No matter how many actors have played James Bond or how many times Gotham has been rebooted with a new Caped Crusader, three different versions of Spider-Man in less than 15 years feels like a lot. It also means that with Spider-Man: Homecoming opening nationwide today, comparisons to the previous films are almost impossible to avoid and will definitely cause divide between the fans of this particular Marvel superhero. But one of the minor miracles of this new movie is that the character feels completely new. This is a version of Peter Parker that has never existed before on screen and that is of a real honest to God teenager.
Yes there were scenes in the original Sam Raimi film that took place in a High School and who could forget that chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone sparkling next to some lockers. But in those movies, High School was just a backdrop that could be easily set aside. Those filmmakers had bigger fish to fry within the Spider-Man canon. Homecoming does what a good summer blockbuster should during many sequences, but it's particular charm hinges on capturing that teenage feeling of waiting an eternity for your "real life" to start.
After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker can't stop pining for a future where he get's to go on special missions with the Avengers every single day. Instead he has to wait for a call from Tony Stark, while he has to listen to the rest of his classmates call him Penis Parker whenever Flash Thompson gets bored or threatened. Tony Stark might want to put his new protege in a "training wheels program", but even a good kid like Parker is going to rebel a little. Which leads to the other great achievement in this film: it's villain.
Up until now that other Spider-Man movies have depended on a big bad that conveniently transforms at the same time that Peter Parker is making peace with wearing the Spiderman suit. In this one that hero antagonist has a more realistic context. Michael Keaton's character is a working man who got screwed out of his share of the pie. Which leads him in dealing underground weapons that his crew have built from the alien technology that has been dumped from all the Avengers debacles. Keaton's Vulture becomes truly scary when the audience realizes that he is just a stressed out blue collar guy who's willing to do anything to keep his family afloat. To that you can add all the meta delight of having the actor who played Batman and who skewed the genre in Birdman become one of Marvel's greatest on screen antagonists.
The rest of the cast match Keaton's efforts, with John Watts leading the way in creating a High School that feels real and not a CW version of the experience. The director will get all the props he deserves in how he handled the action sequences and the fact he highlights that being Spider-Man can be fun and exciting at every opportunity he gets. But to me his biggest achievement, is getting the High School dynamic right without having to mimic anything that John Hughes ever did, with the glaring exception of a sequence that blatantly references Ferris Buller's Day Off.
Once this movie comes out, the debate will start over the ranking of which one is the one that has given us the best Spider-Man. Holland and company make a strong case for this one, but given how bland and how Iron Man centric the publicity campaign was, the movie is a total surprise and definitely puts to bed the notion that the cycle of superhero movies is losing its mojo. Besides that, it is a great freaking film. Large in scale, but impressive in how terrifically it balances the nuances of a great comedy infused with dramatic pathos and adventure.
Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into theaters July 7.