It is a miracle in itself that Spider-Man was brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It really only became possible after Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 turned out to be a complete disaster. Marvel Studios would learn from the mistakes of the past Spider-Man franchises, ensuring Homecoming would become the best Spider-Man story since Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. I know that’s a lot of use of the word Spider-Man but there are so many Spider-Man movies by this point that it’s impossible to avoid Spider-Man wherever you go. So what did Marvel Studios do right with everyone’s favorite web-slinger?
The first and best choice Marvel made was to cast Peter Parker as a true kid, someone who really looked the part of a high schooler. Tom Holland is a tremendously gifted actor who does realistically portray a young high schooler, as does the rest of the cast. Holland’s Peter Parker is familiar but sets himself apart from previous interpretations of the character. He’s still a total nerd, geeking out over a Lego Death Star and practically pinching himself over the idea of being able to join Iron Man and the Avengers, but he’s not the total loser that Tobey Maguire’s Peter was. He gets along well enough with everyone at school except Flash, and even Flash is a different dynamic of the school bully. This Flash verbally abuses Peter instead of being physically intimidating, and is the rich kid in school. But he becomes the lowest on the food chain, and the butt of the joke, when they’re all in their decathlon team. He has no power in that group compared to the rest of the school, as they value Peter and his intelligence and dislike all of Flash’s boasting.
Peter goes to a school that specializes in science and technology as opposed to a regular public high school, and there is no uncle Ben in the picture, his fate only being vaguely referenced to. Aunt May is a much younger and much more approachable adult in Peter’s life, and their relationship has the potential to be closer than it’s ever been. Peter’s photography skills are gone, but are possibly replaced by videography. We see an entire home video he made during the events of Civil War. Peter’s best friend is no longer Harry Osborne, instead it’s Ned, and unlike Harry, Ned and Peter get along fantastically, actually have the same interests, and Ned serves as Peter’s “guy in the chair”, plugged in and ready to relay information to Peter during his adventures.
Peter also truly lives in Queens, a more suburban area of New York. Every previous Spider-Man film has solely shown him swinging from the tallest skyscrapers in the middle of the city, but now we see Spidey in the suburbs, with much smaller buildings. He’s literally a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and the film takes the time to show all the mundane, simple ways he goes around helping others (giving old ladies directions, getting cats out of trees), instead of just stopping bank robberies and the like. Tony Stark acting as mentor and sort of father figure also adds an entirely new factor to the equation. It’s a new Peter Parker for a new age, giving us all the familiarity we need while making minor tweaks here and there to keep him fresh and interesting.
Peter wants to become an Avenger, and he’s impatient for the chance to prove himself to Tony Stark. His chance comes in the form of Adrian Toomes AKA the Vulture. Toomes was a blue collar construction worker who had the opportunity of a lifetime cleaning up the messes the Avengers left behind, but Tony Stark put him out of business with his own reparation company. Toomes is a hardworking man who only wants to provide for his family. His disillusionment and anger at Stark and everyone else in power leads him to a life of crime, stealing and selling alien and high-tech weaponry in order to make a living. Toomes isn’t exactly an evil villain. He has no plans to take over the world or even the city. He doesn’t go around murdering anyone (although he’s not opposed to the idea) to get what he wants, instead he uses a winged suit to steal the weapons he needs. Toomes only cares about his family and doing whatever it takes to provide for them.
Peter sees how dangerous these weapons can be if they get into the wrong hands, something Toomes chooses not to worry about, so he sets out to stop his plans. But Peter is still just a kid, super powers or not, and he soon realizes he’s probably bit off more than he can chew. His need to intervene causes more problems. When he tries to stop a group of ATM thieves that are using alien weapons, he ends up getting a local deli destroyed. When he keeps one of these alien devices around to inspect it, it explodes in Ned’s backpack, nearly killing all of Peter’s friends on a school trip. When he attempts to stop Toomes on a ship, unaware that the FBI was already on top of it, Toomes ends up getting away, and the ship is split in half. Peter is unable to save it, and Iron Man has to show up to save the day.
