking for trouble and finds it in the shape of a weapons dealer with a winged suit named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton).
The film opens with a clever and funny nod to Captain America: Civil War, where Spider-Man made his first appearance in a scene-stealing cameo. In establishing the tone for this film, the introduction is perfection; it brings everything within this new Spider-Man universe and the MCU to current times while also establishing the atmosphere for the rest of the film, which is trying to very hard to emulate what John Hughes did best with his teenage comedy/dramas.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man: Homecoming rarely excels beyond the standard superhero movie clichés, however, when it does excel, the film is genuinely exciting and a whole lot of fun to watch. In developing the Peter Parker character, the film emphasizes, sometimes overly, that Peter is a kid. In the moments when the film transcends, it does a great job of creating a dichotomy between Peter and his Avenger counterparts. At the end of the day, what makes Peter vulnerable is his age: the fact that he still has a curfew, that he still needs to go to chemistry class, and that he is still fighting to find a place in the teenage world. In other moments, Peter's youth is mishandled, providing two different defining characteristics—instead of making him look inexperienced and stubborn, the way all new superheroes learning their skills would look, the film instead makes him look silly and foolish.
Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man, though, hands down. Mr. Holland is filled with charm and screen charisma. There is an undeniable likability to this Peter Parker. Part of why this works is because the actor has an exceptional group of supporting characters around him. Jacob Batalon plays Peter's best friend with excitement, Donald Glover plays a would-be criminal who has great banter with Peter, Martin Starr's comic timing is put to great mumbling use as a teacher, and Zendaya has attitude to spare. But the real accomplishment here is Michael Keaton, who plays the winged Vulture as Spider-Man's primary baddie. Mr. Keaton is menacing throughout, playing a disgruntled working man forced to a life of crime because of the Avengers. In one scene, Mr. Keaton and Mr. Holland face off in a car, and it feels like one of the many tense scenes from Mr. Watts’ film Cop Car in the way it simply allows two good actors a moment to chew up the scenery.
Spider-Man: Homecoming has its high moments of pure entertainment, but it also has its low moments when it does much of the same thing every other superhero and Spider-Man movie has done already. It's unfortunate, because Peter Parker and Spider-Man have such rich emotional qualities. Still, it's nice to have Spider-Man playing well with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here's hoping we don't need another reboot in a few years.
Movie Score: 3.5/5