You'd be forgiven for being burnt out on Spider-Man movies. The last two Amazing Spider-Man films were so forgettable, they practically evaporated from our collective pop culture consciousness. So, in an unprecedented arrangement, Sony partnered up with Marvel Studios to share the character's film rights. That led to the web-slinger being recruited by Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark in last year's Civil War. Consider that an appetizer. With Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, all of Stark's technological ingenuity is on display with the most fantastically specced out Spidey suit yet.
Mild spoilers ahead.
Our new Peter Parker (played by the young Tom Holland) has a holographic display embedded in his gauntlets, allowing him to pull up information and track bad guys without a smartphone. There's a parachute that automatically deploys if he falls from a high distance. And his suit also automatically conforms to his body's shape (which seems much more convenient than squeezing into spandex). These features alone are a huge upgrade from the last five Spider-Man films, where Parker had to rely on his wits (and eventually, mechanical web shooters).
Later on in the film, we learn that Spider-Man's outfit is more like Iron Man's suits than we originally thought. There's a built-in artificial intelligence, similar to J.A.R.V.I.S., who ends up training Parker on his new capabilities. And while Spider-Man still relies on homemade webbing (not organic shooters in his arms, like in Sam Raimi's films), the suit gives him 576 different ways to use it. There's electroshock webbing, several lethal options (which is a bit strange for the web-slinger), and web grenades for wrapping up foes remotely. Spider-Man can fly now -- sort of -- thanks to new wing gliders. And to make it truly a product of our times, the suit's spider symbol also houses a reconnaissance drone.
All of this gadgetry adds up to a far different cinematic take on the character than we've seen over the past few decades. And that's clearly for the better. One of the biggest issues with the Amazing Spider-Man films is that they felt like a bland and unnecessary rehash. Did we really need to see Peter Parker learn the same lessons; anguish over Uncle Ben; and fall for another high school crush so soon? With Homecoming, we get something completely fresh and new.
Spider-Man fans might take issue with the sheer load of gear he's equipped with. This isn't the same Peter Parker who was forced to learn hard lessons on his own, and didn't have the support of a billionaire playboy philanthropist. Indeed, it almost feels like we lose a bit of the character in the process. This Parker is still a scrappy genius who mixes his own webbing, but he gets a huge assist from Tony Stark, and he knows there are other superheroes fighting the good fight. The fact that he's not alone makes his circumstances feel a little less desperate at times.
Still, this Spider-Man feels like a version of the character who's better equipped for today's highly connected world. He's also facing off against a villain -- Michael Keaton's surprisingly sympathetic Vulture -- who's stealing and experimenting with the discarded alien technology from all of the Avengers' battles. It'd be hard for Spider-Man to keep up with such a well-equipped villain without his own assortment of gadgets.
Perhaps most importantly, the technology in Homecoming isn't frivolous. It's all tied back to the characters in some form. The first few features we come across make it clear that Tony Stark is trying to mold Peter Parker into an ideal superhero, one who isn't burdened by building weapons of mass destruction like he is. At the same time, all of the built-in safety features show how much he thinks about protecting his protege. And when Peter decides to hack the restrictions in his suit, it's a classic act of teenage rebellion (though it comes from a good place, since he's trying to protect people from the Vulture's alien weaponry).
Ultimately, its smart use of technology is just one reason why Spider-Man: Homecoming works. It's also incredibly well-written, with characters we actually care about. But it's nice to see a superhero movie where gadgetry isn't just an afterthought (I'm looking at you, Batman v. Superman), it's an essential part of the story.