In the wake of the jam-packed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from Sony Pictures in 2014, it seemed like we would never have any hope of seeing Spider-Man in the thriving Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Sony tried more aggressively than ever to build their own shared solo movie universe for the Wall-Crawler. It amazed just about everyone across the world when an unprecedented rights sharing deal between Sony and Marvel was made less than a year later, which would allow Spider-Man to make his way to the MCU, debuting as a supporting hero in last year’s superb Captain America: Civil War. Now, just one more year after that, Spidey is finally headlining his own MCU-set movie in Spider-Man: Homecoming, leaving a lot of eyes between audiences, pundits, industry executives and more as to whether this landmark collaboration between studios can see a successful revitalization of the struggling Spider-Man film franchise.
On that note, I’m over the moon to report that this bold experiment is indeed a resounding success! Spider-Man: Homecoming is both an excellent Spider-Man movie and an excellent Marvel Studios movie in general, presenting a more youthful, small-scale take on following in the footsteps of so many bigger, older and more established veteran superheroes. This MCU-set reboot lacks much of the angst and spectacle that often defined Sony Pictures’ standalone Spider-Man movies, but that honestly works to this particular movie’s benefit, as the same tired origin story is thrown out in favour of a clever, almost meta struggle of Spider-Man trying to find himself in a world where he’s far from the only costumed do-gooder.
Not since 2004’s comparably excellent Spider-Man 2 have we gotten a Spider-Man movie that feels this clever and emotionally gratifying. The fact that Spider-Man: Homecoming quite heavily plays into the light-hearted and humourous sensibilities of the MCU’s movies makes it even more entertaining than Sony’s classic 2004 Spidey sequel to boot! In several respects, Spider-Man: Homecoming is easily one of the strongest Spider-Man movies to date, period, at least in terms of being true to the fundamentals of the character. It also effortlessly completes the hot streak of great superhero movies providing welcome bright spots during 2017’s otherwise lacklustre Summer movie season.
Following on from the events of Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark has dumped an eager, spider-powered Peter Parker back into his life as a high school sophomore in New York. Under the guise of the, “Stark Internship”, Peter is working to hone his crime-fighting skills as the amateur Spider-Man of the MCU, but Stark has disabled almost all of his suit’s functionality, and keeps him under strict watch. Spider-Man: Homecoming thus unfolds over the course of Peter learning how to be a more competent and level-headed hero, even as the rest of the MCU clearly ignores him, doesn’t take him seriously, or isn’t even aware of his existence.
As much as it’s a superhero movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming also frequently operates as a coming-of-age comedy, providing a humourous and heartfelt chronicle of Peter being in way over his head as a fledgling superhero. Marvel Studios movies have always been great for finding surprising and potent humour in even their heroes’ darker moments, but the humour feels like it’s particularly strong in Spider-Man: Homecoming, thanks to the innocent and youthful charm of Peter’s character. Making a funnier and more light-hearted Spider-Man movie was really the right call here. In Sony’s standalone Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man was free to be as powerful, spectacular, angsty and dour as he wanted to be, because he was the only superhero in those movies’ universes. Now that we’re in the MCU however, where characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil and more have dealt with much larger and more intense challenges and real-world issues, Spider-Man’s teenage superhero career is seen for the embarrassing joke that it really should be, and that’s a huge part of why this new take on Peter Parker in the MCU really works.
Another reason why this new take on Peter really works, even putting aside Tom Holland’s excellent and lovable lead performance, is the inclusion of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, who has limited screentime, but makes every appearance count when it comes to playing off of the more wide-eyed and innocent Peter. Tony has become especially cynical and world-weary in the wake of Captain America: Civil War, and that makes him perfect as a mentor to the optimistic, yet unskilled Peter, who definitely needs a guiding hand when it comes to finding his place in the world of superheroes, as much as he may want to refuse it at times. More often, Tony’s end is represented by Jon Favreau’s returning Happy Hogan, who is made the grumpy proxy to Peter and Tony’s superhero training, but both Tony and Happy provide their own great doses of humour and drama to Peter’s story, as Peter becomes ever more desperate to prove his worth to the grown-ups.
