Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can ...
"Spider-Man: Homecoming" gives our wall-climbing, web-slinging and quick-witted protagonist his own film to fall in love with Peter Parker all over again. Love for the character has never been in question, but Spider-Man is finally back in thrilling fashion and this time as part of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.
If you've lived a life unaware of the 15 other films currently in the MCU, and eight other films planned or currently in production, this greater universe links together the adventures of various Marvel superheroes as they tramp around the galaxy. Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are some of the cast of characters in the MCU who received standalone movies prior to the arrival of Spider-Man.
This is slightly confusing because there were two Spider-Man films produced during the same time as the other MCU films, "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2", but these did not tie in with the overarching storyline included in the extended universe. Both films were entertaining, though considered underwhelming by many, and neither lives up to the quality of "Spider-Man: Homecoming."
"Homecoming" reboots the Spider-Man franchise. Tom Holland steps in as the teenage superhero, he works under the supervision of Tony Stark/Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.), he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he fights against the crimes of the super-villain Vulture (Michael Keaton) and he juggles his life as a high school student on the side. There is no explanation of how Spidey got his powers or why his uncle Ben is no longer around — allusions are made to these well-known Spider-Man details — and the film picks up in the middle of Peter Parker's high school life as part-time student and part-time superhero/Avenger.
This distinguishes itself from other Spider-Man films in the past when Peter Parker gets bit by a spider, develops his powers, struggles with the death of his uncle Ben and grows into his own as a superhero. This Spider-Man version made a cameo appearance in last summer's "Captain America: Civil War" and the audience is expected to realize this is not Spidey's first trip around the block — on foot or swinging from a web.
The assumed familiarity fits well in "Homecoming." Spider-Man is such a popular character in comic books, TV cartoons and movies that it isn't necessary to explain again what caused all of this to happen. We get to skip to the fun stuff of fighting crime and giggling at Peter's awkward school interactions. "Homecoming" succeeds because it reminds us why we loved this character in the first place, and it has nothing to do with his origin story or traumatic family history.
Peter Parker is a comedian, he's clumsy and he's cool all at the same time.
Whether you picked up a comic book as a child, watched a TV cartoon or any of the past films you know Peter Parker is a dork. Just like any teenager who ever walked the halls of an American high school, Parker gets tongue-tied when talking to his crush, he struggles with bullies and he does his best to survive the grind of school. People laugh at him from time-to-time, he'd often-times rather remain anonymous and he's always one step removed from being the "cool kid" at school.
But everything changes when he puts on the suit and mask.
The quiet and clumsy turns into witty and acrobatic when Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man. Bullies get the retribution they deserve, Spidey cracks jokes while cracking down on crime and amused audiences enjoy the rich sense of justice in watching the helpless teen by day become the unstoppable vigilante by night.
Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man does get himself tangled up in a crime web potentially too dangerous for him to manage in "Homecoming." Michael Keaton's character Adrian Toomes/Vulture is an opportunistic fiend who uses stolen alien technology to build weapons sold on the black market. He flies using his vulture-like costume and transforms from petty thief to murderous monster onscreen.
As with many superheroes, their films are often judged based on the menace, the vile villainy and the outright danger of the evil they oppose onscreen. "The Dark Knight" is held as the gold standard for superhero films thanks in no small part to the brilliant performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Likewise, in "Spider-Man: Homecoming," Keaton's performance must be evaluated in conjunction with the rest of the film. The villain is the most important supporting character in these movies.
The Vulture is not the most memorable villain in the Spider-Man films, but Keaton makes him gritty enough to serve as a worthy opponent to Spider-Man. The two lock web and wing several times throughout the film and he nearly destroys our young hero in the process. Learning to get back up after near-knockout punches is a staple for any good superhero, and Vulture provides more than enough fear and pain to give Spider-Man plenty of reason to retire the red tights and fade into obscurity as Peter Parker.
You know the drill with these movies though, and without any spoilers I'm sure you can guess the decision Parker makes. Despite knowing the decisions our heroes make ahead of time, it's still inspiring and enjoyable to watch as a teenager grows up in front of our eyes, in only two-and-a-half hours.
And think of it from a kid's perspective! Peter Parker is the closest thing they have to a real superhero role model on the big screen right now. He goes to school just like they do, he studies for class just like they do and he deals with bullies (hopefully) just like they do. For many getting their first dose of live-action Spider-Man — they don't know how things will end and what will happen to dorky Peter Parker.
"Spider-Man: Homecoming" serves as a mirror opposite to the other summer superhero blockbuster, "Wonder Woman." The former recycles a very familiar character with a fresh spin on the story and the actors in it, while the latter introduces a new character in a traditional origin-story format. Both are smash hits, however, for the same reason. Great role models, perfectly cast lead roles and intriguing action and suspense make them two of the best films to see this summer. I raved about "Wonder Woman" several weeks ago when the film was released, and I'll give "Spider-Man: Homecoming" equal endorsement for viewing.
... look out, here comes the Spider-Man.