Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first Spidey film worthy of the name — and it might also indicate a step up for Marvel movies in general. That’s a bold assertion, and not one devoid of significant caveats, but bear with me. What distinguishes Homecoming from its predecessors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not strictly what it is — a fun and passably diverting popcorn flick — but what it suggests about the future of comic book films in general. These things clearly aren’t going away, but the critical and commercial success of a third Spider-Man reboot implies that there may still be hope for some of the company’s other beloved properties that have languished under the mismanagement of other studios for decades (looking at you, Fantastic Four).
Precisely what sort of dark arts Marvel Studios (by way of Disney) have practiced in order to ensure their superheroic supremacy is unclear — but what cannot be denied is that they have turned comic book lead into box office gold on more than one occasion. Now that their backroom corporate alchemy has granted them the rights to use one of the company’s properties that people actually gave a damn about prior to the advent of the MCU, they’ve proven conclusively that their mastery of the genre extends beyond the capacity to spit-shine former C-listers like the Guardians of the Galaxy.
What this iteration of your friendly neighborhood webhead gets right is what most other superhero movies get wrong. It ditches the grit, builds its story beats from a character-based perspective and remembers that a compelling villain is every bit as important as a scene-stealing hero. The script is not remotely without its problems, likely due to extensive overpolishing on the part of its six credited writers, and director Jon Watts occasionally seems to be in over his head, but the total package works better than any prior attempt to bring the character to the screen.
Tonally, Homecoming more closely resembles the Silver Age Spider-Man comics of the John Romita era than the earlier Steve Ditko period, and that’s an important distinction. By leaving the teen angst largely at the door, the creative team has opened the way for Spider-Man to be a more lighthearted alternative to the dour tendencies of modern comic book adaptations. Like the subversive vulgarity of Deadpool and the closeted arthouse sensibilities of Logan, Homecoming’s willingness to embrace the inherent absurdity of a spider-themed, super-powered teen feels like a refreshing change of pace.
With a running time exceeding two hours (not counting two stingers in the credits), Homecoming could easily have dragged — and it does falter when it devotes too much attention to tying its protagonist into the pre-existing MCU. But exceptional performances from Tom Holland and Michael Keaton, with spot-on support from Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr., go a long way toward ameliorating the screenplay’s occasional hiccups. So the short version is that the well-oiled Marvel machine has turned out another winner — no great shock there. The real surprise would be if I were to finally get the decent X-Men movie I’ve been waiting for all these years. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Grail Moviehouse, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Co-Ed of Brevard.