Of course, as the saying goes, every hero is only as good as their villain (even if the MCU has often been an exception to that rule, with heroes that noticeably outclass many of their villains so far), and that’s why it’s important to note that Michael Keaton is another highlight presence in Spider-Man: Homecoming as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture, a classic Spider-Man nemesis that Sony tried and failed to incorporate into their standalone movies, twice. At last, Vulture is finally able to be realized in a live-action Spider-Man movie, and he definitely doesn’t disappoint here. Vulture is a clear cut above most other Marvel Studios villains, since Keaton brings a great sense of down-to-earth grit and surprising honour to his character. Keaton’s Vulture is surprisingly sympathetic at his best, and is one of the most ‘real’ villains that the MCU has featured up to this point, being both a family man and a blue-collar worker who is doing whatever he has to do in order to look out for his family and friends. Keaton’s Vulture couldn’t care less about fighting the Avengers or taking on the world, and that makes him a fitting foe to the naive young Spider-Man of the MCU.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is packed with various supporting characters as well, between Peter’s geeky best friend, Ned, played by Jacob Batalon, Peter’s love interest, Liz, played by Laura Harrier, Peter’s school rival, Flash, played by Tony Revolori, Peter’s eccentric admirer, Michelle, played by Zendaya, and of course, Marisa Tomei’s younger, sexier Aunt May, who returns from Captain America: Civil War. Toomes also has a few recognizable criminals from Spider-Man’s history in his circles, and that’s all I’ll say about that. It’s difficult to talk much about any of these characters without some significant spoilers, since there’s a lot of cool surprises in Spider-Man: Homecoming for avid Spider-Man fans that I really don’t want to give away, but they’re all fun and lovable personalities in their own way, especially in how they often enhance this movie’s sense of humour.
Spider-Man: Homecoming unfolds about a couple of months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, which has left the MCU’s heroic forces in a fractured state, and has predictably led to Peter Parker, the up-and-coming Spider-Man, lost in the shuffle. Peter is trying to go about his life as a high school sophomore, but he just knows he’s cut out for something more. Once Peter stumbles onto a secret Chitauri scrap operation though, he comes into conflict with a dangerous new foe that he’s not prepared for, which is certainly different than the well-meaning, but inept heroics he tries to pull around his neighbourhood in New York, after failing to get ahold of his mentor, Tony Stark on repeated occasions.
Again, it’s difficult to say much about the story of Spider-Man: Homecoming without significant spoilers, since this is a movie that Spider-Man fans and Marvel fans in general will want to know as little as possible about going in. In fact, the only significant flaw that may be worth noting with the storyline in Spider-Man: Homecoming is the fact that it is smaller in scale and focused more on humour over action, and not everyone is going to be thrilled with that. It is true that the original standalone trilogy of Spider-Man movies from Sony Pictures especially were significantly more spectacular and intense, and Spider-Man: Homecoming has a much smaller scale with much fewer exciting moments. If you’re coming for the characters, or better still, the humour, that probably won’t bother you quite so much, but it should be noted that this otherwise fantastic Spider-Man movie plot does have some slower stretches, and doesn’t place as much emphasis on big, impressive action.
(NOTE: The spoiler section, when clicked, discusses post-credits scenes, some surprise characters, and potential connections between Spider-Man: Homecoming and other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and television projects to come.)
Mando’s Gargan makes a brief appearance as an arms dealer attempting to buy Chitauri scrap from Toomes’ scavengers during the much-advertised ferry scene, and later appears in a mid-credits scene where he encounters Toomes in prison, and makes reference to, “A group of guys” who are assembling to strike back at Spider-Man. This is a subtle hint that the Sinister Six, a gang formed by various well-known Spider-Man enemies, could be making their way to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point, with Mando likely returning to become Scorpion in 2019’s upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel. There is a final post-credits scene at the very end of the credits as well, though it’s a mere joke scene, where Chris Evans’ Captain America breaks the fourth wall, in a similar style to his high school PSA’s from the movie proper, to address the audience about patience, and how it’s sometimes not rewarded. It’s an amusing jab at Marvel’s own love of post-credits scenes, and recalls the similarly hilarious shawarma scene at the end of the credits in 2012’s The Avengers.
Beyond that, it turns out that some of the leaks regarding Spider-Man: Homecoming were indeed correct as well. Zendaya’s character, Michelle admits at the end of the movie that her friends call her, “MJ”, suggesting that she is quite likely the MCU’s take on Peter Parker’s main love interest and eventual wife, Mary-Jane Watson. Donald Glover’s character is also revealed to be Aaron Davis, who operates as a lower-tier Marvel Comics villain called ‘The Prowler’, and happens to be the uncle of Spider-Man successor, Miles Morales, with Davis mentioning, “Having a nephew” in the neighbourhood when talking to Peter, as a nod to Miles Morales existing off-screen in the MCU.
Finally, Spider-Man: Homecoming does, as rumoured, introduce Damage Control to the MCU, with Damage Control being the ones who initially shut down Toomes’ salvage contract in the wake of The Avengers’ Battle for New York, prompting his turn to crime. It’s revealed that Damage Control is co-owned between Tony Stark and the American government, and exists as a means of seizing leftover alien technology strewn around New York, possibly setting the stage for ABC’s in-development Damage Control television series in the near-future.
Jon Watts directs Spider-Man: Homecoming, with Watts being an up-and-coming director that recently made his mark with indie thriller, Cop Car in 2015. Like many surprisingly effective indie director picks by Marvel Studios, Watts transitions effortlessly into realizing a fantastic Spider-Man blockbuster, having a very clear understanding of not only Spider-Man’s character, but also the mundane challenges of adolescence. This leads to Watts deftly realizing a movie that balances the struggles of being a fledgling superhero with the struggles of being an everyday high school student, helping Spider-Man: Homecoming feel grounded and fantastical in equal measure.
As I mentioned though, Watts clearly prioritizes the humour over the action, so you’re not going to be getting a movie that’s quite as action-packed as Sony’s standalone Spider-Man movies were. A popular criticism of certain movies is being ‘style over substance’, and in the case of Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s definitely the opposite situation, being ‘substance over style’. Again, that’s still good, if you’re coming for the characters and humour, and even so, that’s not to say that the action scenes in Spider-Man: Homecoming are bad. They just don’t have the same punch or intensity that they did when Sam Raimi and Marc Webb were helming standalone Spider-Man film universes for Sony Pictures.
That said though, in terms of being faithful to the foundation of Spider-Man’s character, without recycling the same tired angst and origin elements from Sony’s standalone Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming is nonetheless sublimely directed. We don’t see Peter Parker get bitten by the genetically-modified/radioactive spider in this movie, nor do we see, or even hear about, Uncle Ben being killed, beyond one throwaway line by Peter that Aunt May has, “Been through a lot recently.” To that end, Watts makes Spider-Man: Homecoming feel like an effective origin story, without being an origin of how Peter got his powers or developed his Spider-Man persona, which most audiences are well aware of at this point. Instead, Watts re-interprets the idea of a superhero origin story with a younger hero in a coming-of-age style, which is quite unlike previous Marvel Studios movies, and leans more into the idea of what separates Spider-Man from other Marvel heroes, namely his youth, even if this does come at the expense of some of the scope.
A particularly surprising highlight in Spider-Man: Homecoming is the musical score by Michael Giacchino, which is probably one of the best Marvel Studios movie soundtracks in quite some time! The score even presents a pretty stiff rival to the especially amazing original Spider-Man trilogy scores by Danny Elfman and Christopher Young, providing an appropriately lighter and more mischievous score than prior Spider-Man movies, but one that fits perfectly with the tone of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Giacchino even incorporates the classic 1960’s Spider-Man cartoon theme throughout many of the compositions in the Spider-Man: Homecoming soundtrack, which is an especially cute and charming touch.
The rest of the audio work in Spider-Man: Homecoming diminishes some of the intensity in contrast to the prior Spider-Man movies from Sony Pictures, and many of the former Marvel Studios movies, but it still creates a strong sense of gripping power across several scenes. The Vulture’s mechanical winged harness is especially imposing, drowning out the rest of the surrounding scenery every time it’s seen on screen, while the Chitauri technology at least creates a bit more danger for Spidey whenever it’s turned against him. The MCU has certainly seen more violent battles, but again, the lighter audio design works here, since it’s a smaller conflict starring a blatantly uninitiated superhero.
