Marvel’s latest movie proves bigger isn’t always better when it comes to superhero films.
Before rolling your eyes at the idea of another web-slinging reboot, you should know, Homecoming is arguably the best the Spider-Man movie yet.
For those keeping track, this is the second Spider-Man reset on the big screen. The tumultuous cinematic history of the character goes back 15 years ago with Sam Raimi’s relatively well-received Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire. This was followed by 2004’s Spider-Man 2 – still considered by many as one of the greatest comic book flicks of all time – and the much-maligned Spider-Man 3 in 2007.
The franchise was revamped for a new generation, with fresh-faced star Andrew Garfield, in 2012’s passable The Amazing Spider-Man and the forgettable The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014.
Now, enough history and on to the present…
British actor Tom Holland (who started his career as Billy Elliot in the London musical and rose further to fame in 2012’s tsunami drama The Impossible) first appeared briefly as Peter Parker, thereby officially entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in last year’s Captain America: Civil War.
Well, Spidey’s time to shine has finally arrived (once again) in Homecoming.
Set just after the events of Civil War, which saw a fractured Avengers team dealing with some internal squabbling, the story follows 15-year old high school student Peter Parker (Holland) as he navigates the academic decathlon team, deals with a classroom crush, and moonlights as a local acrobatic arachnid crime fighter in a red suit. Parker is being mentored by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who isn’t quite sure the determined teen is ready for all that power and responsibility.
Meanwhile a local crime boss, who would have made a great Breaking Bad villain, named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his henchmen are developing deadly weapons from scavenged alien technology. Toomes sees Spider-Man as a threat to his shady business and creates a scary mechanical wingsuit, earning him the appropriate moniker of Vulture.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is an absolute blast from start to finish. The movie is jam-packed with spectacular (and well-staged) action, thrilling drama, and hilarious moments throughout; it somehow feels intimate and grandiose at the same time.
The less said about the plot, the better. There are a few surprises, including one doozy of a twist, that are best left unspoiled. What you need to know is that it plays out like an 80s coming-of-age comedy – including a brilliant nod to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – mixed with a grounded superhero adventure.
We don’t learn too many details of how Spidey achieved his powers and that’s OK. The writers seemed more intent on moving the character forward as opposed to dwelling on his familiar origin story. Tonally, the film feels more akin to the Iron Man movies with a dash of Ant-Man. Basically, if you found Civil War a tad busy and melodramatic, you’re in luck.
Holland brings so much verve and wit to his performance and is perfectly cast as Spider-Man. You can virtually feel the young actor’s sheer excitement at landing such a huge gig. He conveys all the joy, awkwardness, and downright frustration that comes with being a teen. Not only that, his spin on the web-slinger is so pumped to be in the Avengers mix that it’s positively infectious.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the movie is how effective the villain is. In some ways, Michael Keaton paved the way for superheroes on the big screen. In 1989 he famously played the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s Batman. Here he has a chance to sink his talons into a juicy role as Vulture and seems to relish every minute of it.
His character’s motivations are clearly laid out in the opening scene and he gets plenty of simmering dialogue to create an effective arc. The Marvel flicks can get fairly crowded at times, often resulting in underdeveloped antagonists, so Keaton’s multi-layered, brooding baddie is a welcome change.
That being said, Homecoming does run into some typical problems. It certainly sticks to the MCU playbook in terms of overall plot and visual aesthetic, so a franchise feel does permeate throughout the movie. Also, there are several characters introduced that are either pretty stock or don’t have much to do other than provide story exposition.
Minor issues aside, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to take a seemingly stale superhero and give him an immensely satisfying cinematic upgrade. This delightful summer thrill ride deserves 4 out of 5 pieces of popcorn.
Playing at a theatre near you. Rated PG and is 133 minutes long.