When Tom Holland first appeared on screen as Peter Parker/Spider-Man last May in Captain America: Civil War, we all knew then and there that the good folks at Marvel had something special on their hands. Holland stole nearly every scene he was in, capturing the lighthearted, youthful tone of the character, all the while balancing it out with a mature sense of responsibility fitting for that of Peter Parker. He was funny, had great chemistry with his co-stars, and truly brought something special to the beloved character that we hadn’t yet seen before in an on screen version of the friendly neighborhood hero, and managed to do so in under 30 minutes of screen time. It was an amazing debut for Spidey in the MCU, and like many of you, I couldn’t wait to see his first solo outing in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Well readers, it’s finally here. Spider-Man is home, and it was worth the wait.
Spoiler Warning: this review contains full spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, what are you doing here? Do yourself a favor and go watch the movie, then check back here. You can thank me later.
I’m going to go ahead and say it right off the bat: Tom Holland is Spider-Man. After his brief appearance in Civil War, I was left wanting more. Not because his performance was lacking, but because it was so good. I was ready to see what Holland could do in his own film, and I was ready to see him further develop this character in the spirit of the original comics, and he delivered in spades. What makes Homecoming so great is that it’s first and foremost a film about Peter Parker, and not Spider-Man. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. At its core, the story of Spider-Man has always been the story of Peter Parker, not the other way around. Much like the original comics, the scale of this film isn’t as big as other MCU properties, and the story is a deeply personal one, and therein lies one of the film’s greatest strengths.
Many other reviews out there have commented on how the stakes of this film weren’t as high as other MCU movies, but I disagree. No, if the Vulture had succeeded in hijacking the plane carrying the Avengers tech, the world wouldn’t have come to an end, so the scale of the film is indeed smaller, but that doesn’t lower the stakes of the film. The stakes were high because they were emotional stakes for Peter. If he had failed in stopping Toomes from stealing the tech, Peter wouldn’t have had the catharsis that he needed as a hero. This was in many ways a coming of age film for Peter, both in and out of costume, and that was one of the film’s strongest points.
Speaking of coming of age, a big part of that came from planting Peter right in the middle of his high school career. In the previous franchises, we saw Peter grow up rather quickly, spending minimal time in a high school setting. I loved that this version of Spider-Man was a sophomore in high school, and he acted like it. There were several moments in the film where I thought to myself, “If I had those powers back when I was 15 years old, that’s exactly what I would’ve acted like.” We got to see Peter absolutely loathe school for the first time, actively pushing it aside so that he could spend more time as Spider-Man, and I thought that dynamic was especially interesting. It was apparent that he has an amazing intellect, but exercising it bored him until he had to put it to use as Spider-Man, like when he had to hack the doors to escape the Damage Control facility.
Another one of the stronger elements of the film comes in the form of the phenomenal supporting cast. Robert Downey, Jr. was as entertaining as ever to watch, but his inclusion in the story made sense, much to my relief. One of my main concerns coming into this film was that Iron Man would overshadow Spidey and it would feel like a team up movie. That was definitely not the case. Having Stark there interacting with Peter really put into perspective how young and inexperienced Spidey is as a super hero in this universe, and it was interesting to see their dynamic play out on screen. If anything, I felt like Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan was more overused than anything. Not to say he was out of place, but at a certain point, every time the film cut back to Happy, I found myself just wanting to get back to Peter and what was going on with him.
As expected, Jacob Batalon’s Ned was also one of the high points of the film as well, as he was definitely the breakout star of the supporting cast. Also as predicted, his character was definitely closer to Ganke than the Ned Leeds from the books, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Ned filled the pivotal role of being Peter’s only confidant who was one of his peers. Up until this point, Spidey has never had a friend to confide in on screen that wasn’t a love interest, so this was a welcome change in my opinion. Ned was able to keep things light and added such an excited energy to every scene he was in, and served up a lot of the comedic relief, which was rarely, if ever, out of place in this film. I especially enjoyed the conversations between Peter and Ned talking about the “guy in the chair” troupe that many properties of this genre follow, and having the film be self-aware in that regard made it less of a cliché.
Now, let’s talk about Spider-Man. It was painfully obvious that Spidey is just now learning how to use his powers and be a hero, and let’s face it; at this point, he’s not good at his job. Like at all. While this may be disappointing to many, I thought it was an interesting way to approach an origin story of sorts. It showed us that he had recently come by these amazing powers, and watching him learn how to use them further helped to show us the coming of age theme doesn’t just apply to Peter’s life at school; he’s coming into his own as a super hero, and that takes time. That being said, he really was just a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in this film. We got to see Spidey take suburbia by storm, and it really took him out of the element that we typically see him in. That being said, the web slinging was really kept to a minimum, as there aren’t as many tall buildings in Queens to swing from. That, and the fact still stands now that Peter is afraid of heights. Seeing him scared of the places his powers can take him and watching him push through his fears in order to save his classmates in the Washington Monument was a really interesting aspect of Spider-Man’s growing pains. Watching him figure out his suit and learning how to use his web shooters and all of the different web combos was also really fun as well, albeit I do wish that they would’ve scaled back a lot of the conversations with Karen, his suit’s onboard AI.
