I went into Spider-Man: Homecoming with dangerously high levels of anticipation. I tried my best not to, since there have been more Spider-Men in the past fifteen years than there are creepy Spider-Man lookalikes in Times Square, but from the second I saw the trailer, I was amped up. I can’t help it – I love Peter Parker.
And Spider-Man: Homecoming finally – finally – gave me the Peter Parker that I’ve been waiting fifteen years to see on the big screen. It’s funny and heartfelt, and Peter is allowed to be nervous and awkward and earnest. More than anything, he’s finally allowed to be a kid. He makes mistakes, because he’s fifteen, and he tries and fails and fails again. These are the things that made Spider-Man such a compelling character to start out with, things that were largely lost in translation in the previous adaptations. But this Spider-Man is a high school movie as much as it’s a superhero movie, with a vulnerable protagonist trying to fight battles that are too big for him to fight.
We start of where Captain America: Civil War left us: Peter Parker (Tom Holland), plucked out of Queens by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to fight a bunch of high-profile heroes, has been dropped unceremoniously back into the world of math homework and petty theft (stopping it, not committing it). It’s been a few months, and Peter is chomping at the bit for some real, Avengers-style action. Instead, he’s quite literally a friendly neighborhood Spider-man – trying to stop a guy from stealing a bike that belongs to no-one, doing a flip for guys on the street, escorting an old Dominican woman across the road. “She was really nice,” he says, kicking his legs. “She bought me a churro.”
The sincerity of this small-town hero is funny, and it’s really charming, too. This Peter Parker makes web fluid on the sly in chemistry class, knows his bodega owner, and just wants to be the best hero he can be. And he’s so convincingly young. Tom Holland looks and acts the part, and aging Spider-Man back down to his canonical age is a brilliant move on a lot of levels.
It allows the movie to be a teen movie and a superhero movie in equal parts, spending time with Peter’s classmates and gym teacher and decathlon. And as far as teen movies go, it’s one of the most authentic ones I’ve seen. Most of the kids look young, too. They’re all nerds – the cool kids care the most about academics, and even the bully is insecure. Michelle (Zendaya) is intensely relatable, the kind of person that I wish I was in high school (she refuses to go up to the top of the Washington Monument because it was built by slaves). The friendship between Peter and Ned (Jacob Batalon) is hilarious and sweet (“guy in the chair!” “I’m just gonna be myself.” “Peter, no one wants that.”), and you can feel the camaraderie among the kids. Most of all, they look like a real-life cross-section of a Queens high school.
But when the action starts up and Peter discovers Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton)’s weapons dealing empire, Spider-Man’s age becomes the factor that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I’ve never been genuinely worried for Iron Man, or the Hulk, or Captain America, or Thor. They all have an edge of invulnerability to them – not just because of the structure of the films, but because of their powers and their experiences. Peter is so, so young; every time he rushes into another battle, you worry for him – you want him to get back home safely and learn from his mistakes.
Spider-Man: Homecoming also incorporates the rest of the MCU just enough with Tony Stark’s role. It’s not too big, but it’s sizable enough to shape the arc of the film. Tony gives Peter his suit, launching him into the role of a “real” hero; he’s also a father figure for Peter, which was a great move. “My dad never really gave me a lot of support,” he says to Peter. “Trying to break the cycle.” Tony is essentially the Uncle Ben of this movie; when Peter is in a tough spot, he remembers Tony’s words, not Uncle Ben’s.
The villain, too, ties into the down-to-earth feeling of the entire film. Adrian Tooms, aka the Vulture (insert obligatory Birdman reference here), is born out of the destruction of the city of New York in the first Avengers movie. It feels fitting that the only one with any actual powers in the film is Peter himself, since he’s still figuring out how to navigate life with them. With this villain – an everyday arms dealer, mob boss kind of guy (who just happens to be selling alien technology) – and this hero – a kid from Queens – we really get to see the ground level of the MCU. Peter Parker isn’t trying to save the entire world, just his corner of it.
In the end, here it is: Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie. This isn’t one of the cookie-cutter Marvel films. The way it strips back the excess of the MCU to focus in on this one, small hero in one neighborhood of the world imbues it with that thing that made the early films feel so rewarding. It’s a good summer movie, yes; it keeps you on the edge of your seat, makes you laugh, entertains you from start to finish. But something about it works its way into you, makes your heart feel full, and makes you feel proud of the protagonist. Like any truly good superhero film, at its core, it’s really about something else.
But it’s also riding the same wave as Guardians 2 and especially Wonder Woman: grimdark is over, for now. It’s not what we currently need, when the news seems grim enough as it is. Peter Parker is a hero for the sake of being a hero. Yes, he’s a 15-year-old boy who geeks out at the prospect of getting to use his powers to fight bad guys. But that simple delineation of good and evil, right and wrong, give us a character who can see to the heart of things – and respond to the bad with doing relentless, sincere good. (Which, honestly? It’s also so wonderful to see a movie where this generosity and commitment to justice and kindness is the backbone of the millennial/Gen X-er – it’s what I see over and over in these generations in real life.) Peter Parker tries his best to save the day because it’s the right thing to do. And that’s what we need right now.