I once tried to get into comic books – it was a searching period – but was immediately put off by the headache of multiple dimensions and cartoon characters that were supposed to be sexy. It seems super-hero movies aren’t much better these days. I wasn’t exactly running to see the latest: the second reboot of Spider-Man movies in the last five years. Unsurprisingly, Marvel’s take on Spider-Man has done well with critics and at the box office, though that doesn’t necessarily mean anything anymore. But I was a little surprised to find I thoroughly enjoyed this new Spider-Man. It’s hard not to – the Marvel Machine brings flare, adolescent charm and revitalization to the ever-regenerating Spider-Man, but the improvements are not without the complications we’ve come to expect from Marvel.
Producers decided to skip the over-worn origin story that was played-out in both of the previous series. This reboot unofficially kicked off when a new and distinctly younger Spider-Man made a cameo in last summer’s Marvel hit, Captain America: Civil War. Serving as a proper introduction, Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up with the young hero where we last saw him, coming off of his first run in with Iron Man & company. Just a sophomore in high school, the film follows Peter Parker’s attempts to prove himself to the world and the more established superheroes, namely Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. The film feels paradoxically more grounded yet grander than its predecessors, undoubtedly the result of a modest script getting dropped into a long-established cinematic universe.
I stand by my initial skepticism of the film. The promotional materials were wanting; a now infamous promotional poster looked as if it were fan-made and better suited for a Japanese remake of The Fast and the Furious. While the trailers were mildly winsome, the decision to cast Zendaya, of Disney Channel and Dancing of the Stars’ fame, led to a personal eye-roll-related injury. The casting was confusing at first glance. The only exception was the choice to use Tom Holland in the titular role. A dancer, gymnast and experienced stage actor, Holland was a promising choice for a fresh direction for the character. And he really excels in the part.
Despite being given little dramatic material compared to past Spider-Man films, the young Brit is clearly a leading dramatic actor of his generation. At only twenty-one he’s still green, but he’s Marlon Brando compared to some of his contemporaries, like Ansel Elgort who starred in this summer’s sleeper hit Baby Driver. In Homecoming, there are only two brief scenes – one with co-star Marisa Tomei and one by himself, under a pile of rubble – where the young Holland gets to show just how astoundingly compelling he can be. He’s funny, too. While he’s not necessarily a comedian, his magnetic presence on screen and natural charisma help the cheesy-albeit-necessary quips land.
Casting is always crucial but even more so when filling roles previously held by beloved Oscar-winners like Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Sally Field. And for the most part this new film is well-cast. Even Zendaya does a fine job, helped by smart writing, making me think maybe it wasn’t a complete gimmick-casting decision after all. Michael Keaton, of course, is well suited as the film’s villain, The Vulture; the casting is apropos considering his iconic turn as Batman and his recent comeback in Birdman. But the fit goes beyond novelty; the role is well written and maybe the best villain since the original Sam Raimi movie. The strong backstory of Keaton’s Vulture is one of the payoffs of the merge with Marvel, as it ties into past movies and brings some substance to the plot.
The tie ins to other Marvel characters, while clever, start to feel a bit tedious and overplayed after awhile. And the tediousness goes beyond the inclusion of characters we already know. Marvel has started to overcrowd and overcomplicated their films over the past few years. I leave the theater impressed but also a little dazed; not unlike my one and only experience at a Crossfit gym. Homecoming is no exception. “Shocker 1” seems like a waste of screen time after he’s inconsequentially killed and replaced by the equally ornamental “Shocker 2” – a literal example. The ever corny Donald Glover is miscast in his bit role as a helpful gangster, leaving me distracted and wondering if this is a character setup for a movie slated to be released in the summer of 2026.
That said, Robert Downey Jr. electrifies every scene he’s in and helps liven up the tone. The whole film is obviously going for a classic high-school vibe. The movie looks great, feeling authentic in its Manhattan setting and classically americana when venturing out to new locations. The interiors feel true to life, cinematic and current – all with ease. The exceptional look of the film can be credited to Art Director Lauren Abiouness, a Virginia Beach local who worked on Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man as well as numerous other films such as Christopher Nolon’s Interstellar.
The high school, locations and characters, are convincing, especially Peter’s buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon), one of the better, original additions to the story. The authenticity is helped by the obviously intentional multiculturalism that’s nice and effective but feels a little “Diversity: Paint by Numbers.” I imagine a second unit director on a walky-talky: “Looks great, but lets get the hijab in the frame. Yes, next to the androgynous jewish girl.”
Sure, it’s a little tedious and some scenes are unabashedly cliche, but Spider-Man: Homecoming makes for one of the best Marvel movies in awhile. The secret ingredient seems to be a prioritization of light-heartedness that reframes the titular character. This film sees the hero in a new light and new settings. It’s ideal for a younger crowd, more so than Sam Raimi’s or Marc Webb’s series, but is still the sort of action film any movie goer could enjoy. Most importantly, the creative team produced a visually appealing and exciting new start for the comic book hero and picked the ideal young actor to carry it forward.