Raleigh, N.C. — I do not like superhero movies. That has been well established. Maybe that needs a little more clarification, because there are plenty of superhero movies I have ended up liking. Maybe what I should say is that I don’t have a lot of faith in superhero movies. When a new trailer drops my first thought is that it looks almost exactly like every one that came before it.
All that being said, I will always give Spider-Man movies the benefit of the doubt. Spider-Man is the one superhero that I felt a connection with, whose adventures I made time to follow. It speaks to just how bad the last three Spider-Man movies were that I am always willing to give this character the benefit of the doubt and I still absolutely hated Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters this week and I feel comfortable saying that it is the best Spider-Man movie ever made. It is one of the two or three best movies of the superhero genre period.
Tom Holland (In the Heart of the Sea) returns as Peter Parker. His brief role in last year’s Captain America: Civil War really raised expectations. Spider-Man was on screen for less than 15 minutes in that movie and audiences were already buzzing about it being one of the best versions of the character they have ever seen.
Holland doesn’t disappoint in his first extended outing. Spider-Man: Homecoming brings back the traditional, nerdy Peter Parker. He is a kid that will skip a kegger to hang out with his best friend and build a Lego Death Star.
The movie opens with the aftermath of the events of Civil War. It’s a smart move. We have seen Spider-Man’s origin story over and over again. We jump in at a more exciting point: where Peter’s struggle isn’t harnessing his powers, but keeping them hidden from the people he loves, including Aunt May (Marisa Tomei - more on this in a moment).
Ned, Peter’s funny fat friend, catches Peter walking on his ceiling one day and instantly becomes what the movie refers to as Spider-Man’s “guy in the chair.” He is connected with Peter on every mission, making things happen with his laptop instead of his fists. He is the Chloe to Peter Parker’s Jack Bauer.
Meanwhile, we are also following the struggles of a group of criminals led by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). He leads a construction crew that was supposed to work on cleaning the site of the Avengers’ battle with Loki from the first Avengers movie. Adrian’s team is kicked off the project in favor of government crews, but before he goes he manages to steal some alien technology, which the crew uses to manufacture weapons and make a fortune.
Toomes and his crew continue raiding the old Avengers compound and delivery trucks taking the alien material to it using an elaborate bird costume. So, Toomes is the famous Spider-Man villain, Vulture. He and Peter are now obviously on a collision course.
I liked this movie so much. That may partly have to do with how bad The Amazing Spider-Man movies were, but Spider-Man: Homecoming is literally everything that a superhero movie should be. It doesn’t try to give me a more real take on the characters. There is no allusions that this movie is for grown-ups.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the best family films in years. That’s not to say it’s a kiddie movie. My buddy Rich described it as being like the perfect collaboration between Steven Spielberg and John Hughes. That’s true in spirit. Plenty is done though to make it clear that this is a Spider-Man for the 21st century.
The cast is diverse. Peter Parker’s high school bully Flash Thompson, who was played in the Toby Maguire movies by True Blood star Joe Manganiello, is now played by Hispanic actor Tony Revolori, who you might recognize from The Grand Budapest Hotel. Peter’s high school principal is played by Kenneth Choi. In a nice tie-in to Choi’s previous appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as part of Captain America’s original crew, the characters share the same name, insinuating that the principal is the war hero’s grandson.
Nearly the entire staff of Peter’s high school is played by cast members of some of today’s most buzzed about TV shows. Choi played Lance Ito in The People vs. OJ Simpson. Martin Starr from Silicon Valley is the coach of the academic decathlon team. Hannibal Burress from Broad City is the gym teacher. The science teacher is Selenis Leyva from Orange is the New Black.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about Spider-Man: Homecoming, it is sexy Aunt May. Marisa Tomei is perfectly fine in the role. It just is a shock to the system. Aunt May has always been a feeble old woman. It is why Peter was always so protective of her. Now she is a knockout who gets video messages from Tony Stark and free dessert at every restaurant she decides to visit in a tank top. That admittedly sounds very fan-boyish of me. The interpretation is fine and it adds its own interesting complications to the May/Peter relationship. It’s just very different.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is as predictable as any other superhero movie. It is just more fun. Like the Guardians of the Galaxy films, the focus is more on the script than on what the special effects department can do. Let’s face it. We’ve seen Spider-Man swing over New York thousands of times. That isn’t going to be what you remember from this movie. We’ve seen other costumed heroes fight on a ferry. That is not what will make an impression.
The script is great. The actors are great. Superhero movies tend to come with a lot of bells and whistles meant to distract you from the fact that Iron Man is Batman in a different costume. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a great superhero movie because the filmmakers’ goal was to make a great movie period.ᐧ
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.