It’s a homecoming that calls for a celebration befitting a prodigal son’s return.
After all, he is Marvel Comics’ flagship character and, up until last year’s Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man was sorely missed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And hearing that beloved Spider-Man theme song from the 1960s cartoon (used on and off to nice nostalgic effect in the Sam Raimi Spidey movies) played over the Marvel Studios introduction here … goosebumps, I tell ya.
But, while Homecoming may be a clever play on words given that this is Spidey’s return “home”, the film also wastes no time confirming that he has been here all along, with his cast of supporting characters.
This comes as a flashback right at the start, with supervillain-to-be Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his cleanup crew deciding to keep a load of salvage retrieved after the Chitauri invasion of New York from back in the first Avengers movie.
It sows the seeds for a lucrative black market trade selling weapons derived from alien tech, as well as what will become Toomes’ suit as the Vulture, one of the earliest Spider-Man villains from the comics.
Then it’s time for a bit of madcap fun as the film recaps Spidey’s Civil War stint, only in the form of a vlog narrated by Peter Parker (Tom Holland) while he drives Stark Industries’ Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) nuts.
Homecoming is very much a film about Spider-Man as he was originally written in the comics: A gawky, quippy kid in his middle teens struggling with hormones, a double life and having to let down friends, classmates and loved ones just when they need him because … well, someone needs Spider-Man more.
Which also means that the notorious Parker luck, with which fans of both comics and movies are all too familiar, is present in buckets here.
But it’s neatly offset with loads of great, sweet humour, and Holland nails both aspects of the character, in and out of costume (as if we needed further convincing of his ability after Civil War).
When the film isn’t thrilling us with Spider-deeds, it also gets quite busy laying the foundation for an all-new cinematic Spiderverse. We get tons of name-dropping that fans will recognise instantly: the Shocker; Mac Gargan (later to become notorious Spider-villain the Scorpion); and even Aaron Davis (Donald Glover), a petty criminal whom comics fans may recognise as the uncle of Miles Morales (who later became Spider-Man in the Ultimate Spider-Man comic).
Amazingly, director Jon Watts (who helmed the 2015 Kevin Bacon thriller Cop Car) juggles all these elements so expertly that no element – be it the spectacle, the humour, the Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) lectures, or the hard-luck stories – ever overshadows the others.
This is largely a good thing, bar one: I really thought the movie could have used a little more emotional grounding for Peter.
While we certainly wouldn’t want to see poor Uncle Ben get shot by a robber for a third time on screen since 2002, a suitably meaningful motivation for Spidey to live up to the wise gent’s legacy could have helped us connect with this “new” Peter Parker on a more heartfelt level.
Instead, the uncle-y moments are left to Tony Stark, though they lack a certain gravitas coming from him (most of all, one really repulsive analogy about puppies made later on in the film).
And because Stark is so deeply involved in Peter’s formative moments, expect our young hero to go through his very own Iron Man 3 moment where he needs to prove himself without the gadget-packed suit.
Proving a nice counterweight to Holland’s teenage levity is Keaton as the “bad” guy. Toomes’ motivations are somewhat different from past Spidey screen foes, though he has some bearing on Peter’s life, as we learn in a neat sucker punch that Watts springs on us. He’s almost as sympathetic as Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2, though just a tad less completely written to be as well-rounded a character.
Homecoming also struggles a bit in its last act as it tries to give the audience something a little different in the “final showdown” sweepstakes. Points for trying, though.
For as long as it’s unfolding before your eyes, Homecoming will have you stuck in its web. Once the web fluid dissolves, you may realise that it was tons of fun but just a bit short of enough heart to put it right up there with Spider-Man 2 as the platinum standard. Still, he’s home, darn it. Celebrate already.
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Donald Glover, Bokeem Woodbine