Spider-Man: Homecoming perfectly captures the teenage nature of Peter Parker, making a fun, yet refreshingly grounded, Marvel movie.
Shortly following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker wants to prove to Tony Stark that he is ready to join the Avengers, while still needing to balance his school life.
Thankfully, Civil War and the abundance of Spider-Man: Homecoming promotional material accurately hyped up Homecoming. Peter Parker finally got the movie he deserved. It deftly swings around the traps of the previous Spider-Man movies and even manages to improve upon many of the MCU’s shortcomings.
The most significant, and most obvious, change is that for once, Peter is actually a teenager. The high school setting makes comedic moments readily available. Midtown is filled with students and teachers who all really make the movie pop. As they are almost all established Spider-Man characters, hopefully they should all be more significant in the next films.
Peter’s best friend, Ned, played by Jacob Batalon, is the perfect window for the audience into the world of Spider-Man. He is an amazingly supportive friend to Peter, and excitedly voices the audience’s thoughts whenever he learns anything cool about Spider-Man.
Batalon plays Ned Leeds for most of the movie at an extremely high energy. Ned and Peter speak to each other at break-neck speeds, which nicely moves the pacing along, and effectively gets some exposition out of the way quickly. However, he is able to shift quickly to balance out Peter when he gets over-confident about his abilities.
The next most significant student is Laura Harrier’s Liz Allen, who plays her to the best that the character is written. Unlike Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man, Liz is a boring love interest. She is not an active participant in the story, and feels like more of a device than actual character.
Unfortunately, the other students do not get enough screen time. Zendaya’s Michelle is a bit of a one-note character, but she still is interesting. There has not been a portrayal of a female character like this in a superhero movie, unglamorous and aloof, yet blunt. Homecoming does tease that she will have a more significant role in the coming movies.
Although it is true to some versions of the comic, Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson is a nice change from the previous movie iterations of the character. He is no longer a stereotypical jock, but an accurate portrayal of a high school ‘cool guy.’ He constantly makes fun of Peter, because he knows Peter is smarter than him, and drives his dad’s garish car, and is even a DJ.
This is the second movie, following The Beguiled, of recent weeks in which Angourie Rice has been underused. After Rice’s amazing break-out performance in the 2016 film The Nice Guys, she is relegated to playing Betty Brant, now just the high school newscaster. Her reactions to her co-anchor are entertaining, but very unimportant.
The teachers are mostly just comedic devices, but they are entirely successful in their purpose, specifically Martin Starr and Hannibal Buress. As the gym teacher, Buress is constantly teamed up with inspirational Captain America videos. He has clearly watched them far too many times, yet is somehow always standing on the wrong side of where Cap points.
Donald Glover’s brief appearance is very welcome, and provides a nice Easter Egg. It pretty much goes without saying that Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, and Michael Keaton have incredible performances.
Tom Holland is able to match their performances, perfectly carrying the movie. Holland brings a fantastic energy to Peter, making it clear every moment how excited he is to be Spider-Man. In the more serious moments, Holland brings out a raw vulnerability in the character, which accurately characterizes someone of that age.
Holland’s performance proves to be the strongest characterizations of the MCU movies. Generally, the characters in the MCU are great, but the more recent films have lost some of the characters’ dimensionality.
Partially due to the character’s age, and the malleability it brings, Peter Parker has a wonderful character arc. He feels incredibly developed and even real. Every action seems like something a teenager would do in his situation. Seeing Peter make mistakes and learn from them brings a lot of charm to the movie. Additionally, Peter’s conscience and growth are powerfully used.
Paired with Spider-Man is one of the MCU’s most interesting villains. He is not a copycat villain, he is not all-powerful, and he does not have vague motivations. The conceit of the character is intriguing and makes complete sense in the MCU. His intentions are clear and realistic, and he is even a successful foil to Tony Stark.
The constant humor in Spider-Man: Homecoming, generally allows the pacing to move briskly. However, like almost all MCU movies, the structuring feels a little off. Towards the middle, the some scenes do start to drag. But, they all are important to the story, and are ultimately enjoyable. At least the amount of action scenes has a better balance with the amount of dialogue-driven scenes.
Spider-Man: Homecoming also feels special due to its careful inclusion of some incredibly minor details, besides the regular Easter Eggs. For one, a couple times the Midtown mascot runs by in the far background. It is never clear what he is doing, or what exactly the mascot even is, but his presence is entertaining.
To help cement Peter’s age, in many scenes he is wearing a graphic t-shirt, which includes some various nerdy picture. Maybe more importantly, by adding significant authenticity, as the film continues, Peter’s phone screen becomes more and more cracked, until at the end it is so cracked it resembles a spider web.