A deal like the one that had to go down in order for Spider-Man: Homecoming to exist is fairly monumental.
The notion of one studio joining a separate studio to make a movie that would fulfill both studios’ needs, working around rights purchased long ago, came with a lot of questions: Which universe would it fit into? Would it feel as MCU-y as people would want? Would it collapse under the weight of so much at stake? These aside, all it really had to do was give us engaging characters and situations we can care about. And it did that in spades. With six credited screenwriters, I was fairly worried it would feel like the movie-by-committee it clearly was, but Spider-Man: Homecoming managed to give us the most relatable hero the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever produced. They did this by never making the stakes too big, and always reminding us that, even though Peter Parker has some truly impressive super powers and a suit that amplifies and aids, he’s still the underdog, not taken seriously by anyone. This gives him something to overcome that anyone can sympathize with.
The film opens by showing us a bit of the aftermath of The Avengers, and then the sidelines of Captain America: Civil War, planting the Sony/Marvel co-production firmly in the continuity of the other Marvel movies (as we had surely known by now). Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is every bit as excited to be involved in superheroics as any 15-year-old with superpowers would be. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tells him to keep his head down and make regular reports to Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and Peter hopes against hope that all of this will lead to being called up to the big leagues again.
That doesn’t happen, and Spider-Man simply makes a name for himself in Queens and on YouTube by taking down bicycle thieves and helping old ladies with directions. However, when a quartet of Avenger-masked criminals rob an ATM vestibule using what clearly aren’t Earthly weapons, Spidey starts to suspect something big. This, we learn early on, is the work of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his gang of disgruntled clean-up men-turned-armed robbers. After stealing some discarded alien tech from the Battle of New York, they’ve began turning out weapons to sell on the black market.
While all of this is going on, Peter tries to keep up with his school work and his friends–a collective including his crush Liz (Laura Harrier) and a fairly odd classmate named Michelle (Zendaya)–not to mention an academic decathlon the group has been training for. His bestie, Ned (Jacob Batalon) learns his secret and wants Peter to use it to become cool, and perhaps even to win over Liz. But with all this crime fighting needing to be done, it’s entirely possible Peter has stretched himself too thin.
First and foremost, Holland is an incredibly charismatic and charming Peter Parker, and while he’s clearly a handsome dude, you totally buy that he’s a big dork. He’s just as wide-eyed and exuberant here as he was in his few scenes in Civil War, and these traits never once grate. It’s so refreshing to have a street-level hero in the MCU proper and someone who can make mistakes and screw things up in multiple facets of his life and still be a hero in his heart.
The action in the movie is in general much more amusing than it is exciting, but that doesn’t take away from the joy of seeing Spider-Man swing around cities and make daring aerial rescues. Really until the end, none of it is taken all that seriously, though the outcomes certainly would be. That said, Keaton as the Vulture is perhaps the best villain in the entirety of comic book movies, up there with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Heath Ledger’s Joker. He’s seriously that good, and that chilling. The hands-down best scene in the movie isn’t a big huge battle or even a scene with costumes, but one where our hero and our villain have a tense conversation. It’s some brilliant acting on all sides.
There are certainly references and Easter eggs galore in the movie as well, and I have to say that most of the overt MCU references, while fun, began to detract after a while. Not too much, and certainly by the end I was excited for that connective tissue. More exciting to me were the realizations of all the Spider-Man-universe characters and villains who showed up in different forms throughout the movie. It didn’t hit you over the head, but they were there if you were looking for ’em. And honestly I think the best thing the movie did was not do any incredibly well-known Spider-Man story arc, or try to make it too intense and gut-punching the way it could have.
What hit me about halfway through the movie was how integral Spider-Man’s secret identity is to his character; he can’t let his friends or his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) know his secret, nor anyone for that matter, and that makes him the only hero in the MCU who has this (otherwise) very common superhero aspect. Everybody knows Tony Stark is Iron Man, and Steve Rogers is Captain America, and nobody cares who the Hulk is or that Thor is a god. These are just givens in the world. But Spider-Man needs to have his normal life, and Holland, the writers, and director Jon Watts make sure this takes center stage throughout Homecoming.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a soaring superhero adventure and is easily the best Spider-Manmovie of them all. There’s plenty of time for these movies to get really heavy, but for now it’s brilliant to see Spider-Man enjoy being a kid. I hope every Spider-Man movie that follows keeps this tone and execution. It’s just spectacular.
Rating: 4 out of 5 web-covered burritos
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!