Spider-Man: Homecoming represents more than just another addition to the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the long-awaited integration of one of the comic’s greatest characters into the ‘official’ canon of this ongoing series. To do well by Peter Parker would be enough considering Sony’s most recent efforts being as shambolic and contemptable as they were, but to live up to the monolith of the original Rami trilogy of an entire decades past was always going to be the biggest hurdle to jump.
Sadly, it really isn’t anywhere near the levels of sincerity, emotional depths and visual experimentation as those originals (then again, whatever could be?). But what Homecoming does represent successfully is fulfilling the promise of its title; the incorporation of a much beloved character effortlessly into the now matured and evolving world of the MCU without feeling bogged down by the weight of the larger narrative.
As with before, Tom Holland is fantastic as the young Peter Parker. Having already been introduced in Captain America: Civil War, his first solo venture feels indebted to his fleeting character setup of that film. He’s as awkward and out of place as ever in his high school environment and fits the role of Peter Parker as easily as he does his more quippy alter ego, with the overlap evident and believable. He wants to do the right thing, but as a hyperactive and flighty kid wants to run with The Avengers before he’s even properly established himself as a responsible hero in his own right.
The idea of Peter having to earn his right to the status of an Avenger is his main drive, while his overriding of his Stark tailored costume leads him into trouble as he rushes through personal training without the requisite mind set or patience required to allow him to reach his full potential. Robert Downey Jr. proves a perfect foil for this as a mentor wanting to see his prodigy show itself without the benefit of help – and turns out to be a wonderful and not-at-all overbearing presence in the film.
The focus on some of the comic’s B grade villains is refreshing, with the likes of the Shocker, and Michael Keaton’s performance as the actually rather sympathetic but nonetheless dangerous Adrian Toomes / Vulture is really quite satisfying given his cold open.
The cast in general though are rather fantastic. Tony Revolori is a great twist on "Flash" Thompson. Laura Harrier as love interest Liz walking away a born star. Jacob Batalon steals every scene he’s in as Peter’s bestie, Ned, and an underplayed but memorable turn from Zendaya as the sarcastic outlier of the friendship group who might well become far more significant in the sequel. It’s just a shame that Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May feels as maligned as she is, that while she carries warmth lacks presence as most of her scenes devolve into men and boys simply fawning over her.
Jon Watts keeps the direction loose, and while his eye for colour really works though the digital photography, it never feels as expressive as it should do and comes across as visually dry as other MCU films from a shooting and framing perspective outside of key heroic images. Same goes for Michael Giacchino’s high-spirited but unmemorable and predictable score. It offers up some neat twists and turns later on that add dramatic weight, but the action scenes themselves feel a little too weightless at times regardless of the wonderful web slinging sequences.
Also, while this new narrative tries its best to differentiate itself from other iterations by not dwelling on or hardly mentioning key moments of Spider-Man’s origin story, it feels like the film is lacking some deeper emotional incidence beyond merely following its plot. The John Hughes-like inflections on high school life are pretty enjoyable and largely funny – including an increasingly hilarious recurring gag involving another Avenger – giving a dimension to the duel lives he must lead as he is pulled away from his heroic duties for detention and Spanish language tests. These work well, but if greater tension and circumstance were laid in its foundations – which are far closer to the roots of the genre structure than immediately apparent – the build up to the Homecoming Dance or the Decathlon might have been more interesting features.
What we have here is a stripped down, light and near inconsequential picture that simply seeks to reacquaint ourselves everyone’s favourite web slinger, with the intention on building up prospects further down the line. This is the most damning thing to say of it in that it doesn’t really strive for much else, and as such feels overall like one of the lesser entries in the canon. But maybe that’s okay for now, and hopefully bigger things are on the way.