It took me about three minutes to fall in love with Spider-Man: Homecoming. There’s a brief introductory scene where we’re given a bit of well-crafted exposition about Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes and his background, and then the opening cinematic begins, with Marvel logos and whatnot. But playing over it is a revamped version of the theme song from the 80’s cartoon, giving an instant shot of nostalgia into the veins of comic book and TV fans. It takes off from there, becoming a delightful film that focuses on Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in his high school years, dealing with all of the bounces and bruises that your average high school kid deals with … except this one is (trying to be) a superhero.
A Spider-Man movie is a hard sell these days. In the past 15 years, we’ve had two actors play the role over the course of five films. There’s an exhaustion that’s bound to set in as a result, not helped by the fact that some of those films — particularly Sam Raimi’s third film and Mark Webb’s second — failed to really capture audiences and in the case of Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, actively soured people on the character. This is an understandable reaction. But I cannot stress enough how critical it is that you forget those things and give this newest film, directed by the relatively unknown Jon Watts, a chance. I’ve said in previous writings that I always felt that Tobey Maguire made a decent Spider-Man, but not a particularly effective Peter Parker, and Andrew Garfield was the reverse, capturing the gawky awkwardness of Parker but never really nailing the character when in the suit.
Tom Holland changes that. He’s virtually note-perfect here, a sweet, good-natured kid who has found his chance at greatness (after being drafted by Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War) and has a taste for heroism now. But … he’s a kid. He’s a 15-year-old nerdy kid who loves science, and the debate club, smarter than most of his peers while also struggling for acceptance among them. He’s funny and charming, but also awkward and displaced, and Holland captures that wonderfully. Equally critically, he’s a great Spider-Man. He’s still new to the gig, still stumbling around with his powers, never quite sure if he’s going to stick his landings, but with the cockiness that comes with suddenly discovering that you’re, well, a superhero.
But Holland is far from the film’s sole bright spot. He’s built into a compelling narrative that breaks from the typical Marvel “THE WORLD IS GOING TO EXPLODE OR DIE OR WORSE” storyline, and instead is focused on something smaller. It’s that juxtaposition — the boy who wants something bigger, but whose story is smaller than those of his contemporaries, that makes the film shine. Instead of aliens or gods or monsters, instead of science experiments gone awry or evil geniuses bent on world domination, his nemesis is Keaton, an angry, misguided soul whose thirst for success and security twists him into a darker version of the regular guy he was. There’s no terrible accident, no dark forces at work. It’s simple human nature. He turns his technological wizardry into a small-time criminal enterprise that grows too big, and Peter gets swept up in it, and that’s all there is. The world isn’t at risk, and the film is better for it. Homecoming hews closer to Marvel’s Netflix shows than to the films, and it’s probably their best decision. By keeping the scale of the story small, it allows Parker to be a kid, and to deal with high school problems, and it makes the film fun.
There’s been a great deal of negativity towards yet another iteration of Spider-Man. But don’t think of it in that sense. Even if you’ve got Marvel malaise, and you’re tired of their constantly churning out movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming is worth your time. Watts and company have crafted an engaging, funny, heartfelt story that is the perfect reflection of its title. It feels like a return to a home you didn’t realize you missed, and it’s just so comfortable. Yes, there is a great deal of whiz-bang special effects and high flying action, and it’s all very well done (and finally, we have a third act that isn’t a complete stumble). But it’s a warm, charming film, with both a Peter Parker and a Spider-Man that we’ve been missing all these years.