Spider-Man: Homecoming works as both a (very) funny high school comedy/drama and strong standalone superhero movie set in the MCU.
Two months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has returned to his home turf of Queens, New York, now armed with the technologically enhanced Spider-Man costume that was designed by Tony Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr.) to assist Peter in carrying out his heroic deeds as his neighborhood's friendly web-slinger. However, Peter is more than ready to leave his old life as an ordinary high schooler behind him and become an official Avenger in his own right - leaving his friends, classmates and even his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) to wonder why Peter has been acting so strange of late, in the process.
Trouble then comes knocking when some mysterious and extremely powerful weapons - powered by technology that is seemingly not from this Earth - begins popping up all over New York, spurring Peter to thus investigate where the devices are coming from. It turns out the tech is the handiwork of one Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a fellow who operates a lucrative-but-illegal business with his criminal cohorts. Is this Peter's big chance to prove that he has what it takes to be an Avenger... or should he maybe be focusing on things like his next Spanish quiz and the Homecoming dance, instead?
Spider-Man: Homecoming is not only the first solo movie for Tom Holland's iteration of the Peter Parker character (following his big screen debut in last year's Captain America: Civil War), it's also the first feature-length Spider-Man film to be included as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity. Despite being the third Spider-Man movie released in the past five years (as well as the sixth overall, Civil War aside), the hope heading into Homecoming's theatrical release was that its MCU connections - coupled with Homecoming director Jon Watts taking inspiration from classic John Hughes high school movies of the 1980s - would allow the film to stand out as a unique addition to Spidey's larger filmography. Fortunately, it turns out those hopes were not in vain. Spider-Man: Homecoming works as both a (very) funny high school comedy/drama and strong standalone superhero movie set in the MCU.
Whereas Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man movies are superhero soap operas that push Peter Parker's school experience to the background, Spider-Man: Homecoming takes the opposite approach and operates as a high school film first, MCU adventure second. Homecoming keeps the jokes concerning the trials of teenage life flying fast throughout its runtime; at the same time, stringing its many moments of levity together with a solid self-contained narrative throughline about Peter's struggles as regular teenager by day, 15-year old crime fighter on the side. The movie smoothly weaves together its broadly comedic antics with more sincere drama and character development in a fashion that recalls The LEGO Batman Movie - a comparison that is all the more fitting since two of the writers who worked on that film (Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers) were among the six writers to collaborate on Homecoming. In this respect, the Easter Eggs and subplots/references to previous events in the MCU are arguably the least interesting elements of Homecoming... though, that is not to say that they don't provide important context and/or aren't integral to the story being told here.
Save for one notably on-the-nose example, Watts does a good job of subtly incorporating the iconography of John Hughes' most famous high school movies into the larger visual aesthetic of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Watts and his director of photography Salvatore Totino (Everest) embrace the same grounded approach to staging the superhero battles and action sequences here that the more recent Earth-based MCU installments have utilized (the Captain America films especially). While that means Homecoming's set pieces aren't as flashy or visually-dazzling as similar sequences featured in Spider-Man movies past, it's arguably for the best that Watts doesn't attempt to outdo the highly stylized web-slinging action of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in particular - and instead, brings Spidey more down to Earth in a semi-literal sense. This, in turn, better allows Homecoming to combine funny sight gags together with action-driven beats that are all the more tense because Holland's Spider-Man isn't as invulnerable as his predecessors sometimes were, while swinging around New York (despite the plethora of nifty gadgets that his "Stark Suit" has).
The combination of Holland's charismatic performance and young age further makes his version of Peter Parker more convincing as a good-natured kid who's in way over his head, compared to the previous onscreen versions of Spider-Man. Holland's Homecoming young costars are equally likable and believable in their respective roles, especially Jacob Batalon as Peter's enthusiastically nerdy BFF Ned, Zendaya as the whip-smart, if antisocial, loner Michelle, and Laura Harrier as the Type-A driven yet friendly Liz. Much like Tony Revolori succeeds in putting a rather different spin on Peter's infamous "enemy" Flash Thompson here, Harrier's Liz makes for a nice variation on the archetypical Peter Parker love interest. Thankfully, Homecoming keeps the spotlight fixed firmly on Peter and his schoolmates throughout its three acts, with Peter's two "parental" figures - see Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Marisa Tomei's Aunt May - effectively serving in a supporting capacity here. (This is also a good place to mention that Iron Man - fortunately - only really makes a glorified cameo appearance in Homecoming, despite what the marketing for the movie would have everyone believe.)
On the villain side of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/Vulture is definitely one of the better and fully-developed antagonists featured in a MCU movie to date. Adrian is very much a "bad guy," but Keaton makes him all the more compelling and interesting a baddie to watch through his performance. Moreover, Adrian has enough in common with Peter (in terms of their backgrounds and frustrations with the more privileged Stark) to make him a worthwhile foil to the web-slinger in Homecoming. The Vulture's goons and/or associates are based on more obscure and less complicated Spider-Man comic book villains by comparison, but capable character actors such as Michael Chernus, Bookem Woodbine and Logan Marshall-Green make the most of their limited screen-time here (as does Donald Glover, in his own supporting role).
Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn't move the overarching MCU storyline forward as much as some previous chapters in the franchise have, but it does achieve something that MCU films sometimes struggle with: working as a standalone Marvel superhero movie that is enhanced by, not dependent on, its cinematic universe components. Homecoming also continues to evolve the MCU from a genre standpoint, succeeding as a great high school comedy that just happens to be about Peter Parker. For these reasons, Homecoming makes for an excellent summer blockbuster that can also be recommended as much to casual moviegoers as it can be to die-hard MCU fans. In fact, now that we know the next Spider-Man film will be the first MCU movie set after the era-concluding events of Avengers 4, it may turn out that the groundwork laid by Homecoming will be more important to the future of the franchise than at first glance.