The history of everyone’s favorite web-slinger has been, well, up and down to say the least. Sam Raimi directed three films about the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and had big plans for more. After a solid first outing, Raimi followed it up with a superb sequel and truly atrocious third offering.

As a result, Sony scrapped plans for a fourth, and ultimately tried to build its own world around Spidey. The Amazing Spider-Man bowed in 2012 and introduced a new take on the character. That spurned a messy sequel in 2014, and once again, Sony scrapped their larger plans for a Spidey-verse. Enter Marvel Studios, and 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Spider-Man was reborn thanks to a deal struck between Sony and Marvel and now, we have quite possibly the best Spider-Man movie in the characters rich history.

Marvel hit the nail on the head by casting young British actor Tom Holland to play Spider-Man. Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date, and certainly features its best villain of recent memory. In Homecoming, Peter Parker is navigating the everyday turmoil of high school. The film picks up soon after Spider-Man’s debut in Civil War and his growing impatience with Tony Stark’s inability to give him the “next mission”.

Holland fits the bill as Peter and his charismatic and charming turn as the web slinger is a delight to watch. More so than previous iterations of the character on screen, director Jon Watts does an incredible job balancing both sides of Peter Parker. He’s a kid first and foremost, a kid who wants to impress his crush, and be cool. It’s a theme Watts explores in the film heavily. Peter wants to fit in as he and his friend Ned are outcasts at their school. They are bullied by Flash (Tony Revolori) who calls Parker names and scoffs at the mere idea Peter knows Spider-Man through his internship at Stark Industries. To some respect, Peter wants to use Spider-Man as a bridge to prove he’s cool, but he also struggles with the responsibility bestowed upon him.

Watts’ first film, Cop Car, dealt with two young boys and their mindsets after stealing a cop car. While Peter Parker is quite a bit older than the two young boys in Watts’ other film, he does a terrific job diving into the mind set of a 16-year-old. Holland emits the boyish wonder and sense of adventure to make Parker such a fun character to watch. He isn’t the brooding or dramatic Spidey of films past.

The cast of supporting characters is a welcome addition. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Tomei’s May is a fresh and welcome take on her character. Peter’s friend Ned steals the the show to some regards and delivers some of the best one-liners in the film. Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr also does some solid work. There are smaller roles in the movie that are also fun to watch like Hannibal Burress as the gym teacher, Zendaya as a similar outcast in Peter’s school.

Michael Keaton is a compelling and complex villain, something the MCU stand alone films have been yearning for. Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is the rare villain who part of everyone will identify with. He has a major beef with Tony Stark and the government after they institute the Damage Control initiative in an effort to control the alien technology and artifacts left over from the wreckage of the Avengers fight with the Chitauri in New York. Toomes crew is forbidden from any further clean up. He sees this as an opportunity to stick up for the little guy and ultimately becomes the Vulture. Vulture and his crew steal alien technology and turn it into weapons which they ultimately sell to criminals. Vulture is a well crafted and effectively menacing villain. Vulture is the MCU’s best villain since quite possibly Loki.

Other than the characters who inhabit this world, Homecoming features dazzling action sequences. Above all, Watts and Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige rightfully choose not show us another Spider-Man origin story. No flashbacks for the death of Uncle Ben, no radioactive spider bites. Instead, Watts delivers a thrilling, hilarious coming of age story. Watts’ feverish pacing and keen eye for comedic timing make Homecoming a clean and exciting film to watch.

Watts pays homage to the great coming of age tales of the John Hughes era. You can get the sense of the style of filmmaking Watts used as inspiration. Homecoming channels films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the great teen comedies of the 80’s. In doing so, it furthers the story telling arcs Feige has let directors create in the MCU. Whether it’s Captain America: The Winter Solider as the political thriller, Ant-Man as a heist comedy, the MCU has blended genres seamlessly.

Robert Downey, Jr. was a heavy presence in the movies marketing and it is refreshing to see that it doesn’t become a fourth Iron Man movie. Stark is involved, but, not to the point he becomes a co-star. Stark is the mentor, and even in smaller roles, Tony’s character continues to evolve. There is a great line where Peter tells Tony he wanted to be like him, and Tony says “I wanted you to be better”. Downey delivers the line expertly and you get a sense of the way Tony sees Peter. But, the presence of Iron Man leads to a few of the films flaws. Spider-Man’s suit ultimately feels a bit too Iron Man-ish, with the presence of all the gadgetry and JARVIS like AI assistant whom Parker refers to as Karen. While its a small complaint, there are other minor things in this film that I found didn’t work. The nearly constant references to other MCU characters and properties does become tiresome to some extent.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is my definitive Spider-Man. I rewatched 2004’s Spider-Man 2 and still have found Homecoming to be the superior film. Nearly everything in Homecoming works. It’s clever humor and willingness to be different, like its protagonist, sets it apart from the other, often formulaic, MCU entries. Holland and Keaton are the stars of the show and both provide the emotional core of the film. There’s some really great cameos to boot. Oh and by the way, stay through the credits, you won’t regret it. Spider-Man: Homecoming is everything you want to see out of this character, and a little bit more. In my opinion, if Feige and company are intent on Spidey being the new Iron Man of the MCU going forward, they certainly started off on the right foot.

8.7/10

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