This weekend, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" made a splash, coming in with the second-greatest opening weekend for any Sony movie and successfully turning the tide on a franchise that had sputtered out of gas after two lukewarm reboots. What's more, it was a critical sensation, currently sitting with a 93% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Compare that to other big summer sequels like "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" (29%) and "Transformers: The Last Knight" (15% -- ouch), and you can see just how monumental this is. And all weekend people took to Twitter debating whether or not this was the best Spider-Man movie ever. Well, let us settle that debate for you. It is. And there are several reasons why.
1. "Spider-Man 2" isn't as good as you remember.
The main area of contention on Twitter seems to be whether or not "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is better than "Spider-Man 2," Sam Raimi's 2004 sequel. Well, it is, and here's why: "Spider-Man 2" isn't that great. Yes, it is beautifully put together and, at the time, it was unique to see a superhero movie as concerned with the emotional wellness of its characters as it was with action set pieces. But it's easy to forget just how much of the movie was a retread of the first film, including the central dynamic of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) coming under the thrall of a charismatic scientist (Alfred Molina) who inevitably goes bad and tries to kill him.
And while the arc of Peter giving up his powers in an effort to live his life is compelling, it also derails the movie, as it gets bogged down in his existential crisis to the point that the movie loses much of its momentum. These problems don't affect "Spider-Man: Homecoming." One of the most miraculous things about the movie is that Parker's internal struggle is juxtaposed with the larger issues at play with neither thread losing steam or taking up too much screen time. Everything that "Spider-Man 2" does, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" does better.
2. It's so funny.
So many comic-book movies forget that they're based on COMIC books. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" knows what it's based on, and it is funny. It's not only the funniest Spider-Man cinematic adventure yet, it's one of the funniest Marvel movies so far. And that's saying something. There's something fearless about the comedy in "Spider-Man: Homecoming." In putting the funny first, it feels wholly different from anything on the market. It's quietly revolutionary, especially since the humor doesn't take away from the drama, emotionality, or excitement elsewhere in the film. Somehow, it makes you clutch your side laughing and gasp breathlessly at the same time. That's awesome. And it feels very much like the experience of high school, where small things can seem colossal and, from the outside, everything is like a cosmic joke.
3. This is the first movie to really engage with the notion of Peter Parker as a high school student.
And that brings us to one of the very best aspects of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" -- it's the first Spider-Man movie to really engage with the character as a teenage high school student. (Seriously, re-watch the first Raimi movie; he's in high school for about 15 minutes before graduating.) Here, Peter Parker is a real kid and it's so, so awesome. When the filmmakers said that they were inspired by John Hughes films, they weren't kidding; it's incredible how fleshed out this high school world is: we get Peter's friends, his crushes, his teachers, his principle. We know what he's doing at school, what activities he's dropped out of so that he can be a part of the "Stark Internship" (aka being Spider-Man) and what his commitment to heroism means for him. And we're not saddled with the prerequisite origin story (something that both sets of films have depicted), which frees up even more space. It's so refreshing to see the character as a fully fleshed out individual, and that dimensionality adds so much to the power of "Spider-Man: Homecoming."4. Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man.
Which brings us to ... Tom Holland. Holland is a uniquely talented actor (as you've probably seen in "The Impossible" or this year's brilliant "Lost City of Z"), and we even got to see him inhabit the character for a few minutes in "Captain America: Civil War" (an electrifying debut, for sure). But nothing can prepare you for just how wonderful Holland really is. He's fidgety, unsure, and driven. He's also deeply heroic and lovable. And since Holland is the youngest actor to ever be cast in the role, he actually feels like a kid dealing with these same issues. Maguire was good, but his age gave the performance a kind of distance that didn't serve the movies well. Plus, stripped from all of those activities and embellishments around Peter Parker as a person, so much rested on his shoulders. It was an unfair burden that Holland isn't stuck with. And his version of the character soars because of it.
5. It fits into the larger MCU so well.
The first "Amazing Spider-Man" film (with Andrew Garfield inheriting the role) came out in 2012, four years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the vast, interconnected network of films that began with "Iron Man." Now that Sony and Disney have worked out a deal to incorporate Spider-Man into the MCU, it feels very organic and, well, great. In fact, the movie starts off immediately following the events of the first "Avengers" (a movie that came out, probably not coincidentally, in 2012) and there are so many moments and nods that make the character feel like he's always been a part of this world. It's exciting and fresh and makes you reinvested in the character in a way you probably haven't since "Spider-Man 2."6. It's about something (and so diverse!)
The first "Spider-Man" came out a few months after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, and it felt very much like a rousing ode to the newly reignited patriotism that was coursing through the country. But there weren't any explicit references to the attack and the movie, made before the towers fell, was clearly constructed before our lives were reshaped by that tragic event. What was odd was that the movies that followed were just as apolitical. They were never about anything. But "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is.
There's a moment when Vulture (Michael Keaton) is explaining his philosophy to Peter and he talks about how Tony Stark and the reset of the Avengers are, essentially, the 1%. They're so far removed from real life that we shouldn't expect them to understand the plight of the everyman. It's powerful as all get-out and gives the movie some real life resonance. Also adding to the feeling that "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is a movie of our time is how diverse the cast is; the kids who go to school with Peter actually feel like teenagers in Queens. It's so refreshing and amazing. This is a Spider-Man for now.
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