While there has been a bit of fatigue for superhero movies in recent years — especially seen in 2016 with the releases of the downright bad-to-mediocre entries Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and X-Men: Apocalypse — I’d argue that 2017 has not only been a wonderful return to form for the highest-grossing genre in film, but also the absolute best year for comic book-based movies maybe ever. We’ve seen the release of the exquisite, mold-breaking Logan; as well as the unexpectedly good, DCEU-saving Wonder Woman; and, of course, the incredibly fun Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Also, I don’t know about you, but I’d include the hilarious Lego Batman Movie in this list as well…and as a guilty pleasure and total nostalgia trip, let’s put Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie on there, too — cause why not?
But while I’ve enjoyed my time with each of these previously mentioned films, my favorite of all this year’s contenders is the latest, Spider-Man: Homecoming, which sees its home release next week. Being a part of what is perhaps the most tired superhero film franchise since the turn of the century — following 2007’s unloved Spider-Man 3 and the underperforming two entries in the Amazing Spider-Man reboot in 2012 and 2014 — Homecoming had a lot to prove. It seems Sony understood this, as they finally struck a contract with the hugely successful Marvel Studios following Amazing Spider-Man 2 in order to include a new iteration of the character in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While this deal allowed for a glorified cameo and introduction for the new Spidey in last year’s Captain America: Civil War — and his part was awesome — it almost felt too good to be true. However, after seeing his first solo film for myself, I can say with certainty that Homecoming is the best movie the character has been at the center of since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.
Homecoming forgoes telling the origin story of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, because everyone either already knows it, or can fix that with a quick Google search. Here, the writing team thankfully starts Peter months into his career of crime-fighting, in a move that really saves this film from being another slog through well-trodden territory.
Homecoming very quickly lets the uninitiated know that this Spider-Man takes place in the MCU, as it opens in the aftermath of the Battle of New York seen in 2012’s The Avengers. Adrian Toomes’ (Michael Keaton) salvage company is cleaning up the destruction and retrieving the alien technology left over from the fight, before Stark Industries walks in and shuts them down. In retaliation, Toomes decides to keep some of the already-scavenged material in order to build high-tech weapons and later sell them on the black market, along the way creating a flight suit for himself and becoming a super-villain known as The Vulture. Eight years later, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is excitedly (and unsuccessfully) attempting to contact Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) after being summoned to help the Avengers in the fight against Captain America seen in Civil War. Peter is only 15-years-old, and Stark decides he isn’t ready yet, instead insisting he continue his studies at school.
But of course Peter can’t leave it alone, and spends any free-time after school building his patented reputation as the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” Early in the film in one of its best scenes, he happens upon an ATM robbery conducted by a squad using powerful weapons he’ll soon find out are built by Toomes’ goons. Spider-Man takes on his first real assignment without Stark’s help or approval, as he attempts to find out where the weapons have come from in order to put a stop to the creation and distribution of them…all the while trying to be a regular high-school teen doing regular high-school teen stuff, like schoolwork, hanging with his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and crushing on his classmate Liz (Laura Harrier).
Homecoming successfully shows off both sides of the fan-favorite character, giving us exhilarating action when Spider-Man is on-screen, and perfectly capturing the nerdish charm of Peter Parker to become the best portrayal of the character in any of the versions. Tom Holland is excellent in the leading role(s). Likewise, veterans Keaton and Downey Jr. bring their typical A-game while the newcomers that play Parker’s peers show the potential of burgeoning careers.
Homecoming delivers on much of the promise that came with the character’s stellar debut in Civil War, providing a fun movie with plenty of intense action, funny dialogue, and a surprising amount of heart. This isn’t a revolutionary film for the genre, but it doesn’t have to be. For now, at least, superhero films are here to stay. If you don’t like them already, then Homecoming won’t be for you. But if you are onboard with the trend, then this is one of the best you can see this year.
4 stars out of 5
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor