If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I’d probably tell you that Spider-Man was my favorite superhero. Being weaned on the McFarlane era comics, Fox animated series and Capcom’s 90’s fighting games will do that to a person, and the sight of a gangly, bug eyed, smart assed wall crawler can’t help but put a smile on my face. Perhaps that’s the reason why I’ve found myself somewhat overly critical of the various Spider-Man film adaptations over the years, with both Tobey Maguire’s overly nerdy and ineffectual sad sack and Andrew Garfield’s dead eyed sentient haircut failing to resonate with me on any sort of level as the constantly downtrodden but endlessly enthusiastic Peter Parker of the best Marvel source material.
One thing was clear to just about everyone: The Spider-Man films needed help. Was going back to the well with a high school aged rookie webslinger the answer? Most would’ve said no, but the deal that Marvel and Sony were able to broker to have Spidey show up in last year’s Captain America: Civil War resulted in a brief but enduring performance from newcomer Tom Holland that left just about everyone impressed and wanting more. More is now here in the form of Sony and Marvel co-production Spider-Man: Homecoming, eschewing Parker’s well worn origin story and planting his teenaged exploits firmly in the already established Marvel Cinematic Universe to almost flawlessly realized results.
In the aftermath of the first Avengers film’s Battle of New York we meet Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes, initially hired by the city as a private contractor to aid in the clean up, he and his crew are unceremoniously kicked off the job by Tony Stark’s recently established super disaster recovery squad Damage Control (another Marvel print institution grandfathered into the MCU), vowing to use the Chitauri weaponry they’ve already recovered to make a killing on the black market. Fast forward 8 years and a young Spider-Man, fresh off of his epic experience in Civil War’s climactic airport battle, runs afoul of Toomes, now commandeering a fearsome flying “Vulture” suit, and his crew as they peddle their futuristic weaponry to New York’s underworld, much to the chagrin of his superheroic benefactor, unlikely mentor and de-facto father figure Tony Stark.
On paper that might seem like a somewhat by the numbers set up, but the devil here is in the details, and each individual aspect of Homecoming’s execution, from it’s integration into the greater MCU to the deft implementation of the inherent human drama of teenage high school superheroism, is handled so perfectly that it’s almost hard to believe. Watching Tom Holland fully set foot into Peter Parker’s red booties is nothing short of a delight, best exemplified by an extremely “New York” montage of Spider-Man gleefully doing Spider-Man stuff set to The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”. Marissa Tomei returns as Aunt May as well, the film even making several well placed tongue-in-cheek jokes regarding her relative youth and attractiveness. Jacob Batalon is also great as Peter’s best friend turned “guy in the chair” Ned, and his love interests Laura Harrier and Zendaya provide sweet, somewhat innocent and heartbreaking romantic asides without devolving into full on soap opera melodrama.
With Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark not in nearly as much of the film as the trailers would suggest (Chris Evans’ Captain America has almost as much screen time in a series of hilarious high school public service announcements), the movie belongs to Michael Keaton. Keaton’s Toomes/Vulture has a chilling intensity, but also a charming, relatable believability befitting an actor of his stature. From an in-universe standpoint, and with apologies to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Keaton’s Vulture may be the greatest villain the MCU has yet produced, and, brilliantly (spoiler warning?) Homecoming lets him live, alongside a burgeoning Spidey rogues gallery that includes proto versions of The Tinkerer, Shocker and Scorpion, giving Spider-Fans a lot to look forward to on film in the years to come.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is simply a joy across the board, easily the best Spider-Man movie ever, and on par with or better than any MCU film without the words “Winter Soldier” or “Civil War” in the title. Sony and Spidey’s sleepover in the MCU sandbox may be temporary and tenuous at best if the latest rumors are to be believed, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by watching Spider-Man: Homecoming. Whether as a stand-alone Spider-Man vehicle or another engrossing installment in the rich MCU tapestry, it’s a film that works on every conceivable level.