“I feel like I could be doing more.”
As the sixth leading role in a film since the dawn of the new millenium – and the third reboot of the character in just as many years – Spider-Man: Homecoming’s undying desperation to prove itself over and over again not only matches the adolescent tone of the newly minted Marvel feature, but distinguishes itself as something else entirely. Sure, there are big stakes and personal investments and the practically perquisite demands of outside MCU tie-ins and setups for further adventures. That’s to be expected. Yet what separates Homecoming from the rest of the crowd and its own predecessors is that it so badly wants to enjoy its newfound heroism and to be of service to the world right outside its apartment door. Most superhero flicks stupidly put off destiny by running away from fate; Homecoming sprints there, lacking grace and precision in spats, but always full of sheer joy. For once, becoming an Avenger is the actual goal instead of a reluctant role.
You should see Captain America: Civil War (now on Netflix…no excuses) before going into this foray; the Spidey character won’t make as much sense if you miss his previously brief introduction. Homecoming reintroduces us to him a few months after the Battle of New York, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) struggling and juggling through high school life as an outsider. He’s brainy, engineering, lovable, a web-slinging genius with an exhausting sense of ebullience. It’s outside the spandex where Holland really whittles Peter down into a different kind of Parker, showing personality with a quick tongue and abrasive wit but also with a bright zest. As an orphan living with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Peter’s defining quality seems to be that of servitude. And because of his circumstance, Peter will do anything and everything to put his newfound abilities to good use. Homecoming glides along on the coattails of its effortlessly enthusiastic lead character, but it also allows entire scenes and sequences to linger in and to highlight Peter’s own arrogance fueled by his youthful ignorance. He’s a powerful, idealistic, shepherding dreamer.
Best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) unintentionally discovers Peter’s wall-climbing secret during an uninvited hangout session. It’s enough to drop his LEGO Death Star model in shock. He’s scared and flummoxed then thrilled, mostly because what’s hotter to the ladies than being an Avenger? Or at least the alleged friend of one in Ned’s case. Only he knows Pete’s secret. Ned urges Peter to use his powers to date his decathlete crush Liz (Laura Harrier) and to humble his soft-boiled bully Flash (Tony Revolori). Peter doesn’t want to exploit his hidden identity though, using the suit as a means of helping others first and foremost. He wages war on small-time crooks, middling henchmen, amateur thieves. But then a real threat enters the picture in the shape of black market salesman/winged bad guy Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) known as Vulture in the suit. After being muscled out of work by Stark Industries, Toomes harnesses the power of advanced Chitauri technology to make and sell illegal weapons. Peter’s finally found a formidable and dangerous foe to prove himself to mentor Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in hopes of earning his spot in the Avenger’s lineup.
Spider-Man: Homecoming just gets so many things right and the passing of the torch to Holland proves to be a perfect decision that lays the groundwork for Marvel going forward. You can feel the energy he brings to Spider-Man and the vigor he provides as Peter. And after a desperately long stretch, the MCU has found itself a proper villain. Aided by the Keaton’s ability to cleverly play the character as two-faced, Toomes represents a more experienced and jaded worldview of this younger Spider-Man’s ideologies, doing all of the wrong things for all of the right reasons. Combine the Oscar nominee with such tremendous lines as, “I’ll kill you dead,” from writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley and Toomes helps to provide the campy eccentricity of the comic inspired genre in a movie that’s less concerned with being bombastic and more comfortable being human. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen another superhero movie that has been so determined, so hell-bent, or so naively juvenile as this one, nor have I come across many that have been as fun. Homecoming flips through the pages of its yearbook with a flourishing delight.
On the other hand, since Homecoming does transpire at warp speed, far too little of the film ever resonates. Crucial characters like Aunt May and classmate Michelle (Zendaya) enter and exit on the same ramps, setting them up as future franchise players who never get passed the ball this time around. Few, if any, of the action sequences conjure up a real sense of awe and the big battle is – in accordance with all Marvel movies – hardly memorable. Director Jon Watts hasn’t made a great action film, yet he has made a very good teeny bopper high school dramedy with flair. Add in a genuinely surprising and rewarding 3rd act twist and what we get from Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t the best Spider-Man movie or the most thrilling film to watch, but is nonetheless an exciting entry exploding from the character’s canon. The Spider-Man persona has been done better before. As for Peter Parker though, the latest iteration feels as true to his messy and adolescent spirit as ever, and that’s the most important takeaway from a movie that’s almost fun to a fault. Not a bad problem to have if you ask me.
“This is a huge step up.”
Rating: 4 out of 5