“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is easily the most enjoyable solo outing for your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in over a decade.
This new adventure for everybody’s favorite web-slinger soars thanks to pitch-perfect turns from actors Tom Holland and Michael Keaton. The two lead actors and the ensemble behind them bring to life a solid script that deviates significantly in tone from prior Spidey films, balancing trademark Marvel super-heroics with grounded situations and relatable characterizations.
What’s it about?
For folks who don’t keep up with all things nerd, this iteration of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland) was introduced to audiences in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” when he was recruited by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to help corral a splinter group of Avengers lead by Captain Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans).
If you skipped on that film last year, not to worry. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” efficiently and inventively recaps Spidey’s role in that fracas during the film’s first minutes while also re-establishing this Peter Parker’s personality and voice.
Once that’s out of the way, the film’s main story starts in earnest, with Peter, only 15 years old, trying to get through his freshman year of high school while also being Queens, New York’s resident super-powered do-gooder.
As if that wasn’t enough, Peter eagerly awaits another opportunity to join Iron Man and the Avengers in saving the world. To his growing frustration, that call doesn’t come right away.
It’s not long, however, before trouble finds him in the form of Adrian Toomes (Keaton), a salvager who’s made his business very profitable by recovering artifacts and tech left over from superhero battles and turning them into weapons he can sell.
Seeing it as the perfect opportunity to prove himself ready to be a full-time Avenger, Peter works to track down the source of the high-tech weapons. But that trail leads him into a battle that endangers not just Spider-Man, but everything Peter holds dear, including his school friends, his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and even his connection to his new mentor, Stark.
A new direction
Arguably, the most important thing “Spider-Man: Homecoming” does right in comparison to its predecessors is that it doesn’t retread old territory.
The last set of Spider-Man films – 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” – got off on the wrong web because they wasted time presenting yet again the wall crawler’s famous origin story. Yes, they changed actors and tone and added a few mysterious subplots, but for the most part, that origin story just looked and felt too similar to the way it was done in 2002 with Tobey Maguire wearing Spidey’s tights.
This time, the script focuses on Peter’s present priorities, and everything he’s trying to juggle as a kid not old enough to drive a car on his own but blessed with the power to stop a speeding car with his bare hands. In addition to his very unusual after-school job which he tries to keep secret, this kid has on his plate all the things other kids his age deal with: friends, homework, clubs, a crush, the homecoming dance, etc.
All that attention to grounded, relatable concerns keeps “Spider-Man: Homecoming” from wandering into over-the-top comic book contrivance, and also provides numerous opportunities for humor to keep the tone light-hearted and upbeat.
Holland, Keaton terrific
Tom Holland builds on the likable take on Peter/Spidey he first delivered in “Captain America: Civil War.” He makes the most of the solo film opportunity to present a fully rounded, believable character who just loves the fact that he has these powers and he can help people.
Again, it’s a more light-hearted approach to Spidey than Maguire’s guilt-driven version or Andrew Garfield’s angsty skater-boy version, and that helps maintain the film’s overall lighter tone.
Keaton, meanwhile, delivers the most compelling antagonist audiences have seen in a superhero film in the past decade, period, including the films produced solely by Marvel Studios. Audiences may be surprised at just how sympathetic Keaton makes the character, who is fueled by all-too-understandable pragmatism and regular-joe sentiments.
But what about Robert Downey Jr.’s latest turn as Tony Stark, you ask? At this point, he’s got that character so perfectly nailed down that it’s almost not worth mentioning.
What is important to mention, though, is that his screen time and role in the story is limited in such a way as to make sure there’s no doubt this is Spider-Man’s movie, not “Iron Man 4,” as some might have feared due to Downey Jr.’s prominence in all the film’s marketing. He’s here, and he’s good, but it’s not his movie.
Of course, Spider-Man and Marvel fans will no doubt have already purchased their tickets to see “Spider-Man: Homecoming” this weekend. They should be rewarded with a film experience they’ll enjoy enough that they’ll be planning repeat viewings even before the credits roll.
For people without any bias towards super-hero fare who are just looking for what’s fun at the movies this weekend, this new Spider-Man adventure should fit the bill nicely, as well. It’s never dull, it’s got plenty of heart and humor, and the action looks and feels different enough than other recent Spidey adventures that the material feels fresh.
Oh, and like any other superhero film these days, stick around for two scenes after the movie ends – one in the middle of the credits and one at the very end. They’re worth your patience.
Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, with Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. Directed by Jon Watt.
Running time: 133 minutes Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments.