“Spider-Man: Homecoming” marks the second reboot of everyone’s favorite webslinger, this one within the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the dumpster-fire-inside-a-trainwreck that was 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” The efforts of Hollywood to get another strong Spider-franchise off the ground speaks not only to the obvious money-making capabilities of the character, but to his ability to resonate with audiences after 50 years since his first appearance. There’s a simple reason for that: Peter Parker is not a billionaire, a prince or an alien. He’s an ordinary guy whose greatest trials are often finding the balance between heroism and day-to-day struggles like jobs, friendships and romance. He’s one of us. And for the first time since Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman 2” way back in 2004, it seems we finally have a movie that understands that.
So much of what “Homecoming” does well comes down to two things: the script and Tom Holland (“The Lost City of Z”). Featuring no fewer than six credited writers, the former blends classic high school comedy and all the high-flying superheroics you’d probably expect. The resultant tone would have been pleasant enough to sustain the movie, but the script’s greatest strength comes from its function as a stealth origin story for its title character.
To clarify, by the time the story begins, Peter has already been doing whatever a spider can for about eight months. Despite this, “Homecoming” feels like the beginning of Spider-Man proper, as Peter begins to reflect on his future and what a life as an Avenger would mean. We don’t see the radioactive spider or Uncle Ben. Instead, we watch Peter come to grips with his dual identity and learn to listen to his most heroic instincts, a theme that audiences young and old will be able to relate to.
Holland, on the other hand, turns in a terrific performance as what may be the best Spider-Man yet. Spidey’s relatability is his lifeblood, but nearly as important is his youthful exuberance and humor. Holland nails both. Whatever the moment calls for, whether it’s a well-timed quip or tearful confession to Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, “The Big Short”), there’s never a moment that doesn’t feel real. As silly as it sounds, if a high schooler were given superpowers, this is probably what it would look like.
The rest of the cast is accordingly sound. Tomei doesn’t get as much screen time as her counterparts, but she still gets the funniest moment of the entire film. Robert Downey Jr. (“The Judge”) falls easily into the mentor role, and the relationship that develops between Tony Stark and Peter is yet another high point. Still, the highlight of the supporting players is without a doubt Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) as Adrian Toomes, who ranks as one of the most gripping villains the MCU has offered up. Unlike other MCU villains, time is actually spent developing Toomes’s motivation. He feels like a fleshed-out character, one whose fury is understandable but who is nevertheless terrifying, especially in the scenes he shares with Spider-Man.
If “Homecoming” does have one glaring weakness, it’s that the action is pretty weak. The argument could be made that this is due to Peter still learning his powers, but even putting that aside the direction from Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) lacks the life on display in other scenes. There’s nothing too inventive or exciting about any of it, and it lacks any sort of visual flair. Ironically, the action scenes wind up being the most boring bits of the movie.
But the weak action aside, “Homecoming” brings Spider-Man back into the Marvel fold in perhaps the best way fans could have hoped for. It goes small where other interpretations have gone big, setting him up as a street-level hero whose problems and failures feel more realistic because they’re our problems. When he triumphs, it gives us hope that we can do the same. That’s what makes Spider-Man one of the greatest superheroes of all time, and understanding that is “Homecoming”’s greatest success.