After six Spider-Man movies, it’s easy to feel a bit fatigued. Sony, clinging to the character like a lifeline, continues to make films about Peter Parker and his heroic adventures. But somehow, Spider-Man: Homecoming is different. For one, it benefits greatly by not being an origin story (at this point, it’s been done far too many times). It also separates itself from previous iterations by being a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, expanding the world beyond the streets of Queens. Filled with lots of humor, a good hero’s journey, and what feels like a genuine high school experience, Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t just a good Spider-Man film, it’s also one of the best films to come out of the MCU.
Peter (Tom Holland) is still on a high after having helped the Avengers… essentially fight each other in Captain America: Civil War. He’s convinced that he’s really made it to the big leagues, constantly pestering Happy (Jon Favreau) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) wondering when they’ll seek him out for another mission. Without much of a response, Peter is disappointed to have to settle back into his everyday life after a larger-than-life experience. He’s caught between normalcy–like preparing for the decathlon and trying (and failing) to hide his crush on Liz (Laura Harrier)–and attempts to break free of it. Peter eventually (because he couldn’t stay put like Stark requested) finds himself tracking The Vulture (Michael Keaton), who’s been stealing alien technology and turning it for profit.
The MCU has a tendency to be grand and full of spectacle involving space adventures, flying technology, aliens, and saving the world. Homecoming is much smaller in scale in that it’s far more grounded. It balances heroics with the exploration of Peter’s everyday life. It’s rare for any film to explore the world of high school in a way that feels authentic to the experience. We’ve become accustomed to high school contrivances and melodrama between teenagers, but in Homecoming, Peter deals with science class, sit-ups in gym class, the homecoming dance, and trying to get his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon, who steals the show) to not accidentally reveal his secret out of excitement. It’s all so normal (because who doesn’t remember having to do sit-ups in gym class?) and director Jon Watts is easily able to tie the everyday problems in Peter’s life to his superhero ones.
Peter’s journey isn’t whether or not he has the chops to be a hero or not, but it’s whether he can accept being one without the glitz and glamour of it all. In his own community, he’s a well-known figure and he’s busy saving cats, the local convenience store owner, and even helping someone out with directions. Somehow, Peter isn’t grateful for any of it because of that taste he’s had of the big time. It’s an identity crisis for sure and one that begs the question of who Peter is beyond the fancy suit and gadgets. He really grows as a person from beginning to end, but one of the greatest things about the film is his sheer excitement. He’s like an unstoppable ball of energy, clearly ready to prove himself and happy to have met the Avengers and to have his powers. At the same time, he also acts like a normal teenager, minus the excessive angst that this genre loves.
Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of the best villains in the MCU thus far. His reasoning is enough to make his actions understandable, but not enough to have any immense sympathy. He plays the nice guy card very well, but his strained smile and actions reveal a much more menacing side to him. The action is wonderful, not too chaotic, and really uses Spider-Man’s physical agility in tandem with his web slinging abilities.
Homecoming has a lot of strengths, but my biggest frustration with the film is that it underutilizes its female characters and the only deep conversations in the film are between Peter and Stark. Zendaya, in particular, is witty as Michelle, delivering well-timed one-liners while her facial expressions often give way to sarcastic hilarity and say a lot about her feelings regarding any given situation. But there unfortunately wasn’t enough of her. For all the world-building the film does, Peter’s friends get unfortunately shortchanged in the process as the focus on Peter sidelines them. They’re fun and memorable–Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson is still mean to Peter, but it isn’t over-the-top–but even Laura Harrier’s Liz only has brief interactions with Peter and that’s immensely disappointing. Both Michelle and Liz are intelligent and have a lot of potential, so I was a bit annoyed that they didn’t get more screen time and more moments to shine. Clearly, it was a missed opportunity that the sequel will hopefully remedy.
For a film tied to the MCU, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one its best movies. It’s entertaining, satisfying, and Tom Holland is wonderful as Peter. I’m glad the film didn’t try to do the origin story we all know by heart now. By releasing itself from this burden of rehashing old stories, Homecoming was able to benefit greatly. The lightheartedness that permeates the film is joyful and there are so many funny moments that it’s hard to sit through it without cracking a smile. On its own, the film is great and Peter’s journey clear. It would have been immensely better if there had been more meaningful moments and featured more of Zendaya and Harrier. But despite these criticisms, Homecoming is certainly a solid superhero film.