After the events of Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is eager to prove himself to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and join the Avengers as a fully-fledged member. But Parker has to balance his ambitions with the realities of his daily life as a teenager in high school. However, when he tries to take down a gang of arms dealers led by a dangerous criminal (Michael Keaton), he gets more than he bargained for...
It's been said many times, but it holds true - comic-book movies work off genres. The Dark Knight's a crime saga ala Michael Mann, The Winter Solider was a '70s conspiracy thriller, and Spider-Man: Homecoming works off the blueprints of a teenage comedy-drama. Utilising teenage drama, of course, is nothing new for Spider-Man. However, where the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man failed was that it essentially turned it into Twilight. Here, it's more closer to John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and has the same carefree and light comedy.
Tom Holland was introduced in Civil War as the webslinger in a brilliant cameo that acted as a sort of respite from all the heavy drama lacing the film. He injected some much needed mirth, and the fear was that Spider-Man's youth and cheeriness mightn't work in the context of a larger story. It could either become diluted to the point where he's a nothing character, or it could be overused and become saccharine and unconvincing. Thankfully, this isn't the case and the character's vigour and enthusiasm carries over and informs the story. Spider-Man is like any other teenager; he's desperate to prove himself and be taken seriously, and thus makes him relatable to audiences. We've all been there at that age, trying to convince adults and peers that we are who we believe ourselves to be. Holland captures this, but doesn't overplay the hand and turn it into a stroppy teenager the way Maguire and Garfield did. His relentless optimism carries him along, and the film never sags because of it.
Michael Keaton, meanwhile, is expertly cast and makes for one of the most convincing villains in the entire comic-book genre. His character, Vulture, isn't some mad genius or misguided idealist who wants to make the world a better place. He isn't even concerned with Spider-Man all that much; he simply wants to make enough money to provide for his family after the government took away his livelihood. Granted, he's making lethal, super-powered weapons and selling them to criminals - but this doesn't make you hate him, merely understand him and that's something that most scripts in this type of film fail to get. A villain you can understand. Like Keaton, the supporting cast have been chosen and work out their roles well. Zendaya's character is wry and sarcastic, Jacob Batalon is Parker's goofy friend who's over-eager to help, Laura Harrier is the unattainable love interest, and Marisa Tomei gets some of the biggest laughs in the film - either from people talking about her or just her in the scene.
Despite having six credited writers on staff, the film doesn't feel cluttered or uneven and has a clear through-line that moves it along. While it may be somewhat front-loaded in terms of action in the first hour or so, the film never sags or loses your attention throughout. Director Jon Watts cleverly dispenses with exposition and world-building in a scene or two, keeping the pace light and breezy like Spider-Man himself. The few nods and winks to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe are dropped in lightly; Captain America appearing on TV screens as a PSA narrator ala Troy McClure, Tony Stark only getting involved when the stakes get too high for Parker to handle, the Avengers being some sort of higher goal for him to attain. Instead, what Watts captures so well is the boundless optimism of the teenage years with warmth and humour in the way that John Hughes did.
Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a bright, fun-filled comic-book blockbuster that has a big future ahead of it.