A collective, barely audible sigh of frustration could be heard from Marvel fans everywhere when yet another reboot of the Spider-Man franchise was announced—the third version of the web-slinger in 15 years. Who needs a new Spider-Man, many mused, when it had been seemingly done to death in the Tobey Maguire-centric, Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy, and less impressively rehashed in the two installments of the Andrew Garfield-led Amazing Spider-Man?
Let all fears be assuaged, Spidey fans: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally gotten it right, and Tom Holland is the correct actor to embody this new iteration of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Portrayed in Spider-Man: Homecoming as a high-school sophomore, Parker stumbles through his everyday life as a book-smart kid who wants to win his school’s academic decathlon, successfully ask out his popular crush Liz (Laura Harrier)…and, oh yeah, get himself another gig with the Avengers.
The film doesn’t waste time repeating the previously shown plot points of the arachnid-inclined superhero, opting to skip over the fateful encounter between Parker and a radioactive spider as well as the traumatic death of his Uncle Ben. Instead, it focuses on building out the MCU’s unique take on Spider-Man as a young hero who’s trying to balance his crimefighting with his civilian life and relationships with his schoolmates and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
Eager to prove himself to his mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Parker spends all of his spare time clad in his Spidey suit, on the prowl for people to help and crimes to stop—he foils bicycle thieves and bank robberies, and even helps folks who need directions—trying out various quips and one-liners along the way.
It’s not all petty crimes for Parker; things escalate when a nefarious villain known as the Vulture, aka Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), surfaces. After his salvage crew are put out of business by Stark Industries following the Chitauri attack on New York City in the first Avengers film, Toomes decides to keep the alien technology he’s already found, and begins creating illegal and deadly weapons to sell on the black market. The Vulture might seem like an esoteric and puzzling choice for the movie’s main villain at first glance, but thankfully, Keaton brings salty wit and conviction to the role—his crotchety, grudge-holding Birdman is the perfect antithesis to Holland’s boyish, excitable Spider-Man. In fact, one could even see the pair as representing the older, change-resistant gatekeepers of comic fandom and a newer generation of enthusiasts.
Generational conflict is the central (and ever timely) theme of the film, and not just when it comes to the battle between Spider-Man and the Vulture. Tony Stark assumes the role of father figure to Parker here, and while he’s initially willing to share some advanced technology with the youngster, there’s a predictable tough-love moment when Stark tells him he’s not ready to be a superhero and takes back his tricked-out, Stark Industry Spidey suit. Sure, taking away the hero’s advantages just before he fights the villain is the oldest plot twist in the book, but there’s something exciting about watching an underdog come out on top using his wits rather than high-tech toys.
In addition to the usual special effects and Marvel-sized action scenes, Spider-Man: Homecoming is chock-full of genuinely funny bits—from physical stunts gone awry to quick quips and witty banter—and painfully awkward teenage moments. The film exhibits the same kind of self-awareness and tactful fan service that made flicks like Deadpool and the first Guardians of the Galaxy a blast to watch. Although it has the all-too-common problem of running just a tad too long for comic-based fare (133 minutes), the movie—just like Holland’s Spider-Man—fits neatly into the MCU canon while providing just enough of its own flavor to feel fresh and interesting.