Spider-Man: Homecoming is a flat-out triumph. Calling it anything would be selling it maddeningly short.
Directed by Jon Watts, Homecoming is a joyful celebration of Spider-Man, a character who’s arguably the most popular Marvel superhero in history. But the movie thankfully doesn’t just rehash what we already know, and Watts makes a few savvy choices to give the iconic webslinger a fresh feel.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a movie that fans have been waiting for, and it’s a movie that — for its action scenes alone — demands to be seen in theaters. Aside from the typical Marvel dazzle, the performances from star Tom Holland (as Spidey) and Michael Keaton (as the villain, Vulture) are stellar. And Homecoming is fearless in being a teen movie that never forgets that its star is still in high school, which stays true to the spirit of Spider-Man.
Vox will have a full review of Spider-Man: Homecoming closer to when the film opens on Friday, July 7. But for now, here are five great things to know about it.
1) This movie will make Tom Holland a movie star. He’s the best Spider-Man ever.
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was easily the best thing about 2016’s Captain America: Civil War — he gave the movie much-needed lightness and joyfulness. But I went into Homecoming feeling a little unsure of how that hero, as winsome as he was, would carry an entire movie; since a lot of his character’s appeal in Civil War was that he was able to play off of the stoicism and sternness of the superheroes around him.
About 20 minutes in, Holland vaporized any concern I had.
In Civil War, we got a glimpse of Holland’s charm and stellar comedic chemistry with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. In his expanded role, Holland builds on that foundation he established in Civil War and gives Peter Parker a rounded awkwardness and youthful, restless spirit. He makes Peter feel like your childhood best friend — the type of kid you don’t want to see anything bad happen to. But then, as Homecoming unfolds, Peter becomes more aspirational — the kind of kid you didn’t know you wanted to be.
And more than any Marvel superhero before him, Peter Parker is vulnerable. This is a teenager who, in the comic books, experiences loss (see: his Uncle Ben and the love of his young life, Gwen Stacy). His life is a frustrating, jagged journey in figuring out what kind of man he is. In Holland’s nimble hands, Peter sheds tears and aches with heartbreak.
Holland is having so much fun and is so convincing in this role that he creates the most relatable and most human Marvel hero. He’s the best Spider-Man who’s ever been onscreen.
2) Michael Keaton is a fantastic villain
The meta-humor behind Michael Keaton’s villain is that he played a megalomaniacal, bird-inspired ex-superhero in Birdman (2014), the odd, sardonic superhero satire from Alejandro González Iñárritu that was named Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars. Now, in Homecoming, Keaton is playing one of Spider-Man’s classic nemeses, Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture.
But even putting that strange meta-irony aside, Keaton is chilling as Toomes. Keaton knows how to flash his own brand of sinister, sharpening the spikiness in his voice and conveying heat in his eyes. But the compelling thing about Toomes is that, like a lot the very best comic villains, he’s impossibly human.
You get the sense that if Toomes had just had one lucky break in life, he could’ve easily become a hero in this world of gods and monsters. Keaton homes in on that, making a case for Toomes, giving him a cogent point of view. He’s not evil for evil’s sake. You won’t necessarily agree with his motives, but you’ll understand why he’s chosen the path he’s on.
3) Spider-Man: Homecoming is unapologetically a teen movie
Spider-Man is essentially the first teenage superhero who’s also a headliner. Before him, teenage superheroes (think: characters like Robin) were plucky sidekicks (not unlike the role Holland played in Civil War). But Peter Parker rose above that status and became a character who brought to life and gave relevance to the terrifying unsureness of being a teen.
Homecoming stays true to that spirit and carves out a teen experience for Peter that feels so unmistakably familiar. It may make you long for your teenage innocence, and that’s a feat in itself.
What’s even more fascinating is how the film evokes nostalgia for a teenage high school experience that, being honest, many of us probably didn’t have.
The kids in Peter’s school are gifted. There are no smug jocks, mean girls, or other antiquated tropes about social hierarchy. For the most part, the kids are allowed to be kids. But even in this post-modern, post-trope high school setting, the fears of rejection, the yearning for belonging, and the aching loneliness still exist.
What’s it like to be a kid at a time where heroes aren’t myths? What’s it like when your heroes let you down? And for Peter Parker, what’s it like to let them down?
The chaotic world around these kids has turned their adolescence into a sort of charade, because they’ve all had to grow up with death and destruction around them. Prom, pop quizzes, college, and crushes might seem inconsequential compared to the seriousness of alien invasions and Captain America going rogue. But perhaps, as Homecoming explores, those teenage moments are more crucial to growing up than ever.
4) Yes, the action scenes are fantastic
It’s a strange coincidence that Spider-Man: Homecoming has an invisible plane, and that in Wonder Woman, a man who she can’t save dies and teaches a hero a lesson about responsibility. That’s a flagrant glitch in the comic book matrix. (It’s usually the other way around.)
But I am thankful for Spider-Man’s jet, the acrobatic choreography of Peter Parker zipping through New York City, and all of the movie’s fizzy, absolutely glee-inducing fight scenes. They’re every bit as splendid and as pleasurable as they were imagined in Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s original comic books.
Spider-Man is a unique hero in that there’s a fair bit of comedic physics going on whenever he performs his heroism. He’s not a brawler like Captain America or Hulk nor is he a gizmo-reliant technophile the way Iron Man is, and he can’t call down lightning like Thor. Spidey is also leaner and meaner than his superhero cohort — he’s not muscling his way to solutions.
It’s about momentum and tension in Homecoming’s action sequences. He slings and flip himself toward bad guys in moments that are both fearless and silly. He’s graceful until he’s not. He’s not a martial arts expert (yet), so it’s more like go-for-broke, wish-for-the-best flailing.
And since Spider-Man can’t fly nor is he old enough to even drive a car, he has to swing from building to building. If there are no buildings, Spider-Man is just like the rest of New Yorkers: He runs or takes the subway.
Marvel superhero fights onscreen convey a visual language. Black Widow is sleek, agile grace. Hulk is sheer power. Thor is shock and awe. Iron Man is stylish tech. But it’s Spidey’s brand of elastic silliness that I think I love most.
5) With great power comes great responsibility — and this Spider-Man embodies that idea to the fullest
When I was leaving the theater after my Spider-Man: Homecoming screening, the friend I saw it with mentioned that Marvel’s superhero movies can often feel like “competence porn.”
When a Marvel superhero is “born,” he explained, all it takes is a snap of the fingers, or a syringe of supersoldier serum or Hank Pym’s magic shrinking formula, a montage, and boom: The hero in question becomes a high-performance do-gooder, fully in command of their newfound super strength, their agility, their super suit, their vibranium shield, and whatever powers they have.
Homecoming is a stark contrast to that.
Instead of repeating Spidey’s signature catchphrase, “with great power comes great responsibility,” Homecoming opts to show us what this idea looks like in practice. We see him soar through the sky with all these gizmos in his new suit, and then completely bork the landing. We see him put people in danger because of teenage stubbornness. We see him fail over and over again.
At some point, watching Spider-Man biff up another scenario becomes an exercise in cringe. But it absolutely works in making Spidey’s credo, and the spirit of his character, crystal clear.