So it turns out that the masterstroke in Spider-Man Homecoming is taking the protagonist back to class and treating the whole thing like a high school movie. This is the third time in 15 years that they’re taking a stab at the web-slinging superhero, and after Tobey Maguire got too old to keep playing the part, and the Andrew Garfield films failed to hit the sweet spot, we’re discovering that the key to re-energize the franchise lies in two simple words: Go young.
Enter 21-year-old Tom Holland, who was first introduced as Spidey in last year’s Captain America: Civil War where he held his own alongside Marvel’s Avengers. Holland has just the boyish enthusiasm and earnestness required to play Peter Parker as a fresh-faced 15-year-old, and mercifully director Jon Watts and the writers spare us the backstory. There’s no bite from a radioactive spider; all that’s taken care of in a single line of dialogue. As is the death of wise Uncle Ben. (We get no speech on power and responsibility.) What we get is a kid trying to figure out how to master the powers he’s already acquired.
Holland brings goofiness to the part, which makes the character genuinely likable. This is a novice Spider-Man, and many of the laughs come from watching him rough and tumble his way through the action.
Speaking of action, this is your not your average Marvel film where the superhero must save the world from a power-hungry villain hell-bent on flattening entire cities. The film’s baddie, a blue-collar worker-turned-arms manufacturer, played by Michael Keaton, has no ambitions of world-domination; he’s just a guy chasing a fast buck to feed his family. This is a much more intimate story, and the action set pieces are befitting the relatively modest scale of the plot. Which is not to say that they aren’t thrilling. It’s just that they aren’t an orgy of explosions and special effects where you can’t make out who’s doing what to whom. A sequence involving an attack on the Staten Island Ferry is particularly well executed.
But Spider-Man Homecoming is ultimately stronger as a character-driven coming-of-age comedy. Watts surrounds his leading man with an ensemble of characters who’re key to Peter’s life: his worrying Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his nerdy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and of course his mentor figure, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who’s too busy to actually mentor him but shows up to dispense tough love each time the kid screws up.
The film doesn't get everything right. Some of the supporting players – particularly Keaton’s villain – are underdeveloped. The climatic face-off is also a little overstretched. But these are minor quibbles in a movie that’s both brimming with humor and invested with a lot of heart. A movie that’s fresh and entertaining, and one that marks a welcome return for a superhero we’ve all missed.
I’m going with four out of five for Spider-Man Homecoming. It’s light and breezy and so much fun.
4 / 5