With respect and apologies to Star-Lord and friends, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is now only the second-most fun movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Say hello to the new and unlikely champion: "Spider-Man: Homecoming."
Spidey has long been Marvel’s most popular character, but contractual obligations kept the superhero out of the MCU up until last year, when Spidey(recast once again) made a guest appearance in the stacked blockbuster blowout “Captain America: Civil War.” After the Andrew Garfield movies largely flopped, Sony reached a deal with Marvel that would allow the MCU to use the web-slinger in its movies; in exchange, Marvel agreed to produce the new Spider-Man movies for Sony, extending its golden touch to the wall-crawler.
Early returns show that it was a great deal for each side, as director Jon Watts has a major hit on his hands that will ripple across the MCU.
In just a short “Civil War” cameo, Tom Holland proved that he was the right choice to play the young Peter Parker, and his performance in the first new solo Spidey film leaves no doubt. Holland was just 20-years-old when he played 16-year-old Parker — very age-appropriate by Hollywood standards — and his baby face and learned American accent make him seem even younger. OK, it’s a little bit hard to believe that someone so handsome and in such great shape is a loser, even at a school for smart kids, but he’s awkward enough to sell it. Two crucial details -— Peter’s got a hot Aunt May (a well-cast Marisa Tomei) instead of the elderly version fans know, and he’s far shorter than his crush Liz (played by Laura Harrier) -— also help make it work.
The thing he's not so great at making work is actually being a superhero -- which is the whole point of the movie. Holland’s Parker takes great joy in the exact things you'd expect a young Spidey to love, from swinging across Queens with his homemade web-shooters to taunting common criminals. But when the stakes are raised and he has to fight tougher villains and scale tall buildings like the Washington Monument, this Spider-Man can't hide that he has barely exited puberty. It's endearing, seeing Peter hesitate and work up the courage to fight baddies and dangerous cosmic weapons and scale free-standing towers to rescue his friends, because he's very relatable, far more than a super soldier like Captain America.
Cap actually makes a clever series of cameos in “Homecoming,” but the lone real Avenger to join Spider-Man is Iron Man. Tony Stark brought Spidey into the battle during “Civil War” and now he's overseeing Peter’s development. His disappointment in Peter’s decision to go rogue to thwart an arms deal on the Staten Island Ferry actually leads to him cutting the young hero out of the loop (Tony’s arrogance doesn't help the situation), which in turn leads to the big mid-second act adventure that culminates at, where else, but the Homecoming dance.
Peter and his Quizbowl partner/BFF Ned (Jacob Batalon) have to take things into their own hands when it's clear that Tony can't or at least won't help them fight the movie’s big bad: The Vulture, as played by Michael Keaton. Marvel for once has a compelling, non-disposable villain, one you can't really blame for his indiscretions. Much like his Ray Kroc in “The Founder,” the movie about the beginning of McDonald's, you can't really root against Keaton here until the very end. He's got a legit gripe, and you almost want to tell Peter to leave him alone, but his crime is just big enough that to not stop him would carry with it terrifying potential consequences.
Less compelling is Zendaya, who doesn't have a very big role this time as Peter’s woke smartass acquaintance Michelle. She does a fine enough job, and has good comedic timing, but seems more like she'll play a bigger role in sequels.
And there will be sequels, both in the form of individual Spidey movies and appearances in bigger MCU movies. Marvel has already announced it, and given how young Holland is, he could play this character for over a decade - the last Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, was 29 when his first Spidey film came out in 2012. It's no knock on Garfield that his movies with Marc Webb didn't exactly pan out as they wanted, but with great power comes great responsibility, and it looks like Holland, Watts, and Marvel have figured out how to deliver.