You read the headline right. I wasn't expecting to say that either after watching the movie, and yet here we are.
I went into Spider-Man: Homecoming thinking that it would be good, but not quite as good as the hyperbole and early reactions made it appear to be. Most of the critical response was the same old "best MCU movie ever" retreads that pop up almost every time a new Marvel Studios movie is released. Tiresome to see all the time, but you still have to see the movie for yourself to make the call on how good you think it is.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is good. Very good. In fact, it's DAMN good. That wasn't something I expected to say about it after seeing it, but over the course of over two hours in the IMAX theater watching it amidst a sellout crowd, my thoughts kept coming back to that idea every time.
This movie isn't "standard-issue" Spider-Man in the slightest. I'm not totally sure what standard-issue is for this character, but Homecoming is not a retelling of anything we have seen from Spider-Man movies to this point. It's also not exactly a "classic" portrayal of the character from what I know of him and his world. If you're looking for the tried and true "with great power comes great responsibility" narrative that we have seen before, that's not what this movie is, at least not overtly. No, Marvel Studios already assumes at this point after five Sony distributed films that you know who Spider-Man is and understand the gist of his story or it assumes at the very least that you watched Captain America: Civil War and paid attention to the wall-crawler's official introduction. That's enough of a primer that you need to know to jump right into Homecoming's story.
Without giving anything major away, the plot of the movie is pretty straightforward. A gang of working class criminals are trying to make a buck selling very dangerous alien weapons on the street. Itching to become an Avenger after his first stint with them in Civil War, Peter Parker comes across these criminals in New York and decides to take matters into his own hands to try and take them down, all the while badly juggling his personal life, school life and Avengers envy in the process as a sophomore in high school.
Right off the bat, I saw exactly where critics were comparing this movie to a John Hughes teen comedy. Homecoming is a solid tribute to those movies with a superhero twist to it. They even blatantly reference AND knock-off a classic scene from one of them that I won't reveal here. It is yet another genre of film that the MCU is adding to its collection and it's reminds us that even though Marvel Studios is entrenched in its assembly-line process of production for these movies, it is still intent on using different movie genres for each of its properties. We have seen science fiction drama, mythological fantasy, wartime period piece, spy thriller, heist movie and political thriller to name just a few of the different genres the MCU has tackled, and now with Spider-Man: Homecoming they can add teen comedy to the list.
The thing is, teen comedy completely WORKS with this movie in large part because of the cast, starting with Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Forget the idea of comparing him to Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield because Holland's Parker has a few worlds of difference between him and those previous portrayals. He's much younger, his powers are still relatively fresh and he's already seen combat in a previous movie to this point, so when we first see him it's completely post-Civil War and all of the ramifications that event had for him and his mindset. Holland plays it like any eager teenager would seemingly do so and his Parker achieves the balance of wisecracking superhero with super-genius student in a way we literally haven't seen before. He's the definitive Spider-Man for the millennial generation without question.
Holland gets great help from Jacob Batalon who plays his best friend Ned Leeds, Zendaya who plays Michelle, Laura Harrier who plays Peter's love interest Liz Allan, and Tony Revolori who plays Flash Thompson. To say that this group of young actors drives much of the movie is more than accurate and that's a huge reason why it works so well. This isn't a case of the kids finding themselves and then the grown-ups come in to take over every time, it's a situation where Parker and his friends are the heart of the story and everything that happens circles back to them, not The Avengers or any other adult authority figures. This allows the young cast the opportunity to establish a true teen comedy dynamic that is their own and sets the tone for the rest of the movie with Holland's Parker leading the way.
About those adult authority figures, by the way......we all knew that Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Jr. would be a presence in Spider-Man: Homecoming as a watchful mentor to Peter, but so is Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan as well. In the interests of keeping this review as spoiler-free as possible, I'll simply tell you that my fear that Stark would take over this movie from Peter was laid to rest very authoritatively, in a big way because of the cast dynamic I mentioned with the young actors, a dynamic that allows Peter to keep his Aunt May, played by Marisa Tomei completely out of the loop of what is going on with him. As with the best teen comedies, the adults in this movie are for support when needed, but are never once in control of the movie.
Now let's talk about the character that was in total control of every scene he was in, Adrian Toomes AKA The Vulture, played by Michael Keaton. What you may have heard is true, he is without question the best MCU villain since Loki and that is not only because of Keaton's powerful presence as actor, but also because of how his character was written and edited for the film. There are no wasted lines, scenes or action sequences with Keaton in this movie. Everything his villainous character does is with a clear and menacing intent and for a franchise that has more than struggled with weak plot device villains, it was refreshing to see one that did much more than just move the plot along. If this is a sign that the MCU is finally beginning to write and build stronger villains then that is good news for MCU fans indeed.
Visually, this is of course the best we have ever seen Spider-Man on screen. The range of his abilities as a superhero is wider here than it has been in previous Spider-Man movies and it all looks gorgeous from start to finish. It's also one of the better film scores from one of my favorite composers Michael Giacchino, who previously scored Doctor Strange for Marvel Studios last year. There still isn't a particularly memorable theme for the hero throughout the movie here, but there are great pieces of music for dramatic and action heavy scenes that do a great job adding tension to the visuals and also serve to highlight Giacchino's distinctive musical style that he has.
I've mentioned that Spider-Man: Homecoming is constructed very much in the way of a teen comedy and with that in mind, we can talk about humor for a bit. It works, to say the least and again it is because it is a teen comedy. Most of the jokes come from the young cast members and fit their situation, never really feeling out of place much. There's also different kinds of humor here from physical gags to sight gags to situational comedy setups and so forth, but at no point does the movie feel overstuffed with humor and it doesn't hurt the story at any point. In fact, it serves to fit into what is going on with Peter and his friends most of the time. Even with the humor in the movie, there are plenty of more dramatic and emotional scenes and Homecoming as a whole film does a great job of taking those scenes seriously when they happen, most of them with Holland on screen. There are few key sequences where he really shows his abilities as a dramatic actor to pull off a set of emotions and show some real genuine reaction to his situation, both satisfactory and dire. When people talk about him being their favorite Spider-Man, surely one of those key scenes is part of the reason.
The bottom line is that Spider-Man: Homecoming is without question a top-tier MCU film and showcases just what the franchise is capable of in terms of effective storytelling and genre usage. To say that it might in fact be the franchise's best film since Winter Soldier is something I never even considered before seeing it, and now I am seriously considering that to be my position on it. It is not the best MCU film in my opinion, but it does so many things that the last number of MCU movies haven't done that it has to be in my Top 5 of the franchise for sure. So in the end, I'm not falling victim to the same hyperbole and effusive praise of the movie as many others are, but I do recognize just how strong of an effort in the MCU it is, and it really is one of its stronger ones. Indeed, there are credit scenes with this one, a mid and an end credits scene that are best left unsaid or hinted at for full enjoyment.
When the credits started to roll, I looked at the theater screen and nodded my approval for a job well done. I tip my cap to you for this one, Marvel Studios. I can only hope that you make more movies like this one for the rest of the franchise's health.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING - 5 out of 5 - In theaters July 7, 2017