‘Can’t you just be a friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man?’ Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) asks Peter Parker (Tom Holland) after one of Peter’s super-adventures. As well as being a cute nod to one of the most iconic descriptions of the world’s most popular superhero, it also cuts to the core of what makes Homecoming so good, and so different from its predecessors in both the MCU and the Sony Spider-Man series. This is a light-hearted adventure on a very small scale by superhero standards, sticking to local and personal conflicts for Spider-Man, very well-suited to the new, rebooted Peter Parker, the youngest and most fun portrayal of the character to date.
Taking place almost entirely in Queens, bar one excursion to Washington DC, Homecoming has a strong focus on the high-school side of Peter Parker’s life that makes Spider-Man such a unique and human hero. Taking inspiration from all sorts of high-school movies, though paying special homage to John Hughes, Peter has to balance his crime-fighting with tests, parties, dates, and field trips. A fantastic and diverse supporting cast populate Peter’s school, from The Nice Guy’s Angourie Rice as wonderfully inept school news presenter Betty Brant to Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned, with a particular highlight being Hannibal Buress as PE Coach Wilson. Buress is only on screen for around three minutes, but every second of that is priceless.
As the front of this enormous cast, filled to bursting with familiar faces, Tom Holland is exceptional. His appearance in last year’s Civil War hinted at great potential, and Homecoming is a truly star-making turn for the youngest member of the Avengers family. He’s funny, charming, and believably frightened when the action ramps up, without a doubt the best screen incarnation of Spider-Man. Playing well off all his teenage co-stars as well as the cast’s grown-ups, he’s eminently watchable throughout whether he’s battling villains or having dinner with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
Villainy is another strong suit of Homecoming, with Michael Keaton putting in an engaged and menacing turn as Adrian Toomes, aka The Vulture. A one on one conversation between him and Peter, without any super-suits or powers involved, is one of the tensest comic book movie sequences this side of a Nolan Batman film. His distressingly insincere smiles barely conceal a viciously violent streak, and his hi-tech arsenal makes him a formidable foe. Credit should also go to Jon Watts and his veritable army of screenwriters for using Toomes to make some, admittedly cursory, points about how class imbalances force people outside of the law. Backing up Toomes is a set of minor baddies played by excellent character actors, such as Fargo’s Bokeem Woodbine as The Shocker and Far Cry 3’s Michael Mando.
With so many relatively important characters, the story should by all rights be utterly overstuffed, and though the film is rather long, and a couple of characters do feel superfluous (Zendaya’s much publicised character Michelle is the most notable victim), it never drags or loses focus. Plenty of time is found for us to really get in Peter’s head, and the snippets of him just having fun with his powers outside of any sort of fight or chase make for something looser and calmer than the MCU generally produces. Despite his prominence in the trailers, franchise figurehead Iron Man only features briefly, just enough to make an impact, but not overpowering the essential Spider-Man-ness of the film.
Of course, action sequences are a necessity, and Watts manages to make them entertaining despite their relative lack of spectacle compared to an Avengers story or even Sam Raimi’s Spidey films. Peter’s joy at being a hero is infectious, and it’s only when Watts really goes for an epic showdown that he falters. A climactic fight between Peter and the Vulture on a crashing plane outstays its welcome, and its staging lacks the imagination and humour of the other set-pieces. As yet another CG-heavy aerial final fight in a very long list of them in superhero films, it’s a disappointment, and the last 15 minutes also make a couple of silly story choices.
Thankfully though, it all wraps up on a high, leaving just enough hanging to make sure we want more without ever feeling like we’re already being sold the next two or three movies in the series. Homecoming is an absolute blast, with an outstanding cast and a bunch of great cameos, a zippy and sometimes hysterically funny script, and a very enjoyable score from Michael Giacchino. Oh, and stick around to the very end for one of the best post-credits stingers in Marvel’s history.