Wow.

I expected to like this movie. I have a soft-spot for the character and also for the MCU in general, so seeing them finally come together as they should be was bound to color my glasses rose. But I watched the trailer and, while I liked it, I felt like it was a little to sterile. A little too safe. A little to on-the-nose “we’re MCU now baby!”

Now that the actual movie is out and can be examined on its own merits…I gotta say this has exceeded what were already some very high expectations.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth movie to star the Marvel superstar since 2002; that’s six movies in fifteen years (one every two and a half years on average) with the most recent coming just three years ago, with a totally different cast and team behind it. We’ve already seen this newest edition of the wall-crawler, as his cameo in last year’s Civil War stole the show, but this is the first time he’s been given a proper re-introduction to cinemas. And even though it’s technically a re-re-introduction (after Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield had their turns), it doesn’t feel like the red and blue hero is old news. If anything, this sixth movie in fifteen years is the most fresh the character has, arguably, ever looked.

It’s a wonder that we even got to see it.

As most everyone knows by now, years ago Marvel sold the film rights to almost every property they could, and slowly climbed out of bankruptcy’s shadow to become a cinematic force to be reckoned with. To do that they re-secured a few key properties and combined them with the characters they had never been able to pawn off, and boom: movies featuring Iron Man, Incredible Hulk and Thor paved the way for a game changer in film: The Avengers. Since then, Marvel (now owned by Disney) has been able to re-acquire a few other properties that had gotten away from them (like DareDevil, Punisher, and Ghost Rider) but the two biggest enchiladas have remained elusive: X-Men and Spider-Man are, historically, the two biggest-selling franchises Marvel has, but Fox has X-Men (and Fantastic Four) seemingly locked down into perpetuity, and Sony has been churning out Spider-Man movies like the Amish make corn.

Sam Raimi first brought Spider-Man to the big screen with 2002’s blockbuster. The follow-up was even better, and remains one of the finest comic book movies made thus far. But then came Spider-Man 3 and the too-many villains, too-weird tone, too-weird dancing sequence and emo hair. It was all very wrong. The franchise took a breather for a few years before rebooting with “The Amazing Spider-Man” but by then comic book movies were everywhere and in fact Sony’s reboot came in the same year as The Avengers and the conclusion to Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Spider-Man felt passé, and 2014’s sequel did nothing to change opinions; it was an exhausting movie for an exhausted franchise. But Sony had to keep producing movies or they would have lost the rights. So they set in motion, not only an Amazing Spider-Man 3, but also spinoff movies featuring several of Spidey’s villains, a movie featuring Venom, a movie featuring Aunt May…

It was a dark time.

But then Disney and Sony cut a deal, plans were altered, and here we are: Spidey is back in the family. Sort of. It’s complicated, and the aforementioned Venom spinoff is apparently back on the table, but won’t be an MCU film, but any movie starring Spider-Man will be, and they’ll be produced by Marvel but marketed by Sony, who will also reap all the profits, except for when Spider-Man appears in a Disney-produced MCU film (like next year’s Infinity War).

It’s complicated, and under normal circumstances it might have been enough to cause the movie to suffer as a result. Instead, that Kevin Feige/MCU secret sauce has been liberally applied and the result is a movie that feels like what a “Spider-Man in the MCU” movie should feel like.

To start with, Homecoming does not go down the “reboot” road. It knows you know who Spider-Man is. There’s no need to go back and show his getting bit or his Uncle Ben dying, or any of the stuff that has been done to death already. We don’t even get an unnecessary flashback, and other than one line that’s nothing more than “I got bit by a spider” the movie doesn’t even discuss his origin story. Instead, we’re treated to him already established, but still new enough on the job that we can see him still struggling, learning the ropes, making mistakes and growing as a person and hero. I love a good origin story, and Spider-Man’s is one of the very best, but it wasn’t needed, so it wasn’t added.

What Spider-Man needed, after too many movies featuring too many villains, was a simple narrative with an emotionally-grounded story. The villain’s ambition is small in scale for a comic book movie, but it allows for great characterization to take place, so that when the big set-pieces do come into play, it’s more than just loud noises and explosions; there’s emotional investment. The story was so well told, no planets needed to be in danger, no cities needed to be seconds away from detonation. Spider-Man has had big conflicts in the comics, but the character has always been at his best when he was equally as worried about catching the Green Goblin or tracking down Kraven the Hunter as he was acing his chemistry test or working up the nerve to ask MJ to the movies. That almost-absurd “I’m an actual superhero but this is my life” concept is what makes the character great. Batman is a playboy corporate executive by day. Superman is a grown man with a grown man job at a newspaper. The X-Men kill time as teachers. Most other superheroes have big boy lives when they’re not in costume.

Spider-Man is fourteen years old. He spends his mornings ogling girls because that’s what fourteen year olds do.

No previous movie has been able to pull off that one aspect of this special character. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were too old, and played Peter Parker too old to make it work. The newest actor to play the part, Tom Holland, has the doe-eyed, in over his head but still confident like a teenager should be, character down. It’s a feeling and an attitude that’s straight out of the comics, which is a hallmark of an MCU film.

And so too is the sense of fun.

This is the most fun movie-watching experience I’ve had since maybe the first Guardians of the Galaxy. I smiled different degrees of “stupid grin” for almost the entire picture. I mean there’s this one segment where the villain (played like only Michael “Let’s Get Nuts” Keaton can) and the hero have a long, tension-filled couple of back-to-back scenes together and it’s enough to freeze you in your seat and stop your heart.

Other than that, it was non-stop grinning.

I could go on about the various winks and nods to the character’s history (both distant past and recent), Stan Lee’s fun cameo, a climactic moment that is ripped right out of the comics that anyone can appreciate but which true fans will almost cry to see so perfectly recreated, that music cue that played over the MCU logo, a running gag that managed to increase in hilarity all the way to the final post-credits scene, and on and on and on I could go…but why spoil such things?

Go see it.

10/10 – A genuine joy to watch. There wasn’t one single frame, one line of dialogue, one second of film or one music cue that I would change.

What else can be said? Spider-Man has never been more perfectly realized in live action than as he now is in the MCU.

Here’s to many more.

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