2002 introduced us to Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, who would play the role for all three films of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, ending in 2007. Five years after that, the series was rebooted with Andrew Garfield in the role, starring in Marc Webb’s two The Amazing Spider-Man films in 2012 and 2014. The first two Raimi films were very well received, but the others all received very mixed reviews, and box office returns rapidly decreased as a result. The solution: Sony will allow Marvel to handle the character. Officially a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spidey was reintroduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, portrayed by Tom Holland. The brief appearance was very well received, but with Spider-Man: Homecoming, Holland takes up the challenge of carrying a Spider-Man film on his own. And it’s safe to say that we have the best portrayal of the webslinger yet!
After the airport battle in Civil War, Peter Parker (Holland) is sent back home by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) with his brand new Spidey Suit and the promise to receive a call when they need him again. That call hasn’t come for over two months, so a disappointed but hopeful Peter spends his nights trying to stop petty crimes. However, when he discovers a group of robbers with incredibly dangerous and high-tech weapons, he takes it upon himself to find out what’s going on and prove himself worthy of becoming an official Avenger. And making matters even harder for him, there’s a Homecoming dance to worry about.
Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both very good in their roles, but Tom Holland is able to set himself apart by being the only one to truly capture the character that the world fell in love with in the first place. This isn’t the angry or mopey Peter Parker from the past films. This Parker is young, energetic, curious, and immature. He’s still a child and he acts like it. He messes up. He cries. He thinks selfishly. This is the Peter Parker that everyone has related to for decades and Tom Holland absolutely crushes it. A few liberties are taken with some of the Spider-Man lore itself, but the character himself is adapted as perfectly as possible.
One of the biggest contributing factors in director Jon Watts’s success in capturing a youthful Spider-Man is keeping the movie small. Peter is still in high school, and Spider-Man: Homecoming is about 40% a John Hughes style high school comedy. We see Peter dealing with a bully, going to his first party, participating in the Academic Decathlon, sitting at the losers’ table at lunch, doing nerdy things with his best friend, and trying to ask his crush to the dance. He has actual 15-year-old problems on top of his Spider-Man duties. Spider-Man is a high schooler with super powers, and this movie expresses that balance perfectly. Helping to keep those two sides together is best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who discovers Peter’s secret early in the movie and reacts exactly how you’d expect a nerd who finds out his best friend fought Captain America to react. He’s one of the funniest characters in an already hilarious movie, and he acts as an audience surrogate, becoming someone for Peter to bounce his thoughts off of.
But of course, this is still a superhero movie, and it doesn’t sacrifice that for the high school stuff. The action in the film is great. Fight scenes are well staged and the three major superhero set pieces are really entertaining. They’re also kept relatively small in comparison to other MCU films, which fits the “stick to the ground” theme that the film pushes. One specific area that Homecoming manages to place itself above other MCU films is its villain. Michael Keaton portrays Adrian Toomes, also known as Vulture, the ringleader of the weapons empire with his own set of high-tech mechanical wings and armor. Keaton’s performance is as fantastic as you’d suspect, but what really makes Toomes so great is his motivation. Keeping with the staying small theme, Toomes isn’t out to take over the world or kill everybody. He’s simply an everyday guy that was dealt a bad hand, and tries to deal with it in the wrong way. You will understand, sympathize with, and possibly even agree with Toomes at some points, and it makes the film so much more compelling.
On top of trying to juggle and merge two very different tones, Watts and the screenwriters were responsible for making Spider-Man fit within the rest of the MCU, and they do that gracefully as well. First of all, they know that we’ve seen the origin story twice now, so they stay away from repeating themselves and hint towards the necessary backstory professionally and naturally. Second of all, they use just the right amount of Tony Stark. It never turns into Iron Man 4, instead allowing Stark to be a supportive mentor and almost father figure to Peter. It’s a natural progression from where they started in Civil War, and all of the Stark and Avengers touches perfectly transition Spidey into the franchise without sacrificing the quality of the movie. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the best MCU film in years, and is the best we’ve ever seen the character on screen. It may be a little cliched at times, but it plays off those cliches for humor and characterization. It’s funny, entertaining, heartfelt, well-acted, and most of all, just a fun time at the movies. Welcome home, Spidey! We sure have missed you.