Spider-Man: Homecoming is less about a high school homecoming dance and more about the popular comic book character being loaned back to his parent company Marvel and their cinematic universe in partnership with Sony. That is the homecoming of real importance and you can feel in every frame that they know and get this character.
Sony have had a good run with the web slinger, Spider-Man 2 remains a classic of the genre that predates the MCU or Christopher Nolan’s stab at Batman. Even the last franchise entries starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone boasted a great chemistry between the two romantic leads which spoke to a wealth of possibilities. Alas Tom Holland showed up in Captain America: Civil War and here we are with his incarnation of the character getting his own film.
This is the seventh film with Spider-Man in it so you would be forgiven if you wondered what the point of seeing this would be. Hasn’t this story already been played out before? But surprisingly not so.
Peter Parker may have been in high school in earlier films but here he is a high schooler and a lot of the story revolves around the challenges you navigate in that environment rather than facing down crooks as a masked crusader. This is John Hughes by way of Marvel and for the most part it proves fresh and engaging as a result.
The story picks up not long after the events of Civil War, Parker having survived a battle between superheroes is deemed not quite ready by Tony Stark who gives him the “Don’t call us – we’ll call you.” line. Parker having participated in something big doesn’t want to just go back to helping get cats out of trees around his neighbourhood. Stumbling across criminals trading in alien technology he sees the pursuit of them as a way to prove himself to Stark. This brings him into conflict with Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture (Michael Keaton) who is running the trade of these super weapons.
Toomes has a chip on his shoulder about the powers that be forgetting about the little guy and makes some pretty compelling arguments. That is until you see just how remorseless he is about protecting his business. Michael Keaton gives Toomes working class likeability but a cold ruthlessness that is truly menacing to see a 15 year old boy go up against. Keaton who’s played bad guys before proves he’s still got what it takes at 65 to be headlining a summer blockbuster and selling the physicality required for a superhero movie.
The film like Parker himself balances this pursuit in the plot with the tasks of being a regular high school kid. These are the best bits of the film as Parker has a crush on a Liz (Laura Harrier) at school, a best friend who wants to be his “guy in the chair”, his widowed Aunt May justifiably a little protective along with all the requisite school work. The cast here is diverse and likeable as hell, best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is just so damn supportive and likeable while MJ (Zendaya) is typically stand-offish and derisive as a fellow teenager but probably sees and cares more than most.
While they are the stand outs there’s really no one who is not likeable, even Tony Revolori (Eugene ‘Flash’ Thompson) who is a rival of sorts to Peter and constantly mocks him is just a kid trying to be cool and liked and sees an easy target. The adults have their own personalities too, one commenting about Captain America training videos. “You got to watch these even though I think this guy is like a war criminal now or something.”
There are a lot of in-jokes including one where Parker finds himself in suburbia where it is a lot more difficult to swing from building to building and a really enjoyable one during the end credit stinger. The set pieces are fine and remain focused on character and are pretty spectacular to look at. T
he only let down is maybe the Tony Stark part of the plot, Stark seems to absent and hypocritical after recruiting him to go up against Captain America in Civil War, he should be more hands on with his development if he truly wants him to remain safe. There was probably a reluctance to overshadow Spider-Man in this first new outing but it reeks of inconsistent character motivation which always weakens a film. Stark as a mentor was an interesting angle and it would have been interesting to see more of it.
These are nitpicks though, they got Peter Parker as a loveable, earnest, smart and funny kid just right and delivered on telling a story based on the very original premise of the comic books – a high school kid who gets superpowers and all that results from that. Lessons about great power and the duality of a boy being a boy but also becoming a hero. After six films this is Spider-Man as you’ve never seen him before and as you always should have.