Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first Spider-Man film to take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is set shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) dropping fifteen-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) back into a world of homework, prom dates, and school bullies post-superhero smackdown of a lifetime.
It’s going to be tough not comparing Homecoming to the wall-crawler’s five previous installments. The heavily rebooted franchise has had its high and low points since Sam Raimi’s original 2002 film. So, when Sony, the holder of the rights to the character, and Marvel Studios announced they were going to co-produce a new set of films that connect to the world of the Avengers, I couldn’t help but be optimistic. As it turns out, this unprecedented venture paid off in spades.
Holland is the one responsible for the reinvigorating the spirit of this modern day, appropriately aged Peter Parker. Instead of hiding behind the guise of a nerdy photographer and crying about another dead Uncle Ben, Peter is probably as excited about having superpowers as Holland is about playing the character, and it shows. The film opens with a hilarious vlog-style video diary of Peter’s trip to Berlin from Civil War, which is probably what Holland experienced when shooting the movie itself. The enthusiasm in his performance is truly contagious.
No good Spider-Man is complete without his red and blue suit and here, it literally is another character in the film. In this universe, Stark is the one who designs Peter’s duds, which come with as many hidden bells and whistles as you’d think, including expressive eye lenses and a spider-drone. In one sequence, Peter gains access to his own personal JARVIS-esque A.I. who he names Karen and is voiced by Jennifer Connelly, of all people. It kind of sounds crazy but her and Peter’s interactions are some of the funniest in the film.
What makes this incarnation of Spidey’s world stand out from the rest is how much humor is present, as well as the overall sense of fun, youthful energy. The comedy feels very natural and evenly peppered throughout the story as opposed to jokes being delegated to one comic-relief sidekick. The closest thing to this would be Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) who discovers his alter-ego early in the film and is convinced that having a superhero for a best friend is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him. Even he, though, is awarded some payoffs that resemble a neat character arc.
It became evident from Peter’s first scene in high school that Marvel was returning the character to its comic book roots of a uniquely teenaged hero. Director Jon Watts clearly draws inspiration from the John Hughes films of the ‘80s, (he pays homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in one scene), evidenced by the eclectic group of students that occupy Midtown Science High. Peter’s crush and fellow academic decathlon team member Liz (Laura Harrier), dry-witted and sarcastic Michelle (Zendaya), and pompous bully Flash (Tony Revolori) flesh out this decidedly ground-level superhero story.
Where Homecoming really breaks the spider-mold is in its villain, the Vulture aka Adrian Toomes played exceptionally by Michael Keaton. In the past, Spidey’s villains have felt almost operatic, where their quest for some greater enlightenment is interrupted by some horrible accident that turns them into a super villain (see Spider-Man 2’s Doc Ock or The Amazing Spider-Man’s Lizard). Here, Keaton’s character is a common blue collar criminal who sells weapons left over from previous Avengers battles that he scavenges using a giant wing suit. Peter, in order to prove to Stark that he is capable of becoming an Avenger, has to stop him. This dynamic is refreshingly simple, especially when more emphasis is put on character and heart rather than action and spectacle.
In contrast to all of these new and exciting elements, I thought the score for this film was disappointedly stale. Michael Giacchino, who is mostly known for the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films and Pixar’s Inside Out (the scores of which I like very much), has recently underwhelmed with his superhero film endeavors like in Doctor Strange. The themes feel very generic and pale in comparison to Danny Elfman’s now iconic melody for the Raimi Spider-trilogy. In addition to this, as a die-hard Marvel fan, I was able to pick up on some of the in-universe continuity inconsistencies of which the studio has generally been pretty good at keeping track. It’s the most obnoxious nitpick-y complaint on my part, but sometimes the nerd cred just gets in the way of the enjoyment of the film. It’s a gift and a curse.
A miracle that Sony and Marvel actually pulled off, Spider-Man: Homecoming is fun, refreshing, and full of laughs with a promising performance by Tom Holland.