“What’s it like to be the most famous person in school and have no one realize it’s you?” Nothing sums up Spider-Man better than the immortal mantra of “with great power, comes great responsibility”, but has anything ever captured so succinctly and completely the essence of being Peter Parker like this very question? This, combined with the fact that the person asking is Peter’s best friend Ned (the only non-Avenger-affiliated individual to know the boy behind the mask) should spell out one clear and simple message: Spider-Man: Homecoming is the webslinger’s truest big-screen treatment to date, a welcome party/ backyard adventure groomed and refined by all the lessons that Marvel Studios has learned over the past nine years. Not bad for a kid from Queens who’s now on his second rebooted franchise.
Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, which saw Spider-Man drafted in by Iron Man to capture half of the Avengers, high school sophomore Peter Parker (Tom Holland) restlessly waits for another call up to the big leagues. Every hour not spent in class (or with his decathlon team) he devotes to suiting up and fighting crime in Queens, New York, desperate to prove himself in the eyes of Tony Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr.). But as his activities put him on a collision course with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his vicious gang of alien tech traffickers, Peter realizes the hard way how much it takes to be a superhero, and how out of his depth he’s been all along.
Far from the soaring city heights of Maguire’s era, and Garfield’s grungy, shadowy city-university stomping ground, Holland’s jurisdiction brings it all back to his Spider-Man’s ‘friendly, neighbourhood’ reputation. This is a Spidey who gives directions to old ladies, chases bicycle thieves, and keeps all his costumed activities to after-school hours. It’s bright, colourful, warm, instantly endearing local-brew, and all a constant reminder that the most important thing about Spider-Man has always been that he’s a kid. It’s by just allowing Peter Parker to be a kid that Homecoming can be considered a triumph of an adaptation.
Holland proved an exquisite Spider-Man in just fifteen minutes of screen time last year. Now, with more than two hours front and centre of the proceedings, he outdoes himself as Peter. Capturing the dilemmas that split Peter’s life in two has always been a must-have motif, but what makes Holland and Homecoming both stand out is the variety of these dilemmas. It’s not all life-or-death situations! Sometimes, it’s as small as Peter having to choose between helping his best friend look cool at a party and chasing down some baddies. The size of the options isn’t what matters. It’s the size of the decisions, and Holland imbues each one with its due weight. His job is certainly made easier however by the standout talents of his supporting high school castmates, Jacob Batalon (Ned), Laura Harrier (love interest Liz), Tony Revolori (a welcome update to Flash Thompson, Peter’s classic tormentor) and Zendaya (a somewhat overly-marketed Michelle).
As for the old guard, as ever it’s impossible to tell where Downey Jr. ends and Stark begins, and so it’s hard to pinpoint the source of the character’s ‘Dad mode’ even as it allows the veteran Avenger to explore a different dynamic. With Michael Keaton, however, Holland could have hardly hoped for a greater first foe, single-handedly breaking both Marvel Studios’ curse of villain one-dimensionality and Sony’s addiction to the ‘lab experiment gone wrong’ cliché. Toomes is just an everyday working man out for his family’s welfare, and circumstances take him to a dark place. He’s not a god, a genocidal robot or corrupt elite. He’s just a crook looking to make a big score, and with that he becomes one of the most legitimately threatening presences yet produced by the MCU.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun, frenetic, faithful start to the wallcrawler’s adventures in a much bigger universe of superheroes. It has its shortcomings: Spider-Man’s suit is oftentimes a little too ‘Go-Go Gadget’, despite a narrative context that somewhat justifies its extremes. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) certainly deserved a more prolonged presence to establish this franchise’s interpretation of her staple in Peter’s world. It would have been nice to indulge in an entire song at the titular Homecoming dance (to make up for the film’s overall unimaginative soundtrack from Michael Giacchino). Most of all, as fun as it all may be, it doesn’t quite pack the emotional punches of previous big screen incarnations, and so falls short of the sense of awe and wonderment that perhaps a more established webslinger could entreat. As it is, the film is a joyride of a neighbourhood adventure nestled comfortably into its own corner of the Marvel franchise. Back to the Future, except with superheroes.
Final Score: 4/5