Overall though, I feel like the best character moments for Spidey came after Stark took his suit away. Once Peter lost his suit, you could feel how exposed he felt, and it really stripped away everything that made him feel in control as a hero and forced him to grow up and not to rely on his suit to make him a hero. As we’ve noted before, it’s a nice parallel to Tony’s journey in Iron Man 3, and by the end of the film, you could really tell that Peter had grown into his identity as Spider-Man, and he was confident in his abilities without the Stark Tech suit, even going so far as to turn down Tony’s offer for an even newer suit, as well as membership with the Avengers. It didn’t happen right away though; Spidey spent most of the movie trying to convince himself and others that he really was Spider-Man and not Spider-Boy. When his suit was taken away, Spidey was forced to come to terms with this, and it finally came to a head when he decided to go after the Vulture, despite his ultimatum. That led to my favorite moment in the film, when Spidey was trapped under all of the rubble left in the wake of the Vulture’s attack, forcing him into a panic attack. The imagery of the scene was straight out of the Amazing Spider-Man #33, one of the most iconic Spidey stories of all time, and watching him push past the fear and persevering despite all odds was the greatest Spider-Man moment on screen to date in my opinion. It was a satisfying arc to watch, and really gave us a sense of closure and catharsis as an audience by the end of the film.
Every hero is only as good as the villain though, right? That’s debatable, but it was the only way I could think of to segue into talking about yet another highlight of this film, Michael Keaton’s Vulture. When Keaton was first cast, I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but it didn’t take me long to warm up to the idea of his playing the Vulture. I know that the subject of villains in the MCU is a hotly debated topic, and many people are very polarized in their opinions on the subject, but I’m going to out on a limb here and say that I believe that the Vulture is definitely in the top three MCU movie villains, right up there with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane. Keaton really sunk his teeth into this role, and delivered a fantastic performance, giving Adrian Toomes an intimidating presence as a villain in every scene he was in. Furthermore, what really made his character interesting was that this was the first villain we’ve gotten in the MCU with a conscience. Every action that Toomes took in the film was to provide for his family, and I felt for the guy right off the bat. You can’t justify what he does morally, but you can empathize with him on a personal level. Even though he threatens to and ultimately tries to kill Spider-Man, his motivations stem from a desperation to provide for his family. My only problem with the Vulture was that he claimed that he needed to pull off one last job in order to keep his house and to provide for his family, but if you look at their house, it seemed like they were really well off for Toomes to be that desperate. In my opinion, it would’ve been more interesting to see Toomes and his family in a tighter spot, and it would’ve justified Toomes’ motivations a little more, and it would’ve also given Liz a little more to do with her character.
Speaking of, the Liz twist was also an interesting one. Even though it wasn’t a thing in the comics, it further tightened the plot to make things all the more personal for Peter, and in my mind, it was a welcome addition. When it was revealed, it surprised me, and from that moment on, I felt the tension and the fear that Peter did, especially when Toomes pulled a Glock on Peter in the car and gave him the ultimatum to stay out of his business. I also really enjoyed the fact that even though it was really a supervillain threatening our hero, it felt like a high school kid getting in trouble with his girlfriend’s parents, which I thought was an interesting way to approach it.
The action pieces in the film also weren’t what you would normally expect from a Spider-Man movie, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In hindsight, I found myself wanting to see a little more from the scenes, but again, watching Spider-Man attack this learning curve further supports his growth as a character. Furthermore, having a novice Spider-Man in the film definitely establishes the Vulture as a legitimate threat. It’s not that he’s necessarily that dangerous of a villain in the grander scheme of things (Iron Man would’ve had no trouble in taking him out, for example), but the fact that Peter’s in over his head raises the level of tension for these scenes, which made the action scenes more engaging, even though they weren’t as flashy as some others we’ve seen before.
Overall, this was a fantastic solo outing that is able to stand on its own, but at the same time manages to make its connectivity to the larger MCU apparent without being too heavy-handed. It also manages to give us a new approach to a Spidey film that is fresh and interesting, yet still loyal to the source material. I believe that this new franchise will breathe new life into the character enough to revive interest for the general moviegoer, but at the same time manages to take the Webslinger back to his roots in the comics in a way that is loyal to the books and finally does the character justice after all these years. The fan service was also phenomenal, planting seeds for characters that may pop up in the future such as the Prowler, the Scorpion, and even Miles Morales himself. In conclusion, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the most fun MCU movies to date, delivering a loyal, yet fresh approach to Marvel’s flagship character with a strong supporting cast, threatening villain, and strong character development that make for Marvel’s most personal film to date.