Compared to its superhero contemporaries, the Spider-Man movies have always been the lightest in terms of tone and mood. The franchise eschews the usual grittiness and edginess that has become saturated in this milieu of comic book adaptation as high art. Despite the death and destruction in the narrative of the earlier films (Gwen Stacy’s demise still hurts like hell), they’ve always been successful at representing their central figure’s more juvenile qualities. Peter Parker, after all, is your friendly neighborhood Spidey. And Spider-Man: Homecoming, the 16th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is the type of superhero movie that will put a permanent smile on your face—a back-to-basics coming of age tale reminiscent of a simpler time.
After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is sent back home by mentor—and father figure—Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to a mundane high school life filled with boring classes, campus crushes, and academic decathlons. He feels the hunger to serve society as an official Avenger, pestering Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Iron Man to send him on another mission. When he stumbles upon a local robbery fueled by alien-like superpowered weapons, he suddenly has an avenue to satiate his crime-fighting fix. Spider-Man takes it upon himself to investigate, discovering that the high-tech weaponry is being manufactured by Vulture (a scary Michael Keaton) and his ring of hoodlums. Peter needs to balance all of this while juggling the responsibilities of a (not-so-average) hormonal adolescent, an element that imbues the movie with a John Hughes ’80s teen flick feel that’s ingenious.
It’s refreshing to see a comic book movie where there are no cities being leveled by some interplanetary force. The story doesn’t revolve around a plot for world domination. Instead, the conflict is reeled in and made immediate. These are a bunch of working-class villains. And our protagonist? Well, he’s a 15-year-old with superhero dreams, foolishly risking his life for the common good. Don’t forget, when he’s not web-slinging, he’s got grades, a hot aunt (Marisa Tomei as May is just loads of fun), and a homecoming dance to attend to.
Holland’s portrayal of Parker is charming, a task that’s extremely difficult given that it’s a character that’s fresh in the public’s consciousness, thanks in large part to, well, amazing turns by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield before him. The diverse young cast of ingenues that surround the breakout star are just as magnetic, specifically the scene-stealing Jacob Batalon, who plays Ned, Peter’s geeky best bud and requisite sidekick. The chemistry between the two young thespians is akin to buddy-movies of yore, rooted in a familiarity most males will recognize from their childhoods.
The most impressive aspect of Homecoming, however, is that even though it doesn’t aim for prototypical blockbuster fare, there’s no shortage of elaborate action sequences. The filmmakers go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to the set pieces, computer graphics, and stunt choreography. There’s an outstanding scene that uses the Washington Monument to challenge Spider-Man’s skills, tense and suspenseful and exciting all at once. And as the film progresses, the metaphorical walls that Spider-Man needs to climb only get higher—just like growing up, just like growing pains. And in this allegorical method of storytelling, it allows the audience to have a clearer grasp of both the internal and external conflict he faces.
When all the baddie-beating is done, when the suit is off and there are no more enemies to knock out cold, Spider-Man is essentially just a kid trying to get by. And the trick the movie employs so well is that, hey, we were all young once too.
Spider-Man: Homecoming starts showing in theaters on July 6