One of the best things about Jon Watts' “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” (the second “Spider-Man” reboot in three years and third overall) is that it isn’t saddled with burden of delivering Spider-Man’s exhaustive origin story yet again. He was already introduced in last years “Captain America: Civil War” (Spidey is now officially part of the MCU, instead of having a standalone franchise) and therefore we don’t have to watch fifteen minutes of “pre Spider-Man” Peter Parker.
We don’t have to watch him get bit by a radioactive spider or comfort his dying Uncle Ben in a dark alley again. It makes for a faster, less bloated, less redundant “Spider-Man” picture. If I had to watch Uncle Ben get killed for the third time this century, or watch a bewildered Parker discover his abilities while starring at himself in a mirror, I might have walked out. This new iteration of Spiderman is ready to go: a vigilante with spiderlike powers and snazzy red and blue tights. Thank god.
Of course, Parker is still a dorky teen with dorky teen troubles. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” finds a sweet spot between goofy, enduring teen movie and goofy superhero movie. We’re dropped in the middle of Parker’s (Tom Holland) hectic life as he balances normal adolescent struggles (fitting in at school, girl crushes, parties, dances) with crime fighting. These competing lives often clash in nutty and unexpected: we get an Academic Decathlon trip that doubles as a superhero mission, that later turns into a rescue at the Washington Monument. In another scene, Parker and his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) dissect an alien weapon during wood shop class. And later on there’s a delightful superhero inspired twist on the classic “boy-meeting-his-date’s-father-for-the-first-time” moment.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” captures the immaturity and inexperience of its teen protagonist extremely well. Parker is hyper and overly excited, eager to become a member of The Avengers but is far too undisciplined and unprepared. His attempt to interrogate a criminal goes horribly wrong, as do his attempts to stop a bank robbery and save a ferry full of civilians. Parker bites off more than he can chew when he launches his own investigation into underground arms dealer Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Parker can certainly walk the Spider-Man walk but in big moments he’s, more often than not, amusingly incompetent.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is about the consequences of wanting to grow up too fast, and learning to enjoy just being a kid. Spidey’s not quite ready to fight with the big boys and that’s okay. It’s a teen angst movie with a superhero. More so than any other “Spider-Man” movie, “Homecoming” emphasizes the naive adolescent angle of the character in an appealing and genuine way. Holland is fantastic, playing Parker with the right amount of awkward charm and ADD tinged annoyance. Sometimes it’s a blast following him around and other times I felt kind of embarrassed to be in his presence. Like any good, well-rounded teen movie protagonist, Parker is adorable and kind of a nuisance--very relatable in both cases, especially the latter.
Though, perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of “Homecoming” is just how fun it is. The film zips by and has an easy-going, laissez-faire attitude It’s a teen angst film that isn’t too angsty; in fact it takes plenty of opportunities to mock Parker’s angst and the high school film all together.
It’s also very funny; the screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris Mckenna and Erik Sommers is packed with jokes and witty banter. Everyone, including the supporting characters who peek their head in for a scene or two (Hannibal Buress as a gym teacher) gets be snarky and quick witted. Batalon is a magnificent comedic sidekick; the montage in which Ned asks Parker an endless barrage of questions about being Spider-Man is among the film’s highlights. Marissa Tomei has a few memorably kooky scenes as Aunt May, as does Tony Revolori as a bully of sorts who is also a DJ and a member of the school’s Academic Decathlon team. All of which make “Homecoming” irresistibly charming.
As the primary villain, Toomes is solid. He’s not very memorable, despite Keaton’s hammy, intimidating performance but at least he’s not the usual power hungry supervillain who wants to level New York City or raise a drone army or something. He’s just an average, non-flashy, blue-collar criminal trying to support his family and receive his fair share. As a result of this, the climactic third act battle ends up being a drastic improvement over a majority of recent superhero flicks, including “Wonder Woman.” It doesn’t involve an excessive amount of city damage or an interdimensional portal having to be closed. It’s refreshingly small scale, coherently staged and even inventive.
Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) shows up occasionally as a parental figure to give Parker a few “be responsible” speeches (You know you’re undisciplined when Tony Stark tells you to shape up) and to remind us that this is an Avengers movie. The efforts to connect Spidey to the larger MCU can cause the film to lag, especially when it suddenly becomes an “Iron Man” reunion. Both Jon Favreau and Gwyneth Paltro show up. That being said, I’ll gladly take an “Iron Man” reunion over watching Uncle Ben die again.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is imperfect but for being the third “Spider-Man” reboot in fifteen years, it’s pretty damn good and one of the better recent MCU films.