Again, in reducing the scope compared to Sony Pictures’ prior Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a bit lighter on special effects work than Sony’s former standalone Spider-Man movies and Marvel Studios’ former movies in general. Still, this means a greater commitment to actual stunt work, and helps this latest Spider-Man portrayal feel especially authentic in his amateur state. Even Toomes’ Vulture harness is used fairly sparingly, to help remind viewers of the man underneath the mask and wings. Granted, those hoping for a movie about Peter Parker being a veteran, skilled and badass Spider-Man, akin to Tobey Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s former portrayals of the character for Sony Pictures, may be disappointed by this, since Peter is only learning the ropes of being Spider-Man at this point in MCU canon. Still, there is enough fun action and style to get by, even if much of the visual design, as expected, is played for laughs more than thrills.
Regarding the 3D and IMAX presentations, they’re both pretty good, with neither being exceptionally great. The 3D does predictably help increase a sense of scale and speed during the action scenes, and does help some of the Spider-Man/Vulture fights pop out at the audience a bit more, but it’s also not strictly necessary if you’d rather skip it. The IMAX 3D cut does help to bump up the scope of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s presentation a little bit, and its upgrades to the audio are especially worth it if you want to go that route, though seeing as this is a smaller Marvel Studios offering, the IMAX presentation isn’t really leveraged that much compared to many other Marvel Studios movies. In the case of Spider-Man: Homecoming, your ideal format likely comes down to a matter of preference, since you get a fun experience in 2D, 3D or IMAX 3D, with no particular version really surpassing another.
Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t exactly portray the most impressive rendition of its title character, but that’s kind of the idea. Tom Holland excelled as an amateur rookie take on Spider-Man during his small stint in Captain America: Civil War, and that portrayal only becomes better when it’s allowed to inhabit an entire dedicated Spider-Man movie. As the first Spider-Man movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Homecoming certainly isn’t the most spectacular Marvel Studios movie, but it’s nonetheless a blast, thanks to its lovable personalities and outstanding sense of humour. Its more optimistic and naive Spider-Man portrayal also allows it to stand firmly apart from the darker and more intense standalone Spider-Man movies that Sony Pictures previously made, allowing Spider-Man: Homecoming to succeed as a superb coming-of-age movie just as much as a superb superhero movie.
If you can forgive the reduction in scope, Spider-Man: Homecoming will be the movie that effectively motivates you to care about Spider-Man on the big screen again, since this is the most creative and rewarding MCU-set Spider-Man movie that we could have asked for, again, putting aside the reduction in scope compared to Sony’s prior Spidey flicks. Still, the movie offers Marvel Studios’ usual reliable mix between action, humour, drama and heart, even if the humour and heart stand tallest here, likely as a calculated way to set Spider-Man: Homecoming apart as the beginning of a new Spider-Man film franchise, now under the Marvel Studios banner. With especially satisfying character and story work, let alone the frequent gut-busting laughs, Spider-Man: Homecoming will likely surpass the also-great Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 from this past May for many viewers as well, and it will definitely leave you anticipating a bright future in the MCU for Tom Holland’s Web-Slinger.
Most importantly though, Spider-Man: Homecoming presents proof positive of the kind of great movie that can result when studios put their egos aside, and learn to work together. Both Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios clearly put their best foot forward with Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it’s moviegoers and Marvel fans that will reap the benefits of that. This is easily the best Spider-Man movie since 2004’s Spider-Man 2, released over a decade ago, and at long last, we can look forward to a great Spider-Man film franchise to come once again, this time with the benefit of any other Marvel heroes and villains that want to join in the fun!
I guess all that’s left to say is, I hope 20th Century Fox is paying attention, because the Fantastic Four are in even worse cinematic shape than Spider-Man was. Your move, Fox.
- Smart, frequently hilarious writing that effectively ditches Sony's tired Spidey angst
- Robust cast with superb performances throughout, especially from Holland, Keaton and Downey, Jr.
- Standout musical score by Michael Giacchino
- Some may lament the reduced scope and style compared to Sony's standalone Spider-Man movies