Zach Gilbert’s review published on Letterboxd:
At this point, it’s quite well known that, as the superhero film genre expanded its pop culture footprint, the stories told within these cinematic universes began to diversify and take on the properties of other genres in order to stand out amongst the glut of constant new (and often indistinguishable) releases.
The Dark Knight arguably kickstarted this trend, working as a crime drama first and a superhero film second. Captain America: The Winter Soldier took on the form of a political thriller, Logan was a modern-day western, and so on and so forth. However, I feel that Spider-Man: Homecoming made one of the smartest and strongest choices in terms of genre appropriation by deciding to tell the story of the third cinematic iteration of the titular web swingler through the lens of a high school coming-of-age comedy.
Quite honestly, it’s insane that it took this long for a superhero film to ape this particular storytelling paradigm, given how many similarities both genres share. Coming of age flicks are peppered with protagonists who experience constant, erratic change beyond their control, feel like outsiders due to uncontrollable quirks, and attempt to find their place in the vast expanse of adulthood. Meanwhile, a burgeoning superhero undergoes these same sorts of transformations. Although characters like Iron Man and Captain America were fully grown adults when they acquired their “superheroic abilities”, in many ways, they still had to endure a second “coming of age” when straining to adapt to these extraordinary gifts and redefine themselves in a now unfamiliar world.
Now, what if these two maturation periods were combined? What if a superhero had to navigate the terrain of his newfound talents while simultaneously simply striving to survive the daily duress of an American adolescence?
And that’s where Spider-Man: Homecoming swoops in. Refusing to be content with merely imitating the grand operatic approach of Raimi’s trilogy or the gritty grimdark stylings of Marc Webb’s duology, Homecoming drastically decreases the scale of Spider-Man’s adventures and strips the character to his barest form, revealing the unique and relatable humanity of the character that has always been this icon’s most notable attribute.
Although scenes set in high-school were certainly featured in previous Spider-Man films, Homecoming makes the Midtown School of Science and Technology the focal point of the entire feature. Peter’s relationships and struggles with his friends and classmates provide the strongest emotional resonance in the film, and for once, I finally understood the seemingly immature push and pull Peter faces when confronted with enjoying the Homecoming dance with his date or stopping a supervillain; to outside viewers, the choice seems to be brutally obvious, but with Homecoming’s continual dedication to emphasizing and strengthening the ties between Peter and those in his school circle, we can palpably empathize with the difficulty he faces when wanting to experience this “normal” teenage stepping stone before eventually accepting his unavoidable duties as a gifted superhero.
The previous Spider-Man films felt more adult-oriented right off the bat. Even aside from the fact that their leading men were almost a decade older than Tom when they first donned the supersuit, those films never really emphasized the day-to-day, ever-present high school battles that Peter faced, instead choosing to place most focus on Peter’s mature responsibilities to his Aunt May, the Daily Bugle, or respective love interests (Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy). This thematic material is not without its merits for sure, but there’s a certain welcome novelty to seeing a superhero devolved from the typical “god-like” distinction attached to the moniker and made to resemble an average teenager we could walk past on the street on any given day.
So much of this success must fall on the script provided by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who expertly utilize their background in comedy writing to deliver a script rich with inventive running gags and nearly pitch-perfect character humor. Goldstein & Daley don’t skimp on the drama - Liz’s father’s reveal and the climactic “Come on, Spider-Man” scene still soar - but it’s clear that their knack is for offbeat and universally appealing comedy. It’s not a surprise they went on to write and direct the winning Game Night either, because the same blend of charmingly compelling characters and strong, supported beats of hilarity are found there in spades. The two have also clearly taken cues from John Hughes to both flesh out the ups and downs of Peter’s character arc and help shade in the idiosyncrasies of the film’s supporting cast, but as one of the world’s biggest Breakfast Club fans, I couldn’t be more pleased with these homages.
To be blunt however, even with this fresh perspective, Spider-Man: Homecoming would fall flat on its face if it didn’t have an entirely magnetic and energetic star to anchor this new characterization. Luckily, the production is absolutely gifted with the acting prowess of Tom Holland. Aside from his *ahem* aesthetically pleasing appearance, Holland is the personification of pure exuberance and jubilation. For once, we don’t have to watch a superhero “brood” and “mope” about his existence and the burden of his “special abilities”. Holland portrays Spider-Man just as he’s meant to be seen - as a superhero who’s as in love with being a superhero as we are at watching superheroes. Holland’s Back to the Future inspired performance is even more apparent on rewatches, but how can you complain when he so cleverly mixes Michael J. Fox’s manic charisma with Peter Parker’s endearing doofishness to create the most authentic and entertaining live action Spider-Man yet?
Spider-Man: Homecoming also wins points in my eyes for feeling like the most “of the moment” live-action Spider-Man flick we’ve seen yet. While I don’t know if it’ll stand the test of time with its ever-apparent foothold in the late-2010s cultural landscape, this emphasis helps make the film stand out for now. From the Internet/social media based glorification and adoration heaped on Spider-Man to the present day and simplistic lingo employed when discussing grand Avengers-level events to the clear Trump-esque/anti-establishment motivation provided to Michael Keaton’s Vulture, the film provides us with the most realistic look at how average society would respond to the insanity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I think there are understandable complaints for sure - the lack of memorable action being one I do agree with - but I really don’t have many personal negatives to heap on this film in any capacity. I admit to being a tad biased, as Spider-Man has been and always will be my all-time favorite superhero (for reasons that have only magnified thanks to Tom Holland’s endlessly attractive personality/abdomen), but I still sincerely believe that this is one of the most authentic adaptations of a superhero that I’ve ever seen put to screen. It truly takes a lot to genuinely capture the entire aura of a nearly 60-year old superhero icon like Spider-Man, but no live action feature has come as close as Spider-Man: Homecoming. I have immensely high hopes for the direction that Far From Home will take the character, and I can’t wait for another trip with this team.