'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Is a Welcome Relief From the Marvel Universe's Baggage

Tom Holland's first solo outing succeeds by not getting bogged down by 10 years' worth of drama.

Marvel Studios has been building their cinematic universe framework for many years now and it’s expected to hit a fever pitch when Avengers: Infinity War hits in 2018. What officially started in 2008 with a mechanical man has grown to include gods, space adventures and magic, as well as more down-to-Earth (literally and figuratively) television tales. As much as I love canon and longform storytelling, Spider-Man: Homecoming made it feel like I was playing hooky from school. And I loved it.

Most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have (even if it’s only their mid- or after-credit scenes) pushed forward the larger story of superheroes existing in the fictional world Marvel created, which is not unlike our own. In comics, and in other mediums, I appreciate “canon” stories. World building can be very exciting, not to mention lucrative. It’s why Universal is attempting a Dark Universe filled with monsters. But a well told, one-off tale can be just as enjoyable. Homecoming sort of falls in the middle and reaps the benefits of both worlds.

We pick up post-The Avengers (2012) as Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is working with his crew on cleaning up the massive wreckage in New York City. Through the film we see the decommissioning of Stark’s Avengers tower and move to their post-Age of Ultron facility as well as an alternate view of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker cameo in Captain America: Civil War. And of course, just like every other iteration, there’s tons of Easter eggs not just for the MCU, but Marvel Comics. Marvel has an official timeline so they don’t get confused about what’s happening when, but the timeframe of Homecoming has made many of us scratch our heads by stating it picks up eight years after Avengers. It’s not a make-or-break issue for me in the grand scheme of things, but it did make me think back to all that’s happened in the MCU so far and what’s still to come. It’s a giant story.

I've never been a big Spider-Man lover, but one thing that always stuck out to me was the character's fun-loving nature, despite the usual superhero struggles. Homecoming captured that fun and it made me feel like a kid again. I attached myself to superhero stories at a young age, so when a film can bring me back to that time and those specific feelings, it gets bonus points in my book. This isn’t to say I didn't have fun watching The Avengers, Guardians or Thor, but when I watched those, I was viewing adults as an adult. Homecoming has an obvious youthful energy to it, and that’s a credit to the screenwriters of course but also due to the film being populated by a much younger cast than Marvel is used to for its epics. Holland, Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya and Tony Revolori all hit the right notes as high schoolers, even though the roles are filled with actors in their 20s (Harrier is their “senior” at 27). From the Academic Decathlon to the homecoming dance and being underestimated by adults, Spider-Man: Homecoming created its own well developed mini-universe around Peter Parker’s “nerd school” and made me feel like I was part of it, even though I’m far removed in my age bracket.

The film has been compared to John Hughes’ classic works many times over (it even has some great '80s songs on the soundtrack) and has two actors who came up in the '80s, Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei, as stand-in dad Tony Stark and mother figure Aunt May. Having that authority figure or mentor voice is another reason this film feels so different from other MCU films. Tony had Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) in a similar role in Iron Man, but with a different dynamic. And yes, there’s been a lot of talk over “young” Aunt May. Age, as they say, is but a number and truly subjective. (Calvin Stowell pointed out on Twitter that Tomei is a year older than Rue McClanahan was when Golden Girls began.) There’s obviously a larger issue of age and gender in Hollywood I won’t get into here, but this latest incarnation of Aunt May comes off very heartfelt and genuine. She’s someone we’d all want in our lives and someone most of the Avengers don’t have. They have complicated, adult relationships, something Peter hasn’t really had to deal with yet.

Homecoming left me feeling energized in an otherwise adult-skewing superhero film world, and for that I’m thankful. I loved Deadpool and Logan, but sometimes it’s nice to watch something that’s truly for everyone. The Guardians of the Galaxy films feel the furthest away from the MCU continuity at this point and another “fun” spot in the MCU to be sure, but things will evolve once Infinity War rolls around. After almost 10 years, the franchise is understandably bogged down in drama. Interesting drama, sure, but it's heavy, too, and while some of the films are more easily digestible for kids, they’ve gone to some pretty dark places. And as an adult living in our current political landscape, I would actually prefer for everything to not be so serious all the time. I need an escape from that. As much as I’ve grown to love the characters over the years, I’ll admit to having grown a bit weary over Tony and Steve arguing about what’s right every five minutes. And sure, Spidey will have baggage of his own if Marvel continues its deal with Sony (we technically don’t know what happened to Uncle Ben, we haven’t explored all of Peter’s powers, MJ was only barely introduced), but for now, I’m content with this vivacious interlude.

Jill Pantozzi is a pop culture writer, critic and host focused on geek-friendly topics.