Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun, fresh romp that doesn’t feel like it has any real stakes. It’s an after-school special, a half hour cartoon turned into a 133-minute film. We just kind of cozy on by, watching Peter Parker shoot webs, chase girls and battle Michael Keaton. It’s fun and all, but not very compelling until the latter half of the movie.
Peter Parker is now living in a post Captain America: Civil War world. People know who Spider-Man is, and Parker is enjoying his fancy suit from the battle. Michael Keaton shows up as a weapons designer/trader and Parker gets involved trying to stop him. But he also must fulfill his school and social obligations as well, always putting Peter in a strange web of deceit to everyone around him (see what I did there?)
Now this Spidey movie is in some strange movie-going web territory, being that it is both a semi-sequel (if you count Captain America: Civil War as its prequel) and a new reboot (even though we already know the backstory of Peter Parker, Aunt May and Flash Thompson several times over.) So, how does a film pull this off and still feel fresh? With jokes! Humor is the crutch that makes up for the early plot foibles of Spider-Man essentially being protected and in no true harm at all times. We know Tony Stark would never allow Spider-Man to die, we know he’d always step in if things ever got too rough or dangerous. That lack of feeling like there’s something on the line, that there’s no real dramatic tension until later in the movie, makes the first half an amusing albeit seemingly pointless slog. But there’s jokes, don’t worry, plenty of jokes.
I won’t say what that one thing is that completely turns the movie from joyous Spidey-sitcom to what actually feels like a movie for the first time, but its big and the first moment you actually feel like “hmm, maybe Spidey is in danger! Maybe Tony Stark won’t come to save him! Maybe there is some true drama brewing here!” The film carries this out to perfection. It’s like a switch was flipped on and the movie realized it could still take itself seriously but be fun, that danger doesn’t necessarily equate to lack of joy.
I hate to say it, but Michael Keaton isn’t really that interesting of a villain, and Tom Holland isn’t really that interesting of a Spider-Man. They’re both entertaining but they feel page deep. Only a few times does Peter face the consequences of his actions, but even then it’s not THAT bad. And even though I’ve argued that superhero movies are best on a small scale, Keaton is just chump change compared to other noteworthy small villains.
It is fun and often clever, and portrays high school life in a realistic manner. We don’t get any John Hughes characters giving off “woe is me” speeches. We just have a bunch of kids, some smart, some cool, some funny, and some assholes, who each care about something but also realize just how stupid being a teenager is. That is what allows the movie to be fun when its plot doesn’t serve that, a setting where kids can be kids but Peter Parker can still be Spider-Man. It is fun, but in comparison to the other films of the MCU, this movie fails to stick.