In the Marvel universe, Spider-Man is known as the greatest hero of them all, but in the movie world, the ol’ web-head has been in a bit of a funk.
Two mixed-quality Andrew Garfield outings followed Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 3, a cringeworthy couple of hours known above all for its weird emo dance number. So when it was announced that Sony would partner up with Marvel to bring the wall-crawler to the MCU, a collective huzzah went up from comic nerds the world round. A bit part in Captain America: Civil War succeeded in whetting our appetites. Spider-Man: Homecoming delivers the goods.
We’ve seen enough takes on the radioactive spider bite and Uncle Ben’s death in film, so this movie skips any origins angle and drops us into Peter Parker’s life two months after the airplane hangar fight in Civil War. Peter (Tom Holland) wants to get back to the big show after stopping petty crimes left and right. He’s been pestering his contact point, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), about more Avengers action, but Happy brushes the kid off. So when Spider-Man runs into four robbers using alien technology to steal from an ATM, he begins investigating the weapons’ source on his own, leading him headfirst into a showdown with the Vulture (Michael Keaton).
If Ryan Reynolds was born to be Deadpool, Tom Holland was certainly born to be Spider-Man. Garfield played the part a bit too cool; Maguire a bit too nerdy. Both were enjoyable, but neither filled out the total package. Not to mention they were both way too old to realistically pull off the high school kid routine. Holland covers all the Peter Parker bases to perfection: He’s awkward in the way of real teenagers, and putting on the mask doesn’t suddenly make him some cool, confident paragon of virtue. He’s still the same embarrassing kid—and Holland owns that, which makes Peter cool as a result. He wisecracks with the best of them, but can also hold down the sadness necessary for the character.
Michael Keaton is equally fun to watch playing Adrian Toomes, giving a nuanced go that signals an effort by Marvel to overcome their villain problem (i.e. their motives are always world domination or some other grandiose scheme). Prior to his Vulture turn, Toomes was the foreman of a cleanup crew. When a Stark Industries venture puts him out of work, he needs to find a new way to support his family. It’s a little weird that he and his crew instantly decide to start selling stolen alien weaponry to criminals. People will do a lot for the ones they love, but maybe becoming a super-villain doesn’t need to be your first option. After this abrupt leap, Keaton’s storyline works.
The supporting roles round out the film nicely, and Marvel’s casting appears to take a clear stand in the stupid ongoing debate about changing adapted characters’ races or sexes in movies. There are those who dogmatically believe it’s some affront to the comic-book gods to make Spider-Man, say, black. The issue came to a head a couple years back when somebody started an internet campaign to make Donald Glover the next Peter Parker, revealing the racism inherent to the strict adaptation viewpoint.
Obviously Spidey is still white here, but Homecoming features a cast that includes a black Mary Jane, a Latino Flash Thompson, an interracial marriage, and an appearance by Glover himself in what is a wonderfully subtle fuck-you to the bigots in the blogosphere. As amazing as Spider-Man himself, swapping character races and including people of color had no negative effect on the movie whatsoever. Go figure. While the Marvel movies are not quite as far along as they should be in regard to diversity, hopefully these efforts signal an increasingly progressive mindset going forward.
On the whole, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of Marvel’s best yet. The filmmakers treated our hero as he should be treated, the cast is as impressive and well rounded as the action sequences, and Holland’s perfect performance gives plenty to look forward to in the movies to come. Spider-Man is back.
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover
Theater: Area theaters, now playing