At first, the biggest surprise move made by Marvel was placing fan favorite (yet far-fetched) Thor on equal footing with the iconic Iron Man and Captain America in its Cinematic Universe. Now we accept the character’s presence as a given. Then the studio defied expectations by establishing phase two of its master plan with new-to-film properties such as Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy, all of them smash hits at the box office and received well enough by critics. Then many began wondering when Marvel’s impossible winning streak would end (Iron Fist notwithstanding).
With Spider-Man: Homecoming, the MCU has pulled off its biggest surprise yet by not only bringing back one of its previously untouchable properties (Sony owns the film rights to the character), but delivering the best Spidey movie in more than a decade and bringing life to a story that risked exhausting its fanbase with excessive reboots. Homecoming is not only entertaining, funny and well-performed in its own right, but it will instantly win back the affections of fatigued fans with its exciting action, wry wit and genuine desire to do this story justice.
Spider-Man: Homecoming follows Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) ordeals following his introduction in Captain America: Civil War. Initially recruited under Tony Stark’s tutelage, Parker spends his free time reporting to Stark about his daily activities; sometimes eventful, sometimes not. Mostly, he hops around New York City in a mechanized suit designed by Stark, attempting to do good by its residents and pining for the day he will be called to swing into battle. He refuses most social engagements or extracurricular activities, citing his mysterious internship. He does, after all, still need to navigate high school, and all the awkward crushes, social hierarchies and inherent tension of wanting to grow up as quickly as possible, no matter the cost.
Meanwhile, a contractor named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), tasked with cleaning up the rubble left by the massive battle of 2012’s The Avengers, is irked by the newly formed U.S. Department of Damage Control pushing him out of the job before he or his employees have been fully paid. Before leaving the crash site, he accidentally makes off with alien technology that he learns to harness into powerful weaponry, leading him into a new life as an arms dealer with merchandise found nowhere else.
Both the hero and villain of Homecoming exist as a direct result of events in previous MCU movies, a first for a series that has so far relied on either preexisting yet concealed mythology or an individual rising to the task of history. As a result, Homecoming is as much about the characters’ roles in the world, not just their own individual arcs. Toomes has a working-class, stick-it-to-the-man vendetta. Parker, though recognized as the most brilliant mind in his class, tries not to disappoint those who believe in him, whether that person be Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), his aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his best friend, Ned (Jacob Balaton), or his all-time crush, Liz (Laura Harrier).
Holland brings a new level of teenage enthusiasm to the character (not to mention being the first actor to be believable in the age group). Keaton is fantastically bitter yet very human, and is not out to destroy the world so much as he is to get what he feels he is owed. The New York they inhabit is realistic, and director Jon Watts has a keen eye toward the diversity of modern-day Queens that feels both intentional and natural.
All of the cast, leading and supporting, is excellent. Each of the action sequences is unique and grows directly out of the events of the film itself. We feel the weight if Parker fails—and sometimes he does, or comes very close—and the shame and disappointment in these moments are perhaps the most dramatically significant of the MCU thus far. Spider-Man: Homecoming is far more than an obligatory restart, and if you are a newcomer to the series, it is a perfect place to start.