I know it might sound crazy, but this second reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise may emerge as the best single Spider-Man movie yet. A large part of the reason this one is so successful is how scaled down it is. There’s no third-act falling debris or blue light causing mass destruction found here, instead these characters live on the fringe of the major heroics and occupy a single neighborhood. Spider-Man: Homecoming is something of a double-meaning title, not only does it take place during that high school ritual, but Marvel’s finally got its hands (sorta) back on the property after selling it off to Sony during its financially troubled 90’s.
His first appearance in Captain America: Civil War was a welcome home, and a general sense that we were finally getting a completely successful version of the character on the big screen. Tom Holland’s overly-eager and squeaky voiced teenaged Peter Parker was a recognizable nerd that wanted to play with the big leagues and do the right thing, even if he didn’t always know what that meant. Holland’s utter perfection in the role, sliding as comfortably into the tights as successfully as Christopher Reeve slipped into Superman or Tom Hiddleston into Loki.
This scaled back ambition is refreshing as it means that Homecoming is primarily a high-school movie about a superhero and less about a “the world’s going to end unless I stop the thing” event. It feels like a self-sustaining franchise that flirts with the wider world of the MCU, but isn’t just another cog into that behemoth’s massive machine. If you ever wondered what a John Hughes superhero movie would look like, then look no further as this frequently plays like The Breakfast Club-gets-superpowers.
Of course the laid-back groove of the film will not sustain the entire duration, and it must eventually succumb to the rigid delineations of its genre’s demands. Michael Keaton makes the Vulture into a memorable arms-dealer that’s flooding the neighborhood with alien gadgets and pilfered technology left behind by the bigger battles with the marquee heroes, but his battles with Spider-Man are still strangely bloodless. The best confrontation between hero and villain is a civilian garb one that takes place in a car as it allows the two talented actors to engage in a back-and-forth that’s tense and clearly establishing stakes both emotional and physical. There's also quick appearances from two different Shockers and the Tinkerer in Keaton's gang and cameos from the future Scorpion and Prowler, because there's no escaping world-building in these things.
Even worse is how stacked the cast is with supremely talented comedic actors who are left with little to do. It’s a treat to see Martin Starr play the other side after gaining fame from Freaks and Geeks, but he’s a bit wasted as a teacher that mainly has to fret about his students. He gets a great gag with Zendaya, so there’s at least that. While Donald Glover and Hannibal Buress get a few great gags and one-liners in before being escorted away. They bring a tremendous energy to the film that it never properly harnesses into something better. Marisa Tomei fares much better as Aunt May, but she is also sidelined far too much. The woman won an Oscar for a comedic role; give her more to do damnit! She does get a great final scene though, one that gave me the biggest laugh in the entire film.
Homecoming should still be celebrated for managing to eschew the bog of franchise building that still sinks, or at least undermines, other films in the MCU. It points towards a brave new world for superhero cinema, one where it can manage to be something else instead of just a paint-by-numbers template origin story or grim-dark brood-fest clash between overly powered people causing massive amounts of collateral damage. Call me crazy, but I wanted more of the first half’s high-energy soundtrack and teenage handouts, and less of the overly long feeling second half where the rectors of the genre demanded their blood sacrifice. Still, with Holland leading the charge, I’m really excited to see where this version of the Spider-Man franchise is going to go.