“Spider-Man: Homecoming” – Without watching “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), the thought of another Spider-Man reboot screams the words: completely unnecessary. On the other hand, Tom Holland’s playful performance as your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in the aforementioned Captain America picture did lend plenty of excitement for a new big screen adventure with the famous wall crawler. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” does not disappoint, and for Marvel fans, it is deeply intertwined with the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
As the film opens, we are taken back eight years into the past just after the events of “The Avengers” (2012) and are introduced to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). His new business is tied to wreckage left by the Avengers and Chitauri. Toomes works a massive cleanup up effort, but a specific confrontation within these first few minutes of screen time will shape his path for years.
Peter Parker can see his destiny for years, and he wants to be an Avenger and to be sent on dozens of missions. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) brought Peter into the fold for the one time Avengers Civil War in Germany and hilariously calls it the Stark Internship Retreat. This is give Peter cover for Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
Stark treats Peter like a kid, because well, he is one. A 15-year-old kid, but Peter finds high school a little ordinary after a taste of tangling with superheroes. Director Jon Watts does fling Peter Parker back to high school and spends lots of time there – more than any other Spider-Man film, actually – through a multitude of charming and awkward adolescent moments. The movie’s spirit utterly feels like a 1980s high school film, complete with the unattainable beauty (Laura Harrier), the smart a** antagonist (Tony Revolori) and geeky – but honest and frank – conversations with one’s best friend (Jacob Batalon).
The moments between Peter and Ned (Batalon) are simply priceless, and whenever they converse about Death Star Legos or working a plan to get “the girl”, Liz (Harrier), their friend resonates like pure, smile-inducing gold. Additionally, when Ned stumbles upon a key piece of information – that was never meant for him – their big screen bond solidifies for the audience.
Obviously, the entire movie does not spill in Peter’s high school, as Watts routinely hurls him into danger on New York City’s grownup streets too. The film pays homage to the comics with Spider-Man’s close entanglements on the streets of the five boroughs, but the hazards jump exponentially when bizarre high tech weapons create a new menace, and Toomes is behind it.
The insect and animal kingdom intersect as Spider-Man confronts Toomes, otherwise known as The Vulture, but Keaton’s plays his character with shades of gray and complexity. Toomes is not a madman, per se, but a relentless businessman with a questionable moral compass. Simultaneously, he feels like the little guy who is constantly being squeezed and stomped on by rich fat cats, and his mind, he is not breaking the rules more than anyone else.
Marvel has a rightly-deserved reputation of not introducing villainous-enough bad guys, and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” falls into the same trap. Since Toomes is not a malevolent villain, the risks to Peter just do not seem as dire. Although they surely do exist, including one insect-bird altercation on The Vulture’s home turf. Keaton summons his deep reservoir of acting prowess to deliver a terrifically engaging performance, but only due to the film’s construction, The Vulture does not deliver as much fear or angst as one would hope.
On the other hand, that’s not what “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is about. This is Peter’s journey. Peter’s story. High school crushes, long stretches of homework, hallway conflicts, and the internal challenge of deciding his place in the world: As a teen who could hold an enormous cargo ship – broken in two – together with his bare hands and webbing, but who is not old enough yet to drive. Holland and Watts deliver the first chapter on his superhero trek and offer an abundance of laughs and good feelings along the way. Is this Spider-Man reboot necessary? No, but I walked out of the theatre feeling very happy, as Holland is the best Spider-Man yet, and this picture may be the famous superhero’s big screen best.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Image credits: Marvel Studios; Trailer credits: Marvel Entertainment