When a movie franchise has been rebooted three times in fifteen years, it’s hard not to make comparisons. Marc Webb’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) didn’t hold up against Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN (2002). However, Jon Watts’ SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING has actually surpassed them all thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While Webb and Raimi had the burden of retelling an origin story that almost everyone already knew, Watts got to swing right in.
If you’ve seen THE AVENGERS: CIVIL WAR, then you know that Spider-Man (Tom Holland) was introduced during an epic fight as Tony Stark’s new protégé. The most obvious difference between Tom Holland and Toby Maguire and Andy Garfield is that Holland is actually a teenager. Even though Peter Parker has the skills to steal Captain America’s shield and stand toe-to-toe against the Winter Solider, he’s a wide-eyed fan boy. This version of New York is no stranger to super heroes. In fact, the city is overrun with them. Peter Parker, when depicted by Toby Maguire, spent the first act of the movie trying to decide the best use of his newfound powers and figuring out how to design his suit. Holland’s version has no such struggle. He’s an aspiring Avenger, and Ironman is his mentor.
Straight away, we’re introduced to Adrian Toomes (Micheal Keaton), the movie’s antagonist. I hazard to say “villain,” because whereas Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn went criminally insane and became the Green Goblin, Keaton’s character is an absolutely relatable working-class family man trying to support his family through an economic hardship inadvertently caused by Tony Stark. It’s clear how Toomes is the hero of his own story, but also why Spider-man needs to stop him. Unlike its predecessors, this movie isn’t about Peter getting his powers; it’s about a child going up against an adult in a world he’s not ready to face on his own.
And this is really where Holland’s youth works great in the movie. We could try to suspend our disbelief as much as we wanted in the previous iterations, but it was impossible to ignore that Maguire and Garfield were grown men portraying a high school student. Holland was actually a teenager when the movie was filmed and in a lot of instances looked younger. HOMECOMING isn’t just another superhero movie; it’s a movie about a child in peril. The stakes are high. This child in a high-tech suit repeatedly puts himself in danger, and he is ill prepared. The suit has a training wheels mode and baby monitor feature. This movie is about a boy not yet ready to be a man. The traditional SPIDER-MAN mantra that “With great power comes great responsibility” is implied in the fact that Peter wants to use his powers to help, but this movie amplifies just how not ready he is for this great responsibility. The more apt mantra for this film is probably, “Only people who are scared can be brave.”
The other aspect of HOMECOMING that far exceeds the previous versions is the supporting case. This is probably the most diverse cast ever assembled. There were nationalities and ethnicities I couldn’t even identify! In Webb’s SPIDER-MAN, the focus was mainly on Uncle Ben, Aunt May, Mary Jane, and Harry and his father. Their presence in the movie all pushed Peter toward, or pulled him away, from becoming Spider-man, but all-in-all, they were pretty flat, one-dimensional characters. In this newest interpretation, there is a whole rich world of characters at Peter’s high school. Aunt May is young and fun, which makes a lot more sense if she has such a young nephew. There’s no “death of Uncle Ben” acting as Peter’s motivation. He has real motivations: He wants to be like Tony Stark (and who wouldn’t?).
One of my biggest concerns after watching the trailer was that the presence of Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.) would steal focus from Spider-man. But almost like if Watts was working from a recipe, he used Stark the perfect amount. That is mostly pulled off because of Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) who Tony charges with babysitting Peter. There’s not too much Ironman. There are a couple of cameos made by other Avengers, but overall, SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING is just a great standalone movie.
Raimi’s and Webb’s movies have their merits, and the good of a previous film cannot be undone by the existence of a new one. But while I thought Webb’s reboot in 2012 offered very little new to say, Watts makes great choices that make this movie feel like I hadn’t seen a SPIDER-MAN film before.