WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming. You’ve been warned.
It’s weird to say this, but Spider-Man: Homecoming feels more like a high school movie than a superhero movie, and I love it all the more for that.
Peter Parker has always been the superhero with which I’ve identified the most, and I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling. He was younger than the other superheroes, he was a nerd, he was kind of scrawny, he was sarcastic and witty, and he struggled with identity and fitting in. He was me. To be fair, I was never as smart as Peter, but the rest rang pretty true.
The Spider-Man movies we’ve received up to this point never really captured that high school feeling of growing up. The Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire version felt too old and odd, and that Peter was never all that funny. And while I really enjoy Andrew Garfield as an actor, I don’t think he was the right fit for the character. His version was more a hipster than a nerd, and it just wasn’t believable for someone as clearly handsome as him to be a school outcast. He got the humor and clearly made the most of the character while in the suit, but he wasn’t 100% there.
If you weren’t completely sold by his performance in Civil War, I can say without a doubt — Tom Holland is now the definitive Spider-Man, and I can’t wait to see more of him. Spider-Man: Homecoming has a few flaws, but it is the best Spider-Man film to date. I’m smiling just thinking about it.
First, let me get a few small points out of the way. Tony Stark isn’t in the movie as much as the trailers would have you believe, but I wasn’t all that surprised by that fact. I still don’t understand why Sony/Marvel thought they needed to market Iron Man being in their Spider-Man movie for people to go see it, but it’s not like Hollywood marketing departments have ever really understood their target demographics. Tony comes in and out a few times, but it’s more Happy Hogan that acts as the in-between for Peter and the Avengers.
He has Peter under surveillance and checks in from time to time. Peter also goes out of his way to try and stay in touch, going so far as to tell everyone he’s part of a “Stark internship.” I get that Marvel wanted to tie things to what’s happening in the larger Marvel universe, as well as have it make sense why Spidey will inevitably show up in Infinity War, but most of the Tony Stark stuff felt unnecessary. Robert Downey Jr. is such an aggressive presence on screen that at times he just runs right over Tom Holland, and that kind of sucks.
I don’t want to give the impression that this feels like an Avengers movie the way that Captain America: Civil War did, because it’s not like that at all. This is a street level movie focusing on Spidey fighting some street level villains, and I love it all the more for that. I just think the movie and story would have been better served with less interference by Iron Man. But to be fair, I really dig the father/son relationship they’re developing.
The primary villain of the movie is Vulture, played admirably by Michael Keaton. Kind of funny to see him play yet another winged hero/villain, but that’s beside the point. Homecoming follows the traditional Marvel trope of featuring an under-developed villain, but this case is actually more frustrating than most.
Look, I absolutely loved all the slice of life stuff we got to see with Peter and Spider-Man. Tom Holland is great, the little montages were fun, and I liked the additional character development we got for the supporting cast like Ned. And in all honesty, the vast majority of the supporting cast is great in this, and really add to the humor with their unique personalities. But I would have gladly sacrificed five minutes of that stuff to have spent more time with Adrian Toomes.
His backstory is just more interesting and relatable than most of the other Marvel villains we’ve seen. He’s a working class guy that’s been screwed over one too many times in life. The opening scene was nice, where he seemingly lost everything thanks to Tony and the government coming in and taking away his NYC cleaning job. The problem is, we just never got to see enough of him or his crew for them to develop into empathetic characters. We just flash forward a few years and he’s stealing alien tech and being a dick.
Which brings me to another, smaller criticism. How were all those dudes capable of making those weapons? There’s the one character that’s just really great with technology for no reason, but how was Toomes able to fly that machine and run that whole crew? How did they always know when and where to hit the shipments? I’m totally willing to suspend my disbelief, but I just think it was a missed opportunity. What if Toomes had been a retired Navy pilot that was still struggling to adjust to civilian life? That could explain his tech and flying expertise, and give him some additional pathos. Why didn’t they let me write this thing?
Of course, there’s also the big reveal about Toomes’ family. It was a little cliched, to be sure, but I’m glad the writers went that direction. Without that, his character arc would have been even less interesting.
However, even though this is Shea Hates Everything, I don’t want to only harp on the negative, because this movie was fun as hell. I could tell just from the trailers that I would really dig the vibe, and Homecoming did not disappoint. The nature of Peter Parker just really shone through in a nice way. He’s a kid, after all, and has high schooler problems to worry about. But he also dreams big, finally finds a place where he feels like he fits in, and then has an adult tell him he isn’t ready. It’s that classic rebellious phase, and it works.
I also applaud the writers and director for not harping on the past. We’ve seen Spider-Man’s origin story twice now in the past 15 years, and that was plenty. Everyone knows the story of the spider bite and Uncle Ben dying. It wasn’t necessary, and they were smart to avoid it. The movie was also helped by taking place after Spider-Man was introduced in Civil War, so that we weren’t completely starting from scratch. The movie even does a smart thing in giving us some behind the scenes stuff from Civil War from Peter’s perspective, and it’s so amazing. Seriously, Tom Holland nails this role. I’m so happy.
I won’t go too far into the story and scenes from the movie so as to avoid this being completely spoiler-filled, but I have to say I was a little disappointed that so many cool moments were ruined by the trailers. That isn’t the movie’s fault, but it’s still something I noticed. And if you’re a devoted fan of the Spider-Man comics, there are plenty of little easter eggs thrown in there. It’ll be fun to take this through a second watch to try and spot some more.
My biggest takeaway from this movie was that it succeeds extremely well at most things it aims to deliver. It’s absolutely hilarious and charming, the story feels personal, the action is satisfying, intense, and creative, and it stands on its own without having to rely much on the greater Marvel universe. The villain suffers due to all the time that was spent with Peter and pals, and I thought the final confrontation was a tad underwhelming compared to some of the earlier action. The Shocker was also woefully underrepresented, but those are small gripes compared to the pure joy I experienced for most of this movie.
Spider-Man: Homecoming finally delivers a Spider-Man movie that highlights everything I love about Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I just feel this nostalgia and giddiness even thinking about it, and it should be pretty obvious at this point that I’m usually immune to those sensations. I honestly haven’t felt this way about a superhero movie since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. The only thing that makes me sad is knowing I’m way too old to be friends with Tom Holland.