Spider-Man: Homecoming review: "Breathes new life into the MCU"

GamesRadar Editor's Choice

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Hilariously infectious and full of hope, Spider-Man’s return to Marvel couldn’t be more welcome.

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is once again swinging onto the big screen with a solo movie after his rather sensational debut into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War. Despite two other adaptations of the web-slinger hitting cinemas in recent years, Tom Holland’s cheeky, actually-a-kid version of Peter Parker won fans over during the Sokovia Accords disagreement putting a hell of a lot of expectations (and pressure) on Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming. Happily, the director meets them all, and more, with a movie full of heart and hopefulness, which is more about the struggles of being a teenager than a superhero. 

Unlike most Spider-Man… Men… Mans(?) that came before, this version is wrapped up in the world of the Avengers, so it’s no surprise that we rejoin Spidey as he’s about to meet the rest of the Avengers during Civil War. This time though, we get to see what happened from his point of view, which makes you completely forget about the deep political implications of the Sokovia Accords and see it all through the eyes of an excited kid who can’t believe he just stole Captain America’s shield! It’s the perfect reintroduction to the character which connects the audience with the event that established him, while putting them in the light-hearted and giddy mindset for Homecoming (which is vastly different to that of Civil War… or any other MCU movie for that matter). 

After the world-changing events of Civil War we return to Queens, and Peter’s more mundane high school life, and share in his disappointment as months go by without any word from Mr Stark or the Avengers. It’s a breakaway from what we’ve come to expect from the MCU - there’s no big saving the world missions, no alien battles or terrorists to take down. It’s just Spider-Man looking after the neighbourhood he lives in, trying to help people and occasionally stopping the odd petty criminal. While Peter’s frustrations are clear, it’s enjoyable to watch this return to the more traditional superhero fare and reminds you just why superhero movies became so popular in the first place. This relatively boring superhero hero life goes hand-in-hand with Peter’s normal teenage life of school, Aunt May, and his friends/bullies/crushes. Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige wasn’t lying when he said Homecoming would be like “a John Hughes movie,” and the high school sequences very much have a Breakfast Club/Ferris Bueller's Day Off feel to them (as well as being chock-full of nods and Easter eggs). 

Anyone who was still unsure about Tom Holland’s casting (anyone? Hands up?) will surely be won over when they see him effortlessly jump between extreme emotions the way only teenagers can. One minute he’s crushing on Liz, the next he’s embarrassed by Flash, then he’s complaining to Tony Stark that he’s still treating him like a child. The words, ‘Do you remember feeling like this?’ might as well be flashing in neon across the screen for the whole audience to see, and it really does make you appreciate not being a teenager anymore (if you’re still a teenager, don’t worry, it gets better). Peter’s character is supported by a group of peers which are some of the most realistic we’ve seen in a long time. While there’s obviously a bully, a pretty girl, a best friend… don’t expect the usual lazy serotypes here, each character is fully-formed with an important role, and unique in their own way. Relative newcomer Jacob Batalon is a particular joy to watch as Peter’s best friend/guy in the chair, Ned, and every scene he’s in is made better because of it. 

In fact, there’s not a dud performance amongst the whole cast and while some of the characters have pretty minor roles - Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Zendaya as Michelle, Donald Glover as Aaron Davis - they’re all so spot on that I couldn't imagine the movie without any of them. Of course, one role which isn’t minor is Michael Keaton as the Vulture/Adrian Toomes and it’ll come as no surprise that the former Batman and Oscar-nominated actor knocks it out of the park as Homecoming’s baddie. Something about the mix of good and bad in his character has me convinced that Marvel might have just solved its baddie problem. This is no Ronan or Ultron, the Vulture isn’t just evil with no explanation… hell, he isn’t just evil! There’s a depth to this villain that we haven’t seen before in the MCU and it's about damn time.