But Peter can’t walk away or ignore trouble. It’s who he is after the death of his uncle. “With great power comes great responsibility” is never said in this film, but that ideal is still what Peter lives by, and it’s what makes him so great. Peter is just a child, but his call to stop bad things from happening no matter what is something he can’t help. Spider-Man is a blessing for Peter, but it’s more of a curse. He is unable to ever really live a normal life, something he craves deeply. He has the chance to make he and Ned look cool at a party by using Spider-Man, but he’s distracted by an explosion in the distance that he can’t help but investigate, leaving Ned alone. The two of them are forced to remain losers amongst their peers.
His school life and his relationships with everyone are strained by his constant disappearances to go fight crime, and similar to the original Spider-Man 2, we see him without the suit, relieved of it and his duties by Tony. Peter’s life improves dramatically without Spider-Man in his life, and he seems so much happier. It’s tragic when he’s forced back into being Spider-Man. The father of his homecoming date is Toomes himself, and this leads to the most tense scene in the MCU; Peter and Toomes in the car. Toomes is easily able to piece together that Peter is Spider-Man, and once his daughter is out of the car, he brandishes a gun, threatening to kill Peter and everyone he loves if he ever tries to interfere with his plans again.
It’s here that Peter makes the toughest decision of his life. He’s terrified. He has no super suit, Tony having taken it away. And even with that suit, he’s still lost twice to the Vulture. If he defies him and goes to stop him anyway, he loses his chance to be with Liz, the girl of his dreams, and he would not only lose her but ruin her life as well, abandoning her at homecoming and then sending her father to prison. But Peter has to do what he believes is the right thing. From their conversation in the car, he now knows, without a doubt, that this is a bad man that he must stop. “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.” he tells Tony in Civil War. Peter has to give up his chance at a normal and happy life, because it’s his responsibility as a hero to do so. So he goes for it, barely hesitating, upending his personal life to do the right thing and be a hero.
Homecoming also shows what Spider-Man means to Peter Parker. Spider-Man gives him the confidence that he dreams of having, it’s why his alter ego is full of witty one-liners. He has freedom and power when he’s wearing the mask. When he goes to face Toomes in his cheap, homemade costume, he has a building collapse on him and is buried in the rubble. We’re reminded just how young and helpless Peter actually is, he screams and panics underneath the rubble, crying out for help. But when he sees his face reflected back at him in a pool of water, he digs down deep into his inner strength, willing himself to get up and lift the debris off of him. He calls himself Spider-Man in that moment, because while Peter may be helpless, Spider-Man is not. He needs the power and confidence Spider-Man gives him to survive, and to keep going after Toomes.
This film gets everything right about Peter Parker and it successfully shows us every possible aspect of his character. Peter is the gold standard for what a hero should be, similar to Captain America, and his age only makes him more compelling. Homecoming is one of the most rewatchable films in the MCU, and director Tom Watts shooting for a kind of 80’s teen comedy vibe works perfectly, really pressing the fact that Peter is a teenager and will remain so for his time in the MCU. It’s never quite as melodramatic as the Sam Raimi trilogy, but Peter’s sadness over sacrificing his personal life is still palpable and affecting. His choice to stay grounded for as long as he can, rejecting Tony’s invitation to join the Avengers, shows just how much he’s grown.
It’s this version of Peter Parker that elevates Homecoming to something more than what it appears to be. The worldly stakes are low but the personal stakes are high. Iron Man is there but mostly just in spirit. A ton of elements from previous MCU films are there but serve as mostly set dressing. This is Peter’s movie, and he earns it. Spider-Man is the idealistic superhero, it’s why he’s remained the most popular for years. He’s endlessly compelling, and you always root for him. As Michael Giacchino’s orchestral take on the classic Spider-Man theme played overtop the Marvel Studios logo, I couldn’t help but get misty eyed. Spider-Man was finally home.