Spider-Man: Homecoming takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe down to a single neighborhood, while somehow managing to expand and deepen the universe the web crawler shares with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Peter Parker is Spider-Man, an “amazing” super-hero with great powers and great responsibilities. Peter Parker is also a high school student, a nerdy kid with awkward social skills.
Previous Spider-Man films have been able to capture the first part, particularly the beginning of Sam Raimi’s trilogy, but they’ve struggled with the latter. And that’s the part that really connects the audience to the film.
You are much more invested in the superhero winning when you care about the person behind the mask. That is the case with Homecoming. You root for Spider-Man because you like Peter Parker.
He’s a high school kid with real life issues struggling to adjust to life as a superhero. Where does he put his clothes when he’s off fighting crime? Wither Spider-Man when Peter Parker has a date?
That connection is able to increase the anxiety of the climax without putting the entire universe in danger. I honestly felt more anxiety as Peter Parker opened the door to his homecoming date’s front door than I did when the Avengers had an city floating in the air.
Much of that came from Tom Holland’s lovably awkward Peter Parker, but it is also helped by Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes aka Vulture.
They managed to bring in some of the iconic, but cartoonish elements from the comic book (particularly the fur around the neck), while still making him look menacing.
Everyone has said that the Vulture is the best Marvel villain since Loki, and I believe that’s true, but much of the discussion can miss why that is the case. It’s because he’s relatable.
Similarly to Spider-Man, most everyone can connect to Toomes and his motivations. We can relate to the depth of his feelings, if not the extent of his actions.
He doesn’t hatch a complicated scheme for world domination. He’s a complicated man with a jumbled mess of justifications for his current illegal actions.
The motivation for Peter might be the one area Homecoming falls short of previous Spider-Man films.
I understand not doing another standard origin story for Spider-Man. We don’t need see him being bitten by the radioactive spider again. But we need to know why he’s so driven to fight crime and do something with his powers.
Uncle Ben is never mentioned. Spider-Man seems to have taken to heart Ben’s iconic lesson (“With great power comes great responsibility”). But there’s no indication the mantra is buried within Peter’s psyche after he fails to stop a criminal who later kills Ben.
In Homecoming, Tony Stark serves as a father-figure and stand-in for Ben. In one scene, inspired by an iconic Spider-Man comic panel, Stark is literally a replacement for Uncle Ben, as Peter thinks of Stark (instead of Ben) as he pushes himself out of the rubble of a collapsed building.
Stark’s line “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it,” is a pale substitute for Ben’s wisdom.
In numerous instances, Spider-Man sacrifices Peter Parker’s dreams to fight crime. This makes sense if he has the murder of Uncle Ben to drive him. Avoiding the disappointment of Tony Stark does not carry the same weight.
But that one question mark aside, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun movie. It dials down the scope of the MCU, without losing the intensity of the story or the sharpness of the quips.
It plays on the metanarrative of Spider-Man wanting to join the Avengers, with the real life story of Sony wanting to tie their movie franchise to the Marvel juggernaut. There’s more than a little irony in the most famous Marvel superhero begging to be a part of a group that includes numerous other lesser-known figures.
The film does an amazing job connecting the larger events of the Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War to the context of daily life in New York. Aliens crashed into the city, who’s going to clean that up?
Captain America is an inspirational figure turned international war criminal, how are clueless gym teachers going to respond to him in the government-produced character-building videos you know he recorded? (Cap’s videos were my favorite running gag of the film.)
The film even plays off of previous Spider-Man films, particularly one of the most famous superhero kiss of all time.
In some ways, Homecoming is like the Marvel Netflix series—it helps ground these larger-than-life events and characters to real life and real people.
Sometimes when you’re protecting the world from intergalactic space aliens or guarding the galaxy from living planets, you miss what is happening down on the ground.
Tony keeps telling Spider-Man to “stay on the ground.” Peter Parker may have needed that, but so does Marvel occasionally.
The story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is hurtling toward a galactic showdown stretching across space. With Spider-Man: Homecoming, they took a scenic detour down cramped city streets.
Marvel has built amazing worlds within a fantastic universe, but sometimes what they really need is a friendly neighborhood hero swinging through Queens.