Being a teenager is rough. You’ve got raging hormones, school to keep up with, social circles to navigate, and secrets to keep; all the while you just want someone, anyone to take you seriously. Add in a set of spider-powers and you know exactly how Peter Parker feels in Spider-Man: Homecoming. In the lead up to this film, Spidey’s first solo film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Jon Watts, the producers, and the cast spoke again and again about how they wanted to make a “teen movie” with a “John Hughes vibe” and this reviewer has to admit that they’ve knocked it out of the park. Homecoming is a triumph of the highest order and a bold and brilliant cinematic course correction for a character that hadn’t had a good movie in thirteen years.
In February of 2015, when it was announced that Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures had struck a deal to bring the most famous and beloved superhero of all time into the most successful film franchise of the 21st Century, nerds worldwide rejoiced. This rejoicing quickly turned to discussion about how this marriage of convenience would work and what an MCU Spidey film would even look like. When they started promising John Hughes meets Brian Michael Bendis, they caught this writer’s attention, but the question in the back of my mind was whether or not they could deliver. After having seen the film which can only be described as The Edge of Seventeen meets Spider-Man 2, I’m happy to say I don’t know how I ever could have doubted.
Peter Parker in this film is nothing like either of his previous cinematic incarnations. Gone is the quiet and pathetic Parker as he was portrayed by Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield’s hipster, skater boy take is nowhere to be seen. Hyper-verbal, high energy, and fidgety as can be, Peter is an uber-nerd through and through in this film and Tom Holland sells the part with astounding success. Holland’s performance is one you can’t look away from as his body language, facial expressions, and use of tone are masterful, especially for one at such a young age. Whether it be pratfalls or cool backflips, he sells the physicality of the character like few could hope to. Combined with the sheer emotionality of the performance he has crafted a character that I cannot wait to see more of.
Peter doesn’t want much in this film. He wants to be taken seriously, like all fifteen-year-olds do, and he’d really like to get a date with his crush and academic decathlon teammate, Liz (portrayed skillfully by Laura Harrier). He spends the entire first half of the film trying to impress Tony Stark, desperately chasing the high of his mission in Germany from Captain America: Civil War. When he finally thinks that he has his chance to prove himself, he blows it and suddenly everything seems to come crashing down. But as we all know, when things are at their worst, that’s when Spider-Man always seems to be at his best.
One fantastic detail that the story continues to circle around to is the amount of trouble that Spider-Man causes for Peter. Time and again over the course of the film, Peter chooses to be Spider-Man over Peter Parker, and every time it’s Peter Parker that has to deal with the consequences. It’s a nuanced understanding of the character that reaffirms my faith in the people making the creative decisions. This film just gets Spider-Man, and it is a joy to behold.
A good Spider-Man story is nothing without an excellent villain and oh boy does this film deliver one. Michael Keaton is at his scene-chewing best in this film as the insidious Adrian Toomes, better known to Spidey fans as The Vulture. The creative team made a brilliant decision to ground The Vulture’s origin story in the very bones of the MCU, with Toomes having been the owner of a salvage company that almost goes under after Tony Stark and the US Government yank his crew off of a job salvaging wreckage from The Battle of New York (from the first Avengers film). Infuriated by what he sees as the powerful stepping on the weak, Toomes and his crew use the alien technology that they’ve scavenged to build high-tech weaponry and become super villains. Keaton turns in a masterful performance as Toomes, giving the character a downright sinister edge as he chews through scene after scene with wildly apparent glee. There’s a particular encounter between him and our hero later in the film that is positively bone-chilling.
I would be remiss not to mention the supporting cast as they are all fantastic and allow the film to lay plenty of groundwork for future installments. Jon Watts has assembled quite the diverse cast of performers to play Peter’s classmates and the citizens of New York, and it’s refreshing to see a cast that actually feels representative of the diversity of a city like New York. Of particular note is Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned. Ned is as hopelessly nerdy as Peter, perhaps even more so as he finds himself without some of the advantages that Peter has. When he finds out that his best friend is Spider-Man, all he wants is to be a part of it and it’s so wonderfully authentic that it borders on heartbreaking. Batalon put himself on my radar with this performance and I look forward to what he does next.
The action in the film is also spectacular. Somehow after six cinematic appearances, Marvel still managed to find new ways to use and depict Spidey’s power set. The set pieces are magnificent in their ingenuity and what’s even more important is that they managed to put real heart and pathos into the action. Each of the fights has a story and it’s fantastic to watch them play out. One fight in particular culminates in what I can only describe as the most heroic cinematic moment in the MCU since Steve Rogers jumped on the grenade in Captain America: The First Avenger, a moment so powerful that I nearly jumped from my chair. If this is what they’re doing in Spidey’s first MCU outing, I cannot even wait to see what they come up with for the sequel.
I could go on about this film for a while but suffice to say that I was floored. Featuring brilliantly scripted characters, dynamite performances, and a story that makes a conscious effort to stay grounded in a ridiculously fantastical world, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a shining example of the very best that the superhero genre and the MCU have to offer. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious, utterly sincere, and contains some of the genre’s most pulse-pounding action to date. It is honestly just about the platonic ideal of a Spider-Man film. Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters now. Go see it.