If Spider-man: Homecoming has one major problem it's that the titular character can't possibly match the main villain, not in fisticuffs, but in pure gravitas on the screen. Michael Keaton is phenomenal as the Vulture, a bad guy who might be the best we've seen from any Marvel movie, not that the bar was particularly high.
I don't know if it was the writers writing for the actor or the actor taking liberties with the script, but there's a depth to the Vulture that we've never seen from other MCU villains. And his origin story is so beautifully anchored in the ground level reality of the MCU that he becomes possibly the first bad guy whose birth actually makes sense.
This version of Spider-man clearly uses Ultimate Spider-man as its blueprint. But, just as Ultimate Spider-man updated concepts from the original, Homecoming updates concepts from Ultimate Spider-man. The fact that it's an inspiration of an inspiration allows the movie to make more drastic changes to the original, all of which seem natural.
In fact, I had an overwhelming desire to read Spider-man comics after I got out of the movie, but found myself at a loss for what to read. I appreciate the older comics and I enjoyed the Ultimate version, but neither really satisfied this particular craving. There's just no Spider-man comic out there that feels as current as this movie does, at least none that feature Peter Parker (my issues with the Miles Morales comic are different and can be saved for later).
And it's not just that Spider-man: Homecoming feels current, it feels fresh. As much as I loved Ultimate Spider-man, it never felt that way to me, perhaps because it was a reflection of the times, while Homecoming feels like it's leading the way.
Look at the cast. Homecoming has a diverse cast. Granted, the hero is still a straight white guy, but surrounding him with non-straight white guys makes the movie seem real in a way that few other superhero movies (or movies in general) do. This feels like a real high school in NY.
And these feel like real kids at a STEM high school. That change, it should be noted, is perfect. Teenagers will always have cliques and a hierarchy, but here there's a thread that runs through all of them. Peter isn't an outcast because he's smart. He's an outcast because he's socially awkward and a flake, the latter of which can at least be attributed to his other life.
The new versions of classic Spider-man teenagers are vastly improved upon in almost every way. Ned is clearly ripped from the pages of Miles Morales and the idea that Peter Parker has a best friend in high school is wonderful. I'm sure in 1962 it would have seemed at odds with Peter being a lovable loser, but these days it's entirely possible to be an outcast with a friend. Lovable losers can find each other.
Liz actually has character, something that couldn't be said for her in the 60s. The Ultimate version of her also got the short shrift, playing a one note "I hate mutants oh my god I AM a mutant" bit for years. This version was interesting even before the big twist.
Flash is, well, Flash. But this version is just a rich, popular jag vs. the jock bully in his original incarnation and the abused tough guy in the Ultimate version. At the very least, there's potential in this new Flash.
Outside of Peter and Ned, though, the character who gets the best moments and clearly has the most potential is Michelle. I have no idea who Zendaya is or why there was a scandal of some kind when she was announced as being in this movie, but her portrayal of Michelle was just about perfect. She was able to walk a fine line of disinterested outsider and sly, witty peer. I say "peer" because that's exactly what she is: she's Peter's match. It's implied that she's just as smart as Peter. It' also implied that she feels just as alone, although she's able to mask it better than Peter does. She also seems to have a greater understanding, if not appreciation, of the larger world, something that often escapes Peter.
The high school stuff was great and the Vulture was great and Tom Holland was great. Were there any problems?
Well, for one, Aunt May needed more screen time. The relationship between Peter and his aunt is hinted at, but never shown, not to the extent I felt it needed to be. There's clearly a unique dynamic between them, something different from a traditional mother/son relationship. There are hints, don't get me wrong. Peter breaking down about the Stark internship is a solid scene, although I think May is smart enough to have realized that Peter didn't really give her an explanation for where he'd been. Peter running to May as soon as he gets a date to the Homecoming dance is fantastic. But I could have used more of that, something to make May a more central figure to the movie.
Along those lines, Tony Stark's involvement never worked for me. I don't know why, but he felt out of place. I think a big part of it is because he makes every thing in the movie overstated. Peter would have felt awful about the battle on the ferry on his own. It would have shaken him, made him question his purpose, particularly given that the FBI seemingly had it under control. It's easy to imagine that he would have quit being Spider-man after nearly getting dozens of people killed. And it's easy to imagine he would have picked it up again after discovering who the Vulture was.
None of which needed Tony Stark to happen. But Stark spelled everything out in capital letters for us, and I suppose some people needed that.
Sure, the bits with the suit were funny and certainly helped explain some things, but the degree to which Stark was involved wasn't necessary. He detracted from Spider-man to the point where I actually thought that the big thing the movie was missing was more Spider-man.
Along those lines, it would have been nice to see Spider-man fighting crime. Again, I understand that showing him bored out of his mind and webbing innocent people is funny, but he's in New York. He can't find any crime to stop? And when he does, it involves alien technology?
It's entirely possible to have Spider-man fighting real criminals and also wanting to do more Avengers type stuff. The extremes don't need to be there. He can consider stopping a bank robber small potatoes when compared to the things the Avengers do. He can be eagerly waiting for that call while actually doing some good.
And because he's never shown doing much of anything, we never see much of the Spider-man wit. Say what you want about the last two movie versions of Spider-man, but they were both witty. There was very little of that from this Spider-man. And while I understand that this is meant to show how overwhelmed he was, you can't have him bored to tears and overwhelmed at the same time. Plus, the constant jokes are supposed to be a representation of who Peter can be when he's wearing the mask. It distinguishes Spider-man from Peter Parker.
Honestly, had they cut 75% of the Stark scenes and split the remaining time between Aunt May and Spider-man actually doing something, this movie would have been close to perfect.
Even so, it was exactly what I wanted from a new version of Spider-man. It was the essence of the character distilled into a modern version, and it didn't even require an origin story. For as much as I enjoyed Homecoming, I'm looking forward to the inevitable sequels even more.
Side note: The inclusion of the Prowler has me hoping that Peter Parker gets a trilogy and that the post-credits scene of the third movie introduces us to a boy named Miles Morales...