Review: 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Is the Best Spider-Man Movie to Date

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Tom Holland plays Spider-Man in Sony's new installment in the franchise. Columbia Pictures

Did we really need a new Spider-Man movie so soon after the ill-fated franchise fronted by Andrew Garfield, which itself closely followed Sam Raimi's beloved Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire? After watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, from the irresistible combination of director Jon Watts and new webslinger Tom Holland, the answer is yes. This is the Spidey movie we've been waiting for. It's also the best Spider-Man movie of the bunch.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was born out of an unlikely partnership between two rival studios: Sony Pictures, which holds the cinematic rights to Spidey, and the Disney-owned Marvel Studios, the purveyors of the slickest money-magnet comic book blockbusters this side of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy. Marvel stepped in to help Sony after the car crash that was 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2skewered by critics and denounced by fans—to help re-chart the creative course of the popular character.

Holland's Spidey made his debut in Marvel's Captain America: Civil War, dueling on the big screen with Iron Man and Captain America for the very first time. In turn, Sony got to tap into Marvel Studios's brainpower—namely the studio's president and mastermind of the Avengers films, Kevin Feige—for this new stand-alone adventure. A supporting role for Avengers lynchpin Robert Downey Jr. as Spidey's mentor Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, only sweetens the pot.

Homecoming picks up with Holland's Spidey/Peter Parker immediately after Civil War (following a smart and riotously funny recap of his involvement in that film, via a homemade video diary). After fighting for Team Iron Man, Parker goes back to his mundane high school life, waiting for Stark to pop up and send him on another daredevil mission. That mission never comes, so the impetuous young superhero—wanting to take his new powers out for a test drive—creates his own mayhem by investigating a group of bandits using supercharged weapons (powered by remnants of alien technology from the Battle of New York in 2012's The Avengers) to conduct bank heists. That pits Spidey at direct odds with their ringleader, Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, a construction worker turned criminal.

The screenplay—which is credited to no less than six writers, Watts included—is tonally closer to the humorous juvenility that made the Spider-Man comic books and the 1990s Fox Kids animated series so compelling. Homecoming is colorful, bright and extremely funny. A John Hughes–esque musical montage leading into the film's homecoming scene is masterful.

But the film isn't without drama. This teenage Spidey is plagued not just by the existential threat of a supervillain but also contends with relatable teen melodrama, from impressing high school crush Liz (Laura Harrier) to sneaking home without getting caught by his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

When the action ramps up to a big, action-driven finale, the stakes are commendably human. Parker's boyish impudence is at the heart of the story—he wants to take off the training wheels before he's earned the right to. "If you're nothing without this suit, then you shouldn't have it," Stark tells him in a fiery exchange. An unexpected twist at the end of the second act (I genuinely did not see it coming) gives the final showdown between Spidey and the Vulture real consequence that hits you like a gut punch.

Holland also inhabits Parker with a boyish charm that perfectly serves the dynamic between Spidey, the excitable puppy, and Stark, the wearied father figure. I personally loved Garfield's take on Parker—though his acting ability was undermined by the material he was given—but Holland is more suited to this particular Parker. And it's this Parker that young kids will relate to.

Superhero movies don't always recognize the importance of a good villain, and in Marvel's case, some of its previous foes have felt like paint-by-numbers, sycophantic caricatures. Here, the Vulture is a mere mortal whose villainy is precipitated by a very human desire to provide for his family. The character is robustly served in the script, and Keaton—making his return to the superhero genre three decades after playing Batman—elevates the part with a deft balance of considered dramatic choices and zany comic book fun.

All the popcorn-inhaling action scenes aside, Spider-Man: Homecoming also wins plaudits with its bold, beautiful and colorful diversity. Nearly every scene features extras of different ethnic backgrounds—from the girl in the hijab who sits behind Parker in science class to the Orthodox Jews walking the streets of Brooklyn. That representation is so important for young people who are not used to seeing themselves reflected in cinema. Spider-Man, like other comic book heroes, is meant to inspire optimism and everyday heroism.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters globally starting this month.