The Spider-Man franchise is perhaps the perfect example of the lack of originality that many believe is plaguing the film industry. The first appearance of Tom Holland’s take on Peter Parker in last year’s Captain America: Civil War marked the second cinematic reboot of the wall-crawler in less than five years and many moviegoers were rightfully skeptical of another solo series for a character who it seemed may have ran his course on the big screen. While Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first of said solo series, isn’t original enough to completely alleviate those concerns, it’s at least a solid film when taken on its own merits. Strong humor, a lively performance from Holland, and connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe denied to previous versions of the character make Homecoming a highly enjoyable, if hardly moving, experience.
After a prologue introducing the film’s villain (Michael Keaton’s take on Adrian Toomes a.k.a. the Vulture) Homecoming picks up in the midst of Captain America: Civil War with a very funny look into Peter’s perspective on the events of that film, courtesy of a video diary he keeps throughout a mission. Upon his return from helping Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) combat former friends, Peter is gifted by the older hero with an A.I. powered super suit as part of a trial period, which he is told, could result in his full induction into the Avengers someday. Tony tells him to lay low while he learns the finer points of super-heroics, suggesting that he focus more on neighborhood crime-fighting rather than the international incidents the Avengers routinely involve themselves in, and while Peter claims to take this advice to heart, within two months he is bored of patrolling Queens and constantly pesters his handler, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, reprising his delightful role from the Iron Man trilogy), for another “real” mission. Holland does a good job portraying Peter’s frustration and desire to prove himself and the film moves along at such a quick and easy pace that it’s hard not to get caught up in the fun, but I occasionally found myself less than satisfied with the issues Peter is facing given that they are essentially all first-world, fairly unsympathetic, problems. While past takes on Peter had him struggling financially and socially, as he always does in the comic-book source material, this version is essentially waiting with baited breath for the next alien invasion or super-villain attack and this occasionally creates a bit of a disconnect with the character. Fortunately this downtime only really lasts throughout some of the first act and once Peter’s wish for a legitimate threat is granted by Toomes’ schemes, in which he sells alien and hi-tech weaponry recovered from the wrecks of Avengers battles, the film really finds its groove as a funny superhero caper that is also interested (though not heavily invested) in the high school escapades of its adolescent hero.
Homecoming‘s desire to be both a high school comedy and an introduction to a new version of a beloved comic-book and cinematic hero is both a blessing and a curse. Holland’s Peter is by far the youngest and most believably naïve big screen Spider-Man (he’s leagues ahead of Tobey McGuire but still behind Andrew Garfield) and Watts is able to craft a very charming character but the balance and grace with which Peter is (for the most part) approached isn’t always reflected in the rest of the cast. Out of the various classmates depicted in the film the only one with consistently strong material is Peter’s best friend, Jacob Batalon’s Ned, even if his characterization, along with that of Donald Glover’s character, could be upsetting to fans of the second Spider-Man from the comics. Laura Harrier is perfectly fine as love interest Liz Allan but is let down by the writing which never provides a good reason for Liz to reciprocate Peter’s romantic feelings making their connection far from tangible. The script also fails to really sell the tug of war between Peter’s personal and heroic lives that is so vital to the character, possibly due to its infuriating tendency to ignore the tragedies that define him as a person. While the decision to refrain from showing a third version of Uncle Ben Parker getting shot to death because of Peter’s mistakes is a necessary move to avoid being labeled repetitive, the lack of emotional weight given to Peter’s background costs the film in terms of impact.
While Homecoming certainly has a fair amount of weak spots they are evened out by the general sense of fun and the non-student supporting characters. Homecoming is genuinely, effortlessly funny in a way most movies simply aren’t any more and the constant stream of laughs contributes to the film’s brisk and easy pace. The more experienced actors in the cast are also on top of their game. Robert Downey Jr. is as great as ever, but the restraint both he and the writers show in regards to the use of Tony Stark in the film is the most admirable thing about his inclusion. Tony is very much a supporting character here, as he should be, but every scene he’s in is better for it. Although under-used, Marisa Tomei makes for a highly entertaining Aunt May and she shares possibly the film’s best scene with Holland. That all being said it is Keaton who really steals the show. The former Batman makes the most out of a simple yet effective villainous part that is simultaneously clever and thuggish turning in an endlessly entertaining performance. The subtle portrayals of similarities between Peter and Toomes are also some of the script’s highlights.
Future installments will need to improve action sequences and emotional complexity in order to ensure the rebooted series’ longevity but Spider-Man: Homecoming is good enough for now. The film does a fine job of reintroducing moviegoers to Peter Parker, who is now firmly entrenched in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s nice to have you back Webs. Don’t screw it up this time.