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When a movie character of any kind is “rebooted” on-screen, especially more than once, we normally think the worst. Doubts begin to take shape that we’d see anything remotely fresh or inspiring for that specific character. Judging on experience in these scenarios (Fant4stic, The Mummy, RoboCop) and the somewhat bland trailers, Spider-Man: Homecoming had a lot to prove. Not only did it silence my doubts, but this youthful version of the webslinger quickly became my favorite cinematic incarnation.
My personal journey with the iconic teenage superhero is similar to almost everyone else’s. I started with 1994 animated series, then in 2002 with Sam Raimi’s live-action Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire. Ever since Raimi’s first effort, I’ve been moderately to very excited to see every single installment or reboot in theaters. Something about this awkward geek Peter Parker has always been magnetic to me, even if the movies aren’t particularly great or…amazing. Of the five (!!!) filmic adventures we’ve witnessed so far, Spider-Man 2 seemed to rather easily lay claim to the throne of being the best. And no, it didn’t come close to relinquishing that title after the skater-boy hipster reboot entries starring Andrew Garfield. But now we finally have a potential contender in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
I’ll adjourn my history class so we can dive into the insect-based hero we’re all here for and his latest adventure. Spider-Man: Homecoming is Sony’s first solo Spidey flick created in collaboration with Marvel Studios. Judging from the brief glimpse we received in Captain America: Civil War, we fans are better for it. Not only did they cast an actual teenage kid as Peter Parker instead of a fully-matured 30-year-old man, they cast a kid (Tom Holland) with personality, athleticism, and charm. Civil War was the appetizer for the main course, Homecoming, and Holland carries the film with relative ease.
Spider-Man: Homecoming occurs mere months after the events of Civil War, and follows Parker as he struggles to balance a regular high school life with an acrobatic superhero life. While traversing through this personal conflict, Parker also has to contend with the arms-dealing villainous crew led by Adrian Toomes, A.K.A. Vulture, A.K.A. Michael Keaton, A.K.A. Birdman, A.K.A. Batman. In a somewhat rare turn for movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Vulture’s story is relatable on a certain level and solidly built. Each scene we’re shown of Toomes peels back a layer of the character we’ve yet to see. Keaton performs the role as we expected him to: cracking that signature sinister grin on occasion and menacing when necessary, but still somehow a guy you’d wouldn’t turn down the opportunity have a beer with. Adrian is that convincing at disguising his motives.
Aside from the excellence of our central hero and villain, the supporting cast gives this movie legs. Relative newcomer Jacob Batalon breathes much life into the role as Parker’s best friend, or “man in the chair,” Ned. The fears everyone had of Homecoming becoming Iron Man 4 were rendered irrelevant when Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark appeared rarely and only when it felt impactful. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, this time acting as Parker’s reluctant “guardian” of sorts and bringing many laughs.
Speaking of comedy, Zendaya has impeccable timing as the dry-humored Michelle, who I can’t wait to see more of in this franchise, since we saw only glances of her here. Marisa Tomei portrays a more realistically-aged version of Aunt May and is more than serviceable, given her light workload. Everyone from Parker’s love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) to the 5-minute appearance from gym Coach Wilson (Hannibal Buress) to the Easter-egg-filled presence of Aaron Davis (Donald Glover) was carefully cast and utilized here.
Another aspect I appreciated from Homecoming was how grounded it felt. Instead of an epic battle for the universe or realm or dimension, the stakes are lowered to Spider-Man’s neck of the woods. It made the action pieces and journey feel more personal for all characters involved. Even though I missed the clever combat stylings of Spider-Man from previous installments, or even the Spider-Man PS4 demo from E3 this year, the action is spectacle-based and aesthetically pleasing to witness. It’s more than an extravagant display of CG though; each step Parker makes as Spider-Man, however small or large, has consequences. He might have noble intentions but he’s still an overeager kid with a lot to learn, and that’s the primary focus of Homecoming, instead of a colorful cataclysm-preventing plot. As I stated, this sense of realism and the grounded approach was awfully refreshing.
Homecoming‘s required mingling into the MCU is another positive takeaway from the film. Instead of any universe references feeling forced, they drive the plot in a natural yet gigantic way. It’s as if Spidey and his world of characters has been here all along. While at times the jokes went for the most obvious punchlines and the action was somewhat lacking, no complaints deters enjoyment of Spider-Man: Homecoming or make it a less great picture. Even without the emotional background story from 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Homecoming is the best understanding and performance of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man in a cinematic venture. In my eyes, this makes Homecoming one of the MCU’s best and possibly even the best Spider-Man film yet. I’m still debating the latter point internally but the fact that it’s even an internal debate means Marvel should have had this character in their pocket years ago. They know how to spin those webs.