I'll just put this out there: I'm not sure I can be purely objective while writing this review. It's hard to be neutral about the things you love. The mug I drink from every day? Spider-Man. My phone case? Spider-Man. My keychain? Yeah, also Spider-Man. I have grown up with him, gotten much of my do-gooding streak from him, have been thrown a lifeline by him.
It's why this review was so delayed; I was finding it impossible to separate the fan from the critic. So I just decided to stop fighting it. There will be enough reviews from talented, insightful critics for whom #PeterParker isn't quite so important. Consider this a review from a knowledgable fan. If the movie was a love letter to Peter Parker, let this review be a love letter to the movie itself.
Since 2002, when Sam Raimi's first #SpiderMan was released, fans have argued over who was the better actor to play Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield? The general consensus is that Maguire made an excellent Peter Parker but didn't sell us on Spider-Man's quippy wit, whereas Garfield nailed Spider-Man's trademark humor and sarcasm but was too cool and edgy to be a fitting Peter Parker.
That argument can now be laid to rest, because Tom Holland is the first to finally make Peter Parker and Spider-Man feel like one and the same. Looking back at the Maguire and Garfield movies through the lens of #SpiderManHomecoming (despite my love of them) really exposes the areas in which they fell short.
For the MCU, Marvel made a choice to cast an actual teenager in the role, and it makes a difference. Holland is a breath of fresh air, his enthusiasm for the role infectious. Even in Peter Parker's darkest moments—and there are struggles; this is still a Spider-Man movie, after all—he finds sheer joy in being a superhero, a rarity in comic book films. The earnestness with which Holland approaches the role is refreshing. His sincerity doesn't feel like an actor putting on a good show but as if it comes as naturally to him as breathing. This kid, you guys. This kid. My God, this kid.
Previous versions of Spider-Man, while origin stories, have essentially found the character hitting the ground running. We'd get a montage of Peter trying to figure out his powers, and then he'd be up to speed having seemingly fully figured out the superheroing thing.
This Peter Parker has definitely not figured out the superheroing thing. Not even close. He hasn't gotten a grasp on the logistics of his powers—there are multiple moments of him gracelessly miscalculating his swings, and one particularly comedic scene in which he is overwhelmed by all the possibilities his upgraded webshooters have to offer. Nor has he figured out how to pace himself so that he's not completely in over his head. In Homecoming, he spends 90% of the movie being not yet Spider-Man, but Spidey, and it's necessary for his growth to feel organic.
Director #JonWatts wisely eschews an origin story arc, and, in doing so, frees up the character to be explored more thoroughly in live action than he's ever been before. Peter is allowed to screw up, badly (and believe me, he does, in ways both big and small). Responsibility has always been one of the core tenets of Spider-Man's ethos, and here, his coming to a full understanding of what it truly means feels earned, not a given.
I can confidently say this is the first Spider-Man movie to truly get his heart right. That's the soul of who Peter Parker is: He'll get his ass kicked seventy-two different times and get back up seventy-three. There's no quit in him and in Holland's performance, you genuinely feel that. This is not a Peter Parker who is externally motivated by Aunt May or Mary Jane Watson or Gwen Stacy being in danger but intrinsically; he saves people because it's the right thing to do. It's just who he is.
For those worried about #IronMan stealing the show, worry not. I had suspected that Marvel had frontloaded him into the marketing for general audiences and wouldn't be in the movie nearly as much as it seemed he would be; I am glad to say I was right. The scenes between Holland and #RobertDowneyJr make for some excellent foil dynamics; RDJ's bombastic portrayal of Tony Stark is no match for Holland's youthful sincerity. It is an interesting twist that it is Tony Stark, and not Uncle Ben, who drives home for Peter the idea of responsibility. But he is purely a support role, as he should be. This is Peter's journey to take alone.
But no superhero exists in a bubble, not even a lone wolf like Spider-Man, and the supporting cast of characters should be commended here, too. As Michelle, #Zendaya's performance is a modern update of Ally Sheedy's weirdo character in The Breakfast Club, and her deadpan humor elicits some of the loudest laughs the film has to offer. Likewise, #JacobBatalon's Ned is all of us who would simply be unable to keep from freaking. out. if we discovered one of our heroes was actually our best friend...and that he knows all the other, more famous heroes. Watts' promise to recreate a John Hughes movie vibe for our modern times paid off.
Spidey is nothing without his rogues' gallery, and Homecoming certainly offers a variety of villains. Those worried about it being overstuffed with baddies, however, worry not; they are largely on the periphery, with #MichaelKeaton's Vulture front and center of Peter's opposition. And what opposition he provides. Keaton is great here in the role of a down-on-his-luck everyman who finally crosses the line to crime, but whose blue collar roots do not stop him from oozing menace and violence when he needs to. Traces of Watt's Cop Car color their relationship in the way Peter's innocence smacks up against the character of the Vulture, whose threat is so much greater than Peter is prepared for. Vulture is something of a boogeyman for Peter throughout the film, and Keaton's understated performance makes it easy to understand why.
It makes one particular scene in the third act all the more poignant. It's a classic, defining moment ripped straight from the Silver Age #SpiderMan comics and updated for 2017—longtime Spidey fans will know it when they see it. I admit, I teared up as I watched: Finally, they got him right, I thought.
I am positive there are flaws in this film, and a better, more detached critic would spend some time talking about them. But I am not that critic. With Spider-Man, I don't want to be. I am content to simply be delighted by the sheer joy in this film and enamored with the vibrance Holland brings to the role. As a life-long Spider-Man fan, this may have not been the best Spider-Man movie—I still think Spider-Man 2 may edge it out, though that will likely change with repeated viewings—but I do think Holland presents the best Spider-Man we've seen. And for me, that's more than enough.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters on July 7.