Spider-Man Homecoming is the culmination of a lot of cinematic drama. No, not with the current Peter Parker as played by Tom Holland facing baddies. We’ve only previously seen him as one of many supporting characters in Captain America: Civil War. The true drama is that around Sony Pictures and the Disney owned Marvel Entertainment’s battle of character rights! Sony helped usher in the modern superhero film landscape with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. However, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe developed for Disney, Sony struggled to get their own off the ground with the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Now, the two have cooperated to bring Peter Parker into the fold and he’s got his own solo movie. Of course, that’s a lot of Spider-Man. To the point where this could easily confuse and disinterest folks. So, does this Spider-Man stand out?
Definitely. The fact alone that Spider-Man Homecoming is in the MCU makes it stand out. Yet, it isn’t just tied by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) making a few appearances. He certainly does, with Downey giving a decent 3/4 level of the typical smug arrogance. The more intriguing MCU connections really lie within the smaller nuanced examples of world building. We see the impact of these superheroes on a cultural level more than a disaster level, changing the dynamics of how people interact. This includes how a low level contractor like Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) deals with the struggles of government contractors swooping in and stealing his livelihood. It honestly feels more interesting on a street level view of this universe than any of the limited connecting threads within the MCU Netflix shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones… though the opening set doesn’t feel too far off from that budget when compared the usual MCU film.
It’s an intriguing motivation that sets Adrian apart from most of the dull villains of this universe, making him one of the better ones. Yet… that’s not saying a lot. Aside from that amazing start of a motivation, Toomes just feels like a standard Marvel villain that’s only shaped a bit more rounded thanks to Michael Keaton’s traditional penchant for relatable evil in general. His motivation is left to the side for the sake of a twist that works in the moment, but ultimately falls victim to much of the problems of the typical Marvel villain. It doesn’t help that he spends most of his screentime in a grey design for his costume, which often gets lost in the shuffle of the lesser action sequences. He’s a far better villain for Spider-Man Homecoming in overview than execution.
Really, the shining aspect of Spider-Man in the MCU is how average folks see this world of superheroes. That it’s a daily part of life, especially given they’re in New York where the attacks from the first Avengers film occurred. Yet, someone like Peter or his best pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) can still feel giddy about being a superhero. Peter and Ned’s relationship really holds the film together, giving us the lower perspective on the food chain both within high school and the MCU in general. They’re scrappy, awkward and in over their heads, but they are just so enthusiastic. Even if Ned is just “the guy in the chair”, he feels like he’s a part of something bigger. Much like Peter wants to be part of The Avengers. Being a superhero is the equivalent of joining a rag tag group of misfits for this teen movie, which is where Spider-Man Homecoming honestly shines the most.
There’s a bit of inspiration from the likes of John Hughes in how this high school operates, but there’s also a decent dose of relatable groundedness that co-writer/director Jon Watts shines at. Watts’ previous film Cop Car had very naturalistic child performances that kept its intense thriller a bit lighter when needed. With Spider-Man Homecoming, the teenagers have an authentic awkwardness and blind drive that’s realistic, yet not so much as to make them annoying. Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) has the right amount of douchebag ego that makes up for his lack in traditional size for the character. Michelle Jones (Zendaya) is such a hilarious intelligent character that you’re thrown off by the connection she has to the traditional Spider-Man universe. Even the smaller adult faculty member roles show off an authentic familiarity with their roles, whether it be the uncomfortable science teacher Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) or the aloof gym teacher Coach Wilson (Hannibal Buress).
Of course, Holland is the main spark that keeps this youthful energy alive. The way he oozes gumption and enthusiasm at every turn makes Spider-Man Homecoming such an endearing exercise. One can’t help but smile during the opening montage as he attempts to keep New York safe… even if he ends up screwing it all up. That consistent character trait of Peter Parker being a self sabotager, either by lesser attempts at saving the day or going to save the day instead of be an average teenager. The way Peter looks longingly at others having fun as he dresses in his superhero suit says everything about his struggles. This all is present in both the meek regular Peter Parker form and the potentially amazing yet clearly still molding attempt at Spider-Man. This makes Holland the best version of the character, given Tobey Maguire had a great grasp of Peter Parker yet not his heroic alter ego and Andrew Garfield… was honestly just giving a crappy opportunity. Holland exemplifies everything that makes a young version of this character work, making him the best of both worlds. He honestly brings out the best in Robert Downey Jr, who intermittently shows a strangely genuine paternal care for Peter that’s packaged between Tony Stark B-material he sleepwalks through.
Tom Holland really manages to do so much that distracts from the clunkiness here. But the clunkiness isn’t a sign of doom. If anything, Spider-Man: Homecoming is less a great individual tale and more a solid foundation for a series of films centered around the webslinger to follow. One from which an entire series could spring from. Hopefully they take more from the film’s best sequence involving the Washington Monument elevator. It’s small scale, features characters we’ve been decently endeared to and shows Peter up against the ropes thinking on his feet. None of the action before or after this moment really crystallizes this, not being helped by some clunky story contrivances that really make a solid thirty minutes or so of this feel very long winded. There’s a consistent charm to Spider-Man: Homecoming, but hopefully it can eventually lead to the type of powerful character work that still makes Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 one of the best examples of the superhero genre.
Rating: 3.5 Vats of Web Liquid Out of 5