When I started putting together some notes for my inevitably groundbreaking Spider-Man: Homecoming blog post a huge part of my thinking about the film involved the perceived tug-of-war between providing a fresh take on the character for fans who have seen Spidey in six previous films and providing a traditional take on the character for younger audience members who may not be familiar with Spider-Man because they were six when Tobey Maguire (did you know that’s how that’s spelled cause it was a shock to me) danced himself clean in Spider-Man 3.
Then I remembered there had been a whole other Spider-Man between then and now, one that came out in a post-Avengers world no less.
Spider-Man: Homecoming’s greatest weaknesses are arguably not its own. In a bubble its blemishes would perhaps go entirely unnoticed, but it can be hard to escape the fact that it is the second reboot of a franchise in five years.
Though one always has to keep in mind that every superhero film is somebody’s first, Homecoming doesn’t go out of its way at all to do anything particularly revolutionary with the character. While it spares audiences the drudgery of watching Batman’s parents be gunned down for the 27th time, in comparison to its IP forerunners Homecoming feels more like the transition between Dalton and Brosnan than Connery to Moore. Even thrust into the expanse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, RDJ in tow, it doesn’t manage to make the exploits of a charming young man perpetually disappointing his love interest and alienating his Aunt in the name of responsibility feel any fresher than they did in 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man. Watching Peter Parker, this time played by Tom Holland who is quite likely the best Spidery yet, get himself into one secret-identity-SNAFU after another really drove home just how much I appreciate the unspoken heroism that is the MCU’s usual dismissal of secret identities.
Tired tropes aside, Homecoming does spare its audience the insufferable “she can’t know my secret identity because somehow that equates to protecting her” shtick. Contained to the film itself, Peter Parker’s secrecy is totally sound, but lined up with 15 years of cinematic Spider-Man storytelling, the frustrating social predicaments Peter finds himself in prove just as frustrating for a viewer who’s seen any other Spider-Man movie before.
Thus, the first two-thirds of Homecoming, while fun and charming, are not a revolution in cinematic Spider-Man, which may or may not be a problem, depending on the viewer.
The final act of Spider-Man: Homecoming, however, has the rare distinction of being a superhero film finale that is better than the rest of the movie preceding it, a feather even The Dark Knight can’t put into its cap.
In defiance of prevailing superhero wisdom, or lack thereof, rather than devolving into a mush of CGI and sky lasers so vast in scope as to be entirely devoid of relatability, Homecoming turns up the tension and emotional stakes and offers a third act with the sort of boiling intensity only Michael Keaton’s eyebrows and incessant gum chewing can truly communicate. It offers the kind of conflicts that are claustrophobic and thrilling, and the kinds of seemingly insurmountable challenges (brought to life by a brilliant and vulnerable performance on Tom Holland’s part) that make the promise of triumph all the sweeter.
Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t fix what wasn’t absolutely shattered. It isn’t a new kind of Spider-Man movie and for many it likely won’t even be the best Spider-Man movie. But the revolutionary thinking that wasn’t necessarily applied to its protagonist isn’t just THWIPed into the empty sky. It might not go down as the best Spider-Man movie ever made (I don’t know, people really like Spider-Man 2), woven into Peter Parker’s larger narrative within the MCU it has abundant potential to be a chapter in the best Spider-Man story put to film.