Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May, under the watchful eye of his new mentor Tony Stark, Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine – distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man – but when the Vulture emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened.
Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland, is the sixteenth and latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is the second appearance of Spider-Man in the MCU, but his first feature. Once again we have a reboot of Spider-Man on film. It’s hard not to understand the cynicism around that, considering this is the second reboot in the span of a decade, and the third interpretation. Despite this, I’ve never felt that negatively about it. I love the character generally, his appearance in Captain America: Civil War last year was promising, and his joining the MCU pretty much guaranteed for me this film was going to be a unique take on him.
In the two Spider-Man film series prior to this, Peter Parker was the only super-powered person around, his villains excepted. In Homecoming the context of his super-heroism changes dramatically. He is living in a world full of marvels, longing to rise to their level. I like this angle on the character a lot, which we haven’t gotten to see before on screen. Though his origin has already occurred (thankfully), he’s still young, inexperienced, and incompetent. Despite this also potentially one of the most powerful heroes on Earth, and the film does a good job showcasing each of those angles. He does great things, but not without a string of missteps and failures.
While his drive to be Spider-Man does interfere with his civilian life — a common motif for the character — there is an over-eagerness to him. His problems with being Spider-Man aren’t as much the consequences on his daily life, but instead how much he pushes himself to be a big hero, tripping up and/or making matters worse in the process. He’s a particularly fallible version of the character, often his own worst enemy. His determination to keeping trying to do the right grants a purity to his character though. His pursuit may sound vain, but he doesn’t chase notoriety in being an Avenger, rather the chance to do more good than his limited range.
Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture (Michael Keaton), is a villain that works in a simple yet effective way. Toomes sells weapons made from stolen alien technology, using a winged mechanical suit made from the same such materials to do it. He has no notions of world domination or taking down the Avengers, he just wants to provide for his family. Vulture is perfectly scaled as a villain, while also standing as a greater foe for Spidey to prove himself against. Keaton’s performance is great, giving us someone sympathetic yet still menacing. You understand where he’s coming from, even if you can’t get behind what he does. Other lower tier villains make up his crew like the Tinkerer and the Shocker, but he overshadows them appropriately, letting their presence be felt without it feeling like too many villains are being crammed in. The MCU tends to have a villain problem, and I’m happy Vulture was an exception to that.
The only real point of weakness for me was the supporting cast. Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter’s best friend, is the only one who felt he mattered. He provides good comic relief while also being supportive and useful to Spider-Man. The others, like his love interest Liz (Laura Harrier), sort-of-friend Michelle (Zendaya), bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), and other members of the decathlon team are not badly written, they just felt like benign presences. In the case of Liz, however, I did like that I could feel the importance of the romantic angle to Peter, yet it was downplayed and largely separated from the core conflict. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) was fine, but had very little to do for someone supposed to be rather important in Peter’s life. The repeated emphasis on how much younger and attractive this version of her is got annoying too.
Tony Stark is an interesting aspect of the film. He’s not really a supporting character, but is a constant concern for Peter. He wants his approval badly. Their relationship is interesting not in how they interact, however, but by the fact that they don’t. Tony plucked Spider-Man from obscurity in Civil War, then pretty much curbed him. Stark keeps an eye on him, but Peter is largely overlooked and on his own. It’s a dynamic that helps drive Spider-Man as a character without Iron Man stealing some of the limelight (contrary to what promos might suggest). Thanks to his tech contributions, we also get to see Spider-Man use gear like spider-tracers, which it otherwise wouldn’t make much sense for him to have, which was a small touch I enjoyed.
Spider-Man: Homecoming benefits greatly from a shared cinematic universe, telling a story it couldn’t really without all the preamble, but it truly succeeds by being a great Spider-Man film. Tom Holland captures the heart of the character really well, the villain is compelling, the action is great, and despite its simplicity the plot takes some unexpected twists that I really enjoyed. The humour works tonally for the character as well, whereas I’ve had issues with other MCU films trying to hammer jokes in a little too often. It’s a great movie that finally marries Spider-Man to the MCU without sacrificing the elements that make the character great.