By Jim Sabataso
We’re knee-deep in summer blockbuster season so it seems only fitting that Hollywood has unleashed yet another Spider-Man film. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” marks the third reboot of the franchise since 2002. It’s also easily the strongest Spider-Man film to date.
Directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland as a teenage Peter Parker, the film is a light, fun and smart riff on teen movie tropes that borrows heavily from the John Hughes playbook. But despite the abundance of teens on camera, it’s thankfully restrained with the teen drama, sappy romance and angst. Yes, Peter has a girl he pines for — one who’s surprisingly, and refreshingly, neither Mary Jane Watson nor Gwen Stacy — getting the girl is not a significant plot point.
And where the Toby Maguire-Sam Raimi Spider-films were drowning in angst, “Homecoming” tries not to take itself too seriously. Yes, the stakes are high by the film’s climax, but a smart quip is never far away.
Watts also smartly ditches the origin story altogether; no radioactive spiders, no Uncle Ben death scene, no monologues about great power and great responsibility. Rather, the film joins Peter immediately following his appearance in “Captain America: Civil War.”
Holland makes a great Peter Parker. Initially, I was skeptical of a teenage Spider-Man — I’ve always preferred adult Spidey — but Holland sold me. He is a ball of enthusiasm and awkward energy as he plays the 15-year-old Peter, who is thrown headlong into the Avengers’ orbit. It also makes sense to add a younger character to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every team needs the smart-mouthed, impetuous kid who questions the adults and brings a sense of innocence into the fold. Holland’s Spider-Man fills this role nicely.
An opening montage of scenes from the epic “Civil War” airport battle shot on Peter’s phone shows the events from his perspective. We see a fanboy, who got to sit at the grownup table and held his own.
Now back home in Queens, Peter’s friendly neighborhood do-gooding doesn’t feel as fun or high stakes. That is, until Peter discovers a gang of arms dealers who are selling weapons created from alien technology and other high-tech doohickies pilfered from the numerous Avengers battles of the past decade.
The gang is a trove of Easter eggs from Spidey’s rogues’ gallery, which will likely pay off in later films. At the top, however, is Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), aka, the Vulture, a one-time construction worker who now leads heists in a mechanized wing suit that makes Falcon look like a canary.
Toomes is a blue-collar guy who’s let class resentment — especially for elites like Tony Stark — turn him to a life of crime. Keaton is both menacing and charming as Toomes, whose complicated relationship to Peter is teased out slowly throughout the film.
Peter’s impetuousness compels him to take on the Vulture’s gang solo, much to the chagrin of Tony Stark, who has been serving as something of a mentor to Peter since “Civil War.” To that end, he’s assigned Happy Hogan to serve as Peter’s handler, which amounts to a glorified babysitter.
It’s been a while since Jon Favreau has shown up as Happy, and it’s a welcome return. Happy provides some solid humor as Tony’s constantly put-upon right-hand man, who has no time for Peter’s constant phone calls and texts.
Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark also shows up at several points to drop some life lessons on Peter. It’s interesting to see the previously rash and impetuous Iron Man play the role of parent. Given the character’s arc since the first “Iron Man” film, and especially following the events of “Age of Ultron” and “Civil War,” it makes sense. He’s seen the consequences of his arrogance, and in Peter he sees an opportunity to start over, to be better.
Following the teen-movie model, Peter experiences some significant personal growth by film’s end. In a fine example of show-don’t-tell storytelling, “Homecoming” embodies the all-important “Spider-Man” maxim of “with great power, comes great responsibility” without making it feel heavy handed.
Coming on the heels of “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” continues Marvel’s run of light, fun, mostly standalone films that take a pleasant detour from the tentpole MCU world building. From the looks of it, “Thor: Ragnarok” will give us plenty of the latter in November, as the march to next summer’s “Avengers: Infinity War” continues. Let’s enjoy the fun while it lasts.
• Marisa Tomei is delightful as Peter’s Aunt May. While the jokes about how young and attractive she is wore thin back in “Civil War,” it’s a welcome change from the ancient, frail and perpetually imperiled Aunt May of the comics.
• Peter’s classmates, with their shades of “The Breakfast Club” — especially Zendaya’s snarky Michelle, who channels Ally Sheedy’s Allison perfectly — make for a fun peer group.
• Donald Glover may not have gotten to play Miles Morales, but he does show up as small-time crook with a conscience Aaron Davis, a significant character in “Ultimate Spider-Man” comics.
CHECK IT OUT
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (PG-13) is in theaters now.