In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise truly “comes home”, as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man/Peter Parker is faithful to the character’s comic book roots in ways that previous reboots of the character were not. That Holland (an actual teenager) was even picked to play Spider-Man as a teenager–with all the angst and hang-ups that entails–was a brave choice.
By: Kevin Bailey
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise truly “comes home”, as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man/Peter Parker is faithful to the character’s comic book roots in ways that previous reboots of the character were not. That Holland (an actual teenager) was even picked to play Spider-Man as a teenager–with all the angst and hang-ups that entails–was a brave choice. In previous reboots of the franchise, the actor playing Peter/Spidey was always much older than the comic book version: Tobey Maguire (27) played the role in 2002, while Andrew Garfield was nearly 30 in 2012’s The Amazing Spiderman.
In Homecoming we also get a balance between the action we expect from the superhero genre and a refreshingly self-aware tone not always present in MCU films. Additionally, there is no real exploration of Peter Parker’s backstory, which is to its credit. That ground is well-trodden, and in previous films has devolved into unnecessary action-stalling exposition. We’ve seen Spider-Man fight alongside the Avengers in the most recent installment of the Captain America series, Civil War. Instead, Homecoming focuses on Peter, who struggles with the normal anxieties of an awkward teenage boy, added to worrying about keeping his secret identity from all his friends and family.
In his portrayal of Peter, Tom Holland plays it straight, as a 15 year old boy with the same issues and concerns of any boy his age. Holland even pitches his voice higher, and includes a shy awkwardness in his portrayal, demonstrated in how he finally asks out his “senior crush.” As Peter develops his skills, he eventually decides he has it all figured out, and that Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is holding him back. He rebels (as teenagers do) against the restrictions placed on him by Stark and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), with disastrous effect.
As the dominoes begin to fall from Peter’s rebellious actions, the final battle between Spider-Man and Adriam Toomes/Vulture (played by Michael Keaton, in an outstanding turn) becomes inevitable. The mental showdown that precedes the climactic fight is quite tense and brilliantly shot. There was a claustrophobia as Peter sat in the back seat of Toomes’ car that was almost overwhelming. It is a credit to Holland’s acting chops that he is able to stand in the ring with Keaton at the top of his game and not look lesser for it.
Finally, a word must be said about the supporting actors, in particular Zendaya’s portrayal of Michelle “MJ” Jones, and Jacob Batalon’s turn as Peter’s best friend and sidekick Ned Leeds. Zendaya has compared her characterization of MJ to Ally Sheedy’s iconic role in The Breakfast Club. I found that interesting, because I wrote in my notes on the movie that I thought Zendaya had played MJ as a cross between that character and Ellen Page’s Juno. Whatever the most apt comparison might be, Zendaya was brilliant in her limited screen time. Meanwhile Batalon brought a joie de vivre to the character of Ned Leeds (“The guy in the chair!”) that gave the movie a lightness it might otherwise have lacked. I also want to mention Donald Glover’s minor role as a wrong-place-wrong-time minor criminal. Glover, as usual, makes the most of his screen-time, and the writers (there were 6 credited screenwriters on this film!) used his character to insert an Easter Egg for comic book fans: his character is the uncle of Miles Morales, who takes over as Spider-Man in the comic books, after the death of Peter Parker. (Whether or not this is a bad omen for the fate of Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man is, of course, still to be decided.)
Ultimately, Spider-Man: Homecoming was easily the finest Spider-Man movie ever made, far surpassing both Maguire’s 2002 and Garfield’s 2012 turns as Parker/Spidey. But beyond that, Homecoming is quite possibly the best installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the nine years since it opened with the first installment of Iron Man. It sets a new bar over which upcoming MCU films such as Thor: Ragnarok (November 3, 2017) and Black Panther (February 16, 2018) will have to leap. And it’s a very high bar, indeed.