Ok, I’m going to talk about twists now, so if you want to stay spoiler free… just skip this paragraph. Spider-Man: Homecoming manages something else most MCU movies don’t - a twist no one saw coming (so much so, that the audience I was with gasped… and then applauded). I won’t spoilt what it is here, I’ve done enough by just telling you there is one, but I was genuinely shocked which was a pleasant surprise for a genre which has become rather predictable. In the same vein, the twist EVERYONE saw coming - that Zendaya’s Michelle is in fact MJ (at this point, I’m not even counting it as a major plot spoiler), fell a little flat but it’s forgivable as it came at the end of the movie and is obviously more of a teaser for future films than anything else. Plus, her role as the sarcastic, moody outsider held its own enough to make me want to see more of her.

Welcome back, if you dodged the spoilers. Iron Man’s role isn’t too overbearing - something which concerned me from all the trailers and promo material released - but it’s integral enough to make Spidey a solid part of the Marvel universe. The same is true for the other MCU nods - they’re here, but mostly just because this version of Peter Parker has grown up in an Avengers-shaped world, rather than any desire to force fan references or Easter eggs. While this Spider-Man could never live outside of the MCU with his Stark-made suit, regular phone calls to Happy, and a burning desire to become a fully-fledged Avenger, he still manages to carve out his own personal space within it as the Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man, looking after the little guy. Happily, this character won’t be sucked into every MCU movie, but rather, have space to breathe with the Homecoming trilogy

Surprisingly, there’s also a slight sociopolitical commentary to Homecoming. The Vulture and his gang’s gripes about the same people who created the mess being paid to clean it up will strike a chord with some. As will his ‘might as well be talking about the 1%’ speech to Spider-Man about the people at the top not caring about the little guys like them. Even Michelle’s comment about the Washington Monument being made by slaves makes a powerful point in a genre which isn’t necessarily used to them (the exceptions being…). If this all sounds a bit scary and heavy-going for what you want from a Spider-Man movie, don’t worry - while some will enjoy the not-so-hidden messages, it’s never forced or overbearing and Homecoming manages to maintain its light-hearted and comedic feel throughout. If anything, the social context of the story feels natural for the times we live in. 

As far as negatives go… I won’t lie to you, I struggled to find any (hence the 5 star rating), but you could argue that the action sequences aren’t up to the usual standard of a Marvel Studios movie. While fans will always remember The Avengers’ battle of New York, Captain America: Winter Soldier's helicarrier sequence, or the Guardians of the Galaxy Knowhere spaceship chase, it’s unlikely any scenes from Spider-Man: Homecoming will stick in your mind long after you’ve watched them. Personally, I’m ok with that as the action is still good and the characters and plot more than make up for it, but if you’re a hardcore action junkie looking for explosions and beatdowns galore… go watch Transformers: The Last Knight

Additionally, not much is made of Peter’s super powers in Homecoming. So much so, that when he told Stark he was nothing without his Spidey suit, I actually found myself questioning whether this version of Spidey had any superpowers at all or if it was all just tech-based. I applaud the decision to not make this another Spider-Man origin movie (who the hell wants to see that again!?), but other than a minor reference to the spider that bit him, we get no real mention of the above-average-abilities the radioactive arachnid has given him. With so much of the story centred on the (incredibly cool) Stark-made suit, it would have perhaps been a good idea to dedicate some screentime to what Peter can do without it. Who this Spider-Man was before he met Tony Stark. 

Ultimately though, these two relatively minor grips aren’t enough to diminish Homecoming and will even be reasons why some love the movie - it’s different to other MCU or Spider-Man movies we’ve seen before and that’s a good thing. With a more back-to-basics approach to the superhero genre, Spider-Man: Homecoming breathes new life into the MCU thanks to it’s infectiously hopeful lead, strong character development, and genuinely a-laugh-a-minute script. Fans couldn’t have hoped for a more welcome homecoming for one of Marvel’s most famous superheroes. Lauren O'Callaghan

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Lauren O'Callaghan

Lauren O'Callaghan is the former Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar+. You'd typically find Lauren writing features and reviews about the latest and greatest in pop culture and entertainment, and assisting the teams at Total Film and SFX to bring their excellent content onto GamesRadar+. Lauren is now the digital marketing manager at the National Trust.