Whilst the Marvel Cinematic Universe bestrides the cinematic landscape like some giant lycra-clad colossus, it's easy to forget that Marvel Studios don't actually have the rights to all their characters. The rights to several franchises/groups (such as Fantastic Four and X-Men) belong with other parties- it's why there was so much wrangling over the use of Quicksilver in both X-Men: Days Of Future Past and Avengers: Age Of Ultron, with there being so many rules as to what can be said/referenced and so on.
So whilst Spider-Man is a Marvel creation (created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962), the cinematic rights are currently with Sony, whose head honcho Amy Pascal said in 2013 (prior to the release.of The Amazing Spider-Man 2) that Sony selling the rights back to Marvel Studios would 'never ever ever' happen. However in February 2015, Sony and Marvel Studios struck a deal to co-produce a new Spider-Man movie which would form part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as well as Spider-Man appearing in Captain America: Civil War)
Fan speculation went into overdrive, especially when it was revealed there'd be new casting for Peter Parker. Would we be subjected to a THIRD version of the origin story in fifteen years?
Luckily, not. Instead, we find Peter already comfortable with his powers, eager to be of more use to the Avengers whilst doing small-scale heroic acts in Queens. However, when he attempts to stop criminals pulling off a bank robbery (who are armed with technology which is definitely out of this world), our friendly neighbourhood webslinger discovers there's a very dangerous adversary behind it all. As if negotiating the difficulties of high school wasn't bad enough...
For a lot of previous MCU films, you can see that they're also riffing off a genre picture within the confines of a superhero movie (a paranoid political thriller, space opera, heist movie and so on). Spider-Man: Homecoming plays like a John Hughes teen movie- with added superheroes.
It's also led from the front by a winning and utterly absorbing performance by Tom Holland (The Impossible, How I Live Now, Locke). Critics were fulsome in their praise of his short cameo in Captain America: Civil War- he was superb and was able to hold his own against the more established stars. In his own movie, he's given the room to expand that role and takes it with both hands. He's geeky, slightly awkward, bizarrely quite adorable. He has all the enthusiasm and warmth of an energetic puppy and you really feel for him as he struggles to stake his claim as a new Avenger.
The other school children are all strong too, with Jacob Batalon giving a star-making turn as Peter's equally geeky mate Ned who becomes Peter's 'guy in the chair' later on. Laura Harrier is excellent as Peter's crush Liz, and the burgeoning relationship between the two is quite lovely (there's also a killer twist later in the film which complicates things even further). Zendaya is also strong as school outcast/misfit Michelle, always ready with a sardonic quip or raised eyebrow. Finally, Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) plays school jerk Flash and adds a nice level of comic snark to it.
As for the adult cast, Michael Keaton is just superb (and not a little chilling) as Adrian Toomes a.k.a. The Vulture. Toomes originally helped cleaned up the Avengers' mess- literally, as a construction worker tasked with clearing the debris- but after being closed down by a shady government organisation with ties to Stark Industries, he decides to keep some of the alien technology he''s scavenged. There's an interesting socio-economic point to be made here- the rich get richer whilst the poorer get screwed- but thankfully it doesn't tubthump on it too much. The design of the Vulture costume is really cool as well. There's also a very interesting twist on the big hero-villain confrontation (before the final fight) which works really well.
Robert Downey Jr is as good as you'd expect him to be as Spidey's reluctant mentor whilst Jon Favreau is also superb as Happy Hogan, acting as Peter's contact. I still can't quite get my head round Marisa Tomei being old enough to be Aunt May but, as Tom Holland is only in his early twenties, it fits. She's a warm presence, providing some stability for Peter. There's also a great voice performance by Jennifer Connelly as the AI in Spidey's new suit. Chris Evans pops up here and there in several slightly cringeworthy Captain America instructional videos for the children (and also provides a nice end-credits scene).
Some of the action sequences are stunning, especially the attacks on the Washington Monument and the Staten Island Ferry (the latter teased in the trailers). The whole aesthetic of the film works really well. The script is nicely balanced between these big set-pieces and the quieter, smaller character moments. The humour is there and the characters feel authentic- often, high-school kids don't sound like high-school kids but here (mostly) they do.
Spider-Man: Homecoming deserves credit for a lot of things. Firstly, that it isn't an origin movie. In fact, the whole circumstances of Peter's transformation are glossed over in a few sentences. Secondly, using The Vulture as the primary antagonist is a good move; whilst he is a well-known Spidey villain, they could have gone with someone better known (Doc Ock or Green Goblin for example). Thirdly, Uncle Ben is nowhere to be seen. There are a few oblique references to May 'going through' some stuff but- as they're not using the origin story template- we don't see that happening. Ultimately, they're not trying to reinvent the wheel but, by not using the standard tropes, there's a certain amount of originality in it.
As a collaboration between studios, I think they can say Spider-Man: Homecoming ranks as a success (at the time of writing, it had made over $700 million at the box office). It'll be interesting to see whether this is a one-off or whether other non-Marvel studios will be interested in attempting a similar deal in the future.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5