It’s been 13 years since we’ve had a truly great Spider-Man movie. That’s a long time. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is the consensus pick for the best Spider-Man movie of the first five, which includes the two Amazing Spider-Man movies released earlier this decade. (It will be interesting how history treats those two movies, sandwiched in-between Raimi’s still-popular trilogy and Spider-Man now joining the Marvel Cinematic universe.) When Spider-Man 2 was released, George W. Bush was still in his first term and our new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, was eight years old.
Spider-Man fans are, understandably, approaching Spider-Man: Homecoming with caution. They lived through the bloated and haphazard Spider-Man 3, then they lived through an ill-conceived reboot that brought them yet another origin story movie, followed by an also ill-conceived mystery surrounding Peter Parker’s parents that just bogged everything down. Yes, there’s tragedy in Peter Parker’s life, but Spider-Man isn’t Batman. He’s not supposed to be doom and gloom. Spider-Man is supposed to make you happy. As I write this, it’s been five days since I’ve seen Spider-Man: Homecoming and it still makes me happy when I think about it.
In my book (I don’t have a book but whatever), Spider-Man: Homecoming is the best Spider-Man movie to date. That does come with a caveat that Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man 2 are going for different things and both are great. But, tonally, I just love this incarnation of a Peter Parker who just loves being Spider-Man. There’s literally a scene of him giving a woman directions because he’s so eager to help in any way he can. It’s vague what’s happened to Uncle Ben in this movie (so vague that Ben is never mentioned by name) but there’s really no way this Spider-Man feels responsible for the death of a family member. He’s too happy and likes being Spider-Man too much. And after two Spider-Man franchises that have built up the death of Ben Parker as a huge plot point, it’s actually refreshing not to be burdened with that this time.
The “Homecoming” in Spider-Man: Homecoming has a couple of meanings. The most basic is that the events in this movie take place a few days before and after Peter Parker’s high school homecoming dance. And, of course, it also signals the fact that Spider-Man has returned home to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is now allowed to interact with other superheroes, like Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. (And for as prominent Iron Man has been in the advertising for Spider-Man: Homecoming – which is completely understandable – Tony Stark isn’t in this movie that much. He pops in here and there, but it’s certainly nothing like the co-lead situation he had in Captain America: Civil War.)
Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like a cross between a Spider-Man movie and Can’t Hardly Wait. (I realize John Hughes movies are the go-to influence by director Jon Watts, but I felt a decidedly Can’t Hardly Wait vibe to the whole thing.) The antics of Peter in high school – which even in the Raimi movies were relegated to basically just “Peter learns his new powers” – are really the backbone of this film. (And, thankfully, there’s no origin story.) His interactions with Ned (Jacob Batalon), Liz (Laura Harrier), and Michelle (Zendaya) are just as important as his interactions with Tony Stark and Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). This really is the story of a high school kid who just happens to have super powers. If you were 15 and had Spider-Man’s powers, wouldn’t you go out and have some fun? This Spider-Man shows himself a good time.
Michael Keaton is at his villainous best, chewing scenery as Adrian Toomes (aka The Vulture, even though he doesn’t really go by that name). What’s interesting about Toomes is that he knows he’s a low-rent criminal that is under the radar of The Avengers. He’s not trying to take over the world, he just wants money so that he can buy his family nice things. That’s really it. We learn early on that Toomes lost a big clean-up contract shortly after the Battle of New York depicted in The Avengers – a lost contract that put his family and home in jeopardy. Toomes decides to keep some Chitauri weaponry for himself and go into business selling alien weapons on the black market. In the spectrum of Marvel superheroes, he’s a small-time crook. There’s a scene about halfway though Spider-Man: Homecoming that puts Peter and Adrian Toomes’ relationship in perspective and it’s played brilliantly by both Keaton and Holland. This is one of my favorite scenes from any MCU film. (Also, unrelated: there are two post-credits scenes and the second one is my favorite of all the MCU post-credits scenes.)
Tom Holland just makes the perfect Peter Parker. He’s nerdy, a little too eager, and just encapsulates what the on-screen Spider-Man should be. Even going by Holland’s real age (21) he’s young enough to be Robert Downey Jr.’s son, and that age difference is important here. You won’t find yourself squinting at 30-something Spider-Men Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and thinking, Um, yeah, I guess they could be teenagers, in a Luke Perry as Dylan McKay kind of way?. Holland and his classmates look like kids and act like kids and the whole thing is a joyous experience.
So, yes, after 13 long years, we have ourselves another great Spider-Man movie – arguably the best Spider-Man movie. This is a Peter Parker who just loves being Spider-Man. And, frankly, it’s really hard not to love watching this Peter love being Spider-Man. It’s the kind of movie you leave and you’re just in the best mood – and still will be days later.
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