Spider-Man: Homecoming is my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Seeing as how we are 16 movies into this grand experiment of silver screen comic book adaptations, we'll never truly settle on a consensus pick for "Best" MCU movie. Many favor the latter two Captain America movies. Some have embraced the outer-space exploits of the Guardians of the Galaxy. There are even those who extol the virtues of the Thor franchise. You know who you are. But I'm confident calling Jon Watts' Homecoming my absolute favorite MCU movie because: 1) It centers around my favorite superhero in the Marvel universe; and 2) It gets every aspect about him right.
There's even a specific moment I can point to in Spider-Man: Homecoming where the movie graduated from being an hilarious, exhilarating, bouncy and fun chapter in the sprawling Marvel saga to becoming my all-time favorite MCU movie. But it's not in the trailers, and I'm not inclined to spoil it for you, here. But it's a reference... a deep-dive reference to a signature moment in Spider-Man's development, which occurs during the very early Amazing Spider-Man run by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Jon Watts has it in here. And it's perfect. It's genuine, and it's earned, and it's the first time any Spider-Man movie has captured this necessary essence of the teenage hero, who's perfectly portrayed by Tom Holland. And it's why I love this movie more than any MCU film that has come before it.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is an unusual animal. Because of a content-sharing partnership between Marvel and Sony, Homecoming is able to plug Spider-Man into a detail-rich, pre-existing superhero universe and watch him soar. And yet, because this movie also chooses to linger on the character's youth and relative inexperience as a high-school-aged crimefighter, it's simultaneously able to mine some fertile ground that previous Spider-Man films fast-forwarded past.
The movie picks up right after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Having stood toe to toe with Team Cap in Berlin, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) returns Peter Parker (Tom Holland) to his "modest" apartment in Queens, New York, encouraging him to carve out a niche as a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. Peter, meanwhile, believes that he can earn a spot on the Avengers' roster, if only he can stop a major villain and prove his worth to Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
Peter gets that opportunity when he crosses paths with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a blue-collar warehouse manager who has concocted an elaborate scheme. Using alien technology acquired -- illegally -- following the Battle of New York (from the first Avengers movie), Toomes and his colleague, the Tinkerer (Michael Chernus), construct deadly tools and weaponry that fuel secret criminal missions. Toomes, using a high-tech Vulture suit, wants to fly under the radar and acquire his wealth, though a high-profile job pulled off by Toomes' associate, the Shocker (Logan Marshall-Green), puts the gang on Spider-Man's radar once and for all.
Those rolling their eyes at a fifth Spider-Man movie in 15 years need to know how different this take on Spidey is, for the better. The creative decision to keep Peter Parker in high school allows Jon Watts and Tom Holland to focus on the awkward social aspects that come with being a kid with a secret identity. The stakes in this movie are smaller than in your average MCU adventure, and our hero's at a stage in his journey where his powers are still new, leading to some hysterically funny jokes, often at Peter's expense.
Homecoming also does a much better job than previous Spider-Man films in celebrating the personalities of the kids in Peter's inner circle, from the beautiful but accessible Liz (Laura Harrier) to the grungy and aloof Michelle (Zendaya). Tony Revolori is screamingly funny as the egotistical Flash Thompson, though the true stand out here is Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter's best friend who learns Parker's heroic secret early, then plays a crucial role as Spider-Man's hilarious "guy in the chair," assisting missions from a distance. The dynamic shared between Tom Holland and his young co-stars roots Spider-Man: Homecoming in a ground-level, relatable corner of the MCU that is rarely explored, with such color and detail. I'm anxiously awaiting another MCU Spider-Man movie just to be able to spend more time with these kids.
At the same time, Spider-Man: Homecoming also features two of the greatest action set pieces in any previous Spider-Man movie, and after seeing each play out, I was surprised at how forgettable the signature action sets in Spider-Man's on screen efforts were. Yet, even in these blockbuster sequences, Homecoming maintains the quirks of the central character, and it's not spoiling too much to reveal that Peter is often the cause of an issue he's trying to prevent, or he's making a difficult personal sacrifice to do what he believes is correct. Because as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.
Spider-Man: Homecoming gets it right. It pulls off an extremely difficult task of seamlessly transitioning a new (but old) character into an established universe, while also casually seeding the landscape with references and Easter eggs that can -- and will -- pay off in future Marvel and Spider-Man movies. Listen and look for classic Spider-Man villain references, Avengers nods, possible directions for exciting new stories and callbacks to things we saw in the MCU before. It also has the greatest ending scene of any Marvel movie since the first Iron Man movie. It's that much of a game-changer, and it's that rewarding. This is what's possible when you bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where he belongs. As the title suggests, Spider-Man is home. We can't wait to see what Marvel and Sony do with him next.