Spider-Man has reached the point now where he’s really just competing with himself. He’s become the James Bond of superheroes, played by three different actors in 15 years. But this time there’s a good reason for a new Spider-Man – this time, he’s back in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it fits him like a glove.
We met Tom Holland’s Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War, where he gave the film some much-needed light and levity. That tone continues into his own film, where Peter is doing his Friendly Neighbourhood duty while waiting for the next call from Tony Stark to take him into the big time. Meanwhile, he’s trying to keep up with school, making eyes at classmate Liz and trying to stop a team of supervillains who are dealing in alien tech, led by Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes, AKA the Vulture.
So let’s answer the big question first – yes, this is better than Andrew Garfield’s Spidey outings. It might even be the best Spider-Man movie yet. It achieves what no other Spider-Man film has done – it makes Peter Parker feel like a real teenager, in real Queens, having a real blast as Spider-Man. Sure, the stakes increase across the course of the film, but it never loses its sense of fun. It’s a film about a nerdy, super-strong 15 year old – why wouldn’t it be fun? It’s Ferris Bueller with superpowers, only less smug.
But as well as being fun, it’s also funny. Spidey’s quips are front and centre, and his supporting cast is crammed full of accomplished comedy actors. The high school characters are a delight, and all feel like they have a life outside of the film. The film is riddled with wonderful throw-away lines and background gags, and has a nice knack for undermining any potential superhero pomposity. Director Jon Watts set out to make a coming-of-age film, and that’s what he delivers.
If you think the trailers gave too much away, then you’re in for a surprise (a couple of them, actually). While some of the big action sequences were highlighted in the trailer, the film isn’t about those moments. In fact, the best action sequences – like a daring rescue at the Washington Monument – are on a smaller, more personal scale. The film does its best to keep Spidey out of his comfort zone (a chase sequence in suburbia, with no tall buildings for him to swing from, is particularly great), and as a result it feels original, despite the five previous Spider-Man movies.
Holland’s Peter Parker feels more vulnerable than previous Spideys – not a surprise, given that he’s also the youngest. Even Keaton’s Toomes feels conflicted about having a nemesis who is clearly a kid, and Peter’s attempts at ‘enhanced interrogation mode’ are flat-out hilarious. Spider-Man is not a big tough hero with an answer for everything – he’s always been a ground-level hero, someone young readers could identify with, and here he’s more identifiable than ever. Holland is nothing short of fantastic in the role.
Keaton is also great, nailing the comedy as well as the more layered aspects of the character. There’s not a weak spot in the whole cast. As for the MCU characters – Tony Stark does, admittedly, feel like an awkward special guest star every time he appears on screen, but Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan works really well.
The less you know about the gags and twists in this film, the better. Go in as blind as you can and just enjoy the ride. You probably won’t see a better or more satisfying superhero film all year.