If there’s anything that Marvel has proven in the nine years of the MCU it’s that they know their characters better than anyone, and given the chance, no one can make them work like they can. Daredevil, Ghost Rider, The Punisher, Elektra, and any other character maligned by another studio has been fixed under Marvel’s watch, but none of them were rehabbed as dramatically and as quickly as Spider-Man was in Captain America: Civil War. Walking into Civil War, people didn’t know really what to expect from Spider-Man, but they were tired of him. Tired of movies that fell short, tired of actors ridiculously miscast or a decade too old for parts, and SO SO tired of the origin story. People walked out of Civil War, arguably Marvel’s best film, and one of the biggest takeaways was how much fun Spider-Man was in a movie that he really didn’t even seem to belong in. He just appeared and disappeared and we all remembered why he was Marvel’s biggest hero for decades. Spider-Man: Homecoming is an entire film of that vibe from Civil War‘s second act (and explains just how Peter got there and what happened next). It’s quite simply the best all-around Spider-Man film ever made with the best Spider-Man ever cast. It’s not perfect, but Peter’s still learning and Marvel with issue #16 has put down roots for a deep, deep home in the MCU for the webslinger.
Marvel’s intention is to film three Spider-Man movies where Tom Holland (who is 20 year old) will fill out Peter’s time at Midtown High during his sophomore (this film), junior (already scheduled as the first film of Phase 4), and senior years. They had better film these quickly, because Holland can still pass for a high schooler in a way Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield never could. That alone gives Homecoming a unique vibe, because the five Sony Spider-Man films never had age-appropriate actors. Peter’s familiar high school gang isn’t all here yet, some are, some reveal themselves over the course of the film, but the best decision they made in altering the standard “sad sack Peter in high school” dynamic was to give him Ned Ganke (Jacob Batalon) as his best friend. Ganke is the best friend of Miles Morales (the other Spider-Man….it’s complicated) in the comics, and they two have a wonderful friendship that gives Peter more companionship that he’s had in past outings.
The biggest marketing hook for Homecoming was that Robert Downey Jr. was going to be in it as Iron Man/Tony Stark, continuing the mentoring of Peter that began in Civil War. This is not an Iron Man film in the way that Civil War was just as much Iron Man’s film as Cap’s. Tony comes and goes throughout the course of the film, but the person directly charged with monitoring Peter is Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) whom we haven’t seen since Iron Man 3, and the entire dynamic with Stark, Parker, and Hogan is so good. It, like the whole film, is extremely funny (rivaled only by the Guardians films in terms of laughs). Tony is there more to mark specific plot turns and to ground the film in the MCU. Though it’s mostly its own beast, Homecoming is DEEPLY rooted in the MCU both past, present, and future. I’m not going to spoil all the characters who pop up, but there are some great surprises, and so many seeds planted for future Spidey installments that I lost count.
A big criticism of the MCU is that they don’t really care about their villains; they focus on the heroes. This cannot in any way be leveled at Homecoming. Michael Keaton, the Birdman himself, makes The Vulture possibly the best villain since Loki. Certainly he’s the most relatable, and somewhat sympathetic. He’s a blue-collar guy, he has a family of his own, and he’s doing what he’s doing for reasons a lot less dastardly than, say, The Red Skull, but he’s no less dangerous. Given what The Vulture looks like in the comics, the redesign on him is fantastic, and at this level in Peter’s development as Spider-Man, he’s about all he can handle and more.
Though Spider-Man went toe-to-toe with the Avengers in Civil War, it’s quickly apparent that Peter has little-to-no idea what he’s doing with his powers or his enhanced Stark-built Spider-suit (complete with its own JARVIS, named KAREN, who is played by Jennifer Connelly, married in real life to Paul Bettany who played JARVIS and now The Vision). There are no training montages, but Peter is still clearly feeling his way with what he can do, how far he can push himself, and he’s only 15; he’s still growing in every way. The nervous patter, manic energy, quippy banter, and impatience to do something important with his gift that Holland brought to Spider-Man in Civil War continues here. This is the first Spider-Man who acts like Spider-Man should act. Nothing feels off or out-of-character. Marvel really is a casting miracle.
I try to steer clear of plot in MCU movie reviews, because that’s the fun. Like all years in high school, Homecoming is a time of growth, change, and discovery for Peter. Marvel’s not rushing this. Don’t expect to see the Osbornes pop up. Contract issues with SONY aside (they fricking better not try to pull him after the Homecoming sequel), if the Green Goblin showed up at this point in Spider-Man’s development, he’d kill him in a minute. Let SONY try to have their little Spider-verse without a Spider-Man and only let Marvel use the “street level” foes. Marvel’s specialty is turning villains that are D-level into credible threats, and does so with Shocker and Vulture here. As Holland and Spidey grow, so will what he can handle, and he’ll be ready for the Osbornes, and the villains the SONY will fail with in the meantime. It’s clear from this film that Marvel is going to make Spider-Man a pillar of the future of the MCU and with Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and likely Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, and Mark Ruffalo on their way out after Infinity War, the MCU is going to need Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man to pick up the torch for the future.
Homecoming has a few minor pacing issues, lasts about 15 minutes longer than needed, but most of the criticisms I have are tiny nitpicks. There IS a perfect Spider-Man film coming, and it will be built off of the foundation Homecoming has lain. The doldrums of June are over, and it’s safe to go back to the movies.
PS- At this point, I shouldn’t have to say it, but there are TWO end credits scenes, one setting up the Homecoming sequel, and I won’t say a thing about the other one because it’s too good to spoil in any way.