I will not start off this review by saying all previous Spider-Man movies were garbage—because they weren't. Some were mediocre, and the rest were garbage. So let's never speak of them again, because Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't just the best Spider-Man film ever made—it might just be the current reigning champion in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As you may have heard, Sony Pictures has owned the movie rights to Spidey since 1999, and it's pretty clear they were never entirely comfortable with the character. But for Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel offered Sony a deal they couldn't refuse: Marvel would take creative control of the film, while Sony could keep all the money and merchandising. The one caveat: Marvel gets to use Spidey in future Marvel projects. Turns out this is a great deal for everybody involved—especially the audience, who finally gets to enjoy a lighthearted, firecracker of a Spider-Man movie.
Smart thing number one Marvel did with this reboot: They shoved the plot-slowing origin story aside. Instead, Homecoming opens in the aftermath of the alien invasion depicted in 2012's The Avengers, as well as a clever home movie filmed by Peter Parker (Tom Holland) as he goes on his first mission with patron saint Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in Captain America: Civil War. Not only does this sequence provide smooth, informative exposition, it firmly establishes young Peter's innocence and hero worship that come into play later in the film.
And that's what this movie is about: the difference between worshipping heroes and becoming the hero (and person) you want to be. Instead of being crammed with typical action set pieces and clunky character development, Homecoming is actually a good-natured teen comedy in the vein of John Hughes's best work, rather than the action-packed blockbuster behemoths we've grown accustomed to. It's the closest a Spider-Man film has come to capturing the insecurity and bubbly effervescence displayed in the Marvel comics of the 1960s, and Holland's earnest, engaging style has a lot to do with it.
But even more important than Holland's performance is the second smart thing Marvel did: They created a world that feels honestly, legitimately diverse. While white characters generally dominate superhero flicks, Homecoming is teeming with people of color... from Peter's best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), to his love interest Liz (Laura Harrier), to the socially strange and probable future love interest MJ (Zendaya). Even the honkiest of honky Spider-Man characters, Flash Thompson, is played by The Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori. And... you almost don't notice any of it. That's how normal and realistically Peter's world is portrayed.
Okay, the third smart thing Marvel did with this version: hiring great actors to beef up weaker parts of the script. The film's main villain, the Vulture, is underwritten—but Michael Keaton expertly fills in the holes. Likewise with Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, Jennifer Connelly as the disembodied "Siri" inside Peter's upgraded spider-suit, and a hilarious Hannibal Buress as Peter's sardonic high-school coach. In fact, other than a rather routine final action sequence, there's nearly nothing to complain about in this new jewel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you're wondering why the word "homecoming" is in the title, there are some offhanded references made within the film—but truthfully (and with only slight shade thrown at Sony), in Homecoming, Spider-Man is the prodigal son who has finally been returned to his rightful home.