Tom Holland is the third actor to play Peter Parker on the big screen in the past fifteen years, and Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth solo blockbuster for its titular web-slinger. While Sony’s most recent attempts, Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films, never really hit their mark, Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy helped usher in the superhero-crazed era we currently reside in—an era dominated by Marvel’s ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, which now includes the very hero who helped kick things off.
Spider-Man: Homecoming gets a lot of things right, and possibly the most important of those right things is the decision to forgo the (once) obligatory origin story. It was clear going into the film that Uncle Ben, the class trip and spider-bite, and the discovery of powers wouldn’t be featured in Homecoming, but it’s still worth mentioning—and celebrating. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is already Spider-Man when Homecoming starts, though that doesn’t really mean much. He might stop a few small crimes here and there, but he mostly gives directions and makes things worse for people. He’s desperate to be a hero, to be called upon by Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark to work with the Avengers again, but he’s unprepared and therefore left in the dark.
When Peter’s not prowling the streets hoping to find something to do and placing mostly unanswered calls to Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), he’s going to school, half-heartedly participating in academic decathlons, and hanging out with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). This interpretation of Peter Parker is every bit the overzealous nerdy kid that the early stages of Spider-Man should be, and Tom Holland brings a charming earnestness to the character, whether he’s barely paying attention at school or getting in over his head on the streets of New York.
The high school scenes, heavily influenced by John Hughes, provide many of Homecoming’s best moments. Peter Parker may be Spider-Man, but he’s also a teenager at a wonderfully diverse high school who has to suffer through regular teenage things, like crushing on Liz (Laura Herrier), being bullied by Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), or being playfully mocked by Michelle (Zendaya). And of course his moments with Ned, whether getting excited about a LEGO Death Star or tracking a supervillain with the help of the guy in the chair, are wonderful. Holland and Batalon come across like best friends, and Ned’s discovery of Peter’s alter-ego goes a long way to eliminating the secret identity struggles of previous Spider-Man films. Peter’s still hiding his identity from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), of course, but having someone on his side who knows his identity throughout most of the movie provides a nice, new dynamic to the character.
It’s not all fun and games for Peter, though. He discovers early on that somebody out there is creating and selling overpowered weapons using Chitauri technology (in direct fallout from the climactic battle of The Avengers), and that someone is Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture. Make no mistake, Keaton is phenomenal here.
The Vulture may be a supervillain and a criminal mastermind, but he’s not just a supervillain and a criminal mastermind. He’s a fleshed out character with real motivations for his actions. He’s a guy with a family and a desire to provide for them. He’s someone acting in the best interest of those he cares about—he just happens to be doing it by supplying deadly weapons to the kind of people who probably shouldn’t have deadly weapons.
Keaton portrays Vulture with a down-to-earth, low-key nature that easily ranks him among the best villains to come out of not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the modern superhero era altogether. This is not a character who does bad things to be bad, but a man who does bad things because the world didn’t give him another choice. No spoilers here, but an interaction between Toomes and Parker in the film’s second half is one of the most riveting one-on-one moments in the MCU. It’s tense and harrowing, and it does that through nothing more than a conversation—another indicator that both Keaton and Holland were perfectly cast here.
Despite its many strengths, Spider-Man: Homecoming is unlikely to blow anyone’s mind. Peter Parker is still discovering who he is, and his latest film series is going through that discovery with him. Homecoming is a very good superhero movie in a world with plenty of good superhero movies. It’s above average, but it’s not quite special. It’s fast-paced, fun, and full of wit and drama, and that’s enough to assuage any doubts about Spidey’s future on the big screen.
Spider-Man’s solo debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t perfect, but it’s a strong one. It very well could be the best big screen interpretation of Marvel’s web-slinger, and Tom Holland is without a doubt the best Peter Parker to hit cinemas. Equal parts John Hughes teen dramedy and superhero blockbuster, Spider-Man: Homecoming is another hit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe—and another one that deserves your attention.