Comics on Film: 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Brings the Web-Slinger Back in the Best Way

Comics on Film: 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Brings the Web-Slinger Back in the Best Way

Jul 07, 2017

In 2002, director Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man film completely changed the face of the comic book blockbuster as we knew it. By taking the success enjoyed by the original X-Men film two years prior to heights that seemed barely possible at the time, the current "golden age" of comic book movies was largely facilitated by the web-head, a character who hasn't really been at the forefront of transformative films in the genre, probably, since 2004.

Now, 15 years after the first Raimi film, Spider-Man's place in comic book cinema has been given a new lease on life by incorporating Marvel Comics' (arguably) most iconic character into the framework of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe. Breaking onto the scene in last year's Captain America: Civil War, Sony and Marvel Studios have united to bring Spider-Man: Homecoming to the big screen, a film that firmly stands in a new place of prominence in the shared universe, while also having the most potential since the character's original film to serve as a truly representative outing for the comic book version of one of the world's most popular superheroes.

So, does Homecoming allow Spider-Man to swing to heights not seen since the early 2000s, or are we having a bad case of déjà vu from the likes of less stellar films from 2007 and 2014? Thankfully, the film's title is true in more ways than one: it's a true homecoming in both form and function, on top of letting Peter Parker stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. Really, though, that's only the beginning of the achievements here, not the end.

Taking place sometime after the events of Civil WarSpider-Man: Homecoming begins with a quick montage that swiftly establishes how Peter has been conducting himself in Queens, New York as the MCU's youngest costumed do-gooder. After stopping a robbery in his neighborhood in which the robbers seemed to employ advanced weaponry, Peter takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of a plot that, it seems, the Avengers — and Iron Man in particular — just can't be bothered by. This leads to a clash between Peter and Adrian Toomes, a former salvager in New York City who feels wronged by Tony Stark for stealing business from him when Stark establishes an agency to clean up the Battle of New York from the original Avengers film.

While that conflict may sound straightforward, the elements that immediately set Homecoming apart from pretty much every other MCU film — and, honestly, every other Spider-Man film — is its focus on the life of a 15-year-old Peter Parker. As only a sophomore at Midtown High School, this is definitely the youngest we've seen Spider-Man ever depicted on film, which immediately conjures images in the Spider-Man faithful of the early work on the character by the likes of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. in early issues of the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man comic book title, or perhaps more recently the stories in the early years of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley.

Perfectly embodying this more youthful yet truthful vision of the character is actor Tom Holland. Nearly a show stealer in last year's third Captain America film, Holland is given ample opportunity to shine as the sole, primary character of focus. While trailers and promotional materials seem to hint at the idea of more hands-on interference by Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, thankfully this isn't the case: this is very much Spider-Man's story, and entirely his movie. Holland's charm is accentuated by some of the direct supporting players, including his friend Ned (played wonderfully by Jacob Batalon), his crush Liz (played by Laura Harrier), his academic decathlon teammate Michelle (played by Zendaya), and of course his Aunt May (played by Marisa Tomei).

Eagle-eyed-and-eared Spidey fans will also spot no less than six other familiar Spider-Man comics characters, along with an MCU cameo by Chris Evans as Captain America that provides some of the most laugh-inducing moments of the entire MCU film series thus far.

Honestly, though, as much ownership as Holland takes of this film, one of the clearest difference makers for the entire proceeding is Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/the Vulture. A fair amount of fans and commentators have talked over the years about a "villain problem" that the Marvel Studios films have allegedly been having, but Keaton's Vulture falls victim to no such problem. He's intelligent, uncompromising, vicious and perhaps most importantly, he's relatable. It's easy to see why he does the things that he does, while also making the threat he presents a clear and engaging one for Peter to have to contend with. Keaton's casting is pivotal to the effectiveness that Toomes maintains as the film's primary antagonist, and will likely prove to be one of the more memorable, personal foes any hero in the series has ever had to face.

While comparisons to Spider-Man's previous films are inevitable, the experience of watching Homecoming also kind of makes those comparisons irrelevant. Ultimately, incorporating Peter into the MCU and telling a story that adds a whole other smaller-scale dimension to the wider universe makes this feel like an almost entirely new effort. The incorporation into the shared world doesn't feel forced, nor does it feel like it's trying to set you up for some other entry coming down the line. It feels self-contained, but it also gives a unique "everyman" perspective to what it might be like for a regular person to live in that world, especially if you're not a brilliant tech billionaire, a super-soldier, or an Asgardian demigod. As high as Homecoming reaches, part of what makes it so special is the fact that — as Iron Man counseled Peter to do — it stays close to the ground, a testament to director Jon Watts' ability to tell a smaller-scale story that feels as big as anything else we've seen in this world.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming brilliantly lives up to its title, while also firmly establishing the iconic web-slinger as a paradoxical small-scale heavy hitter, kind of like his position in most of the Marvel Comics universe's history. What initially made the character break out in the first place back in the 1960s was the fact that he was, at the end of the day, extremely relatable: a guy endowed with special gifts who's just trying to do the right thing. Homecoming is the first Spider-Man movie to get that pivotal part of Peter's character pitch-perfect. In a universe that grows more populated with each passing year, Spider-Man clearly stands out from the rest of the pack because he's so good at blending in. Because of that, Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't only the freshest movie that the MCU has released in a long time, it's also one of the best.

Go swing into a theater and see for yourself, and get ready to have some fun.

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