By Chaz Lipp
The Lowdown: A blast of prime MCU fun that relaunches the title character in thrilling (and comedic) style.
Everyone’s favorite web slinger is finally done right in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the best Marvel Cinematic Universe entry since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was widely overpraised (the first two, at least; the third is justifiably viewed as lamentable)—bland yet passably entertaining as far as pre-MCU flicks go. But the appropriately-named Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man reboot entries weren’t much better than Fox’s various Fantastic Four travesties. Hopes were high after Tom Holland’s brief but memorable debut as Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War prefaced the full-blown reboot. Holland is an English actor (though you wouldn’t know it)—20 years old when Homecoming was shot, but looking convincingly younger as the high school student Peter is. He pulls off the delicate feat of remaining likable while delivering constant wisecracks that could’ve rendered the character annoying if given a heavier touch.
Not unlike 2008’s underrated The Incredible Hulk which also closely followed on the heels of a rival studio’s take on the character, director Jon Watts (nearly unknown prior to Homecoming) doesn’t bother with a typical “origin” story. Instead we’re shown a bit of backstory that expands upon Peter’s Civil War sequence, cleverly presented as ‘found footage.’ Even prior to that, we’re plunged backward in the MCU timeline to the cleanup at ground zero of the so-called Battle of New York (i.e. the climactic ‘aliens vs. heroes’ showdown that concluded Marvel’s The Avengers). It’s a surprising bit of everyday, ‘regular Joe’ business led by independent contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). When U.S. Department of Damage Control (look for a new Damage Control TV series coming soon to ABC) forces Toomes’ crew out, the seeds are sown for the emergence of the Toomes’ alter ego, the Vulture.
Eight years after Toomes’ extraction from the New York City cleanup scene, Peter Parker has been recruited by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., his seventh time in the role but still finding new tics—this time as a sort of surrogate father to Peter). Toomes has used his time productively, if not exactly wisely, by reverse-engineering advanced weaponry utilizing scraps of salvaged alien tech. That’s another intriguing concept introduced into the MCU by Homecoming, common criminals developing a black market out of all this otherworldly gear that has arrived ever since Earth was opened up to new dimensions. The presence of this kind of street crime helps ground the film in a smaller-scale sense of reality (entirely relative, of course, to the established rules of the MCU). Peter and his friends, including best friend Ned (the scene-stealing newcomer Jacob Batalon), are caught up in typical teen concerns (crushes, academic competitions) that also lend a fresh flavor to the MCU.
Peter’s impetuous nature gets him in over his head as he tries to take on the Vulture, who’s not so much aiming for a global take-down or anything remotely as grand—he just wants to make a buck when all is said and done. Keaton scores by making the thinly-written Vulture believable as a sort of working-class villain. An effective third-act twist deepens the character somewhat, but Toomes/Vulture still seems to function primarily as a plot point. And adversary for Peter Parker to cut his teeth on. The thing is, with a jam-packed 133-minute running time that flies by surprisingly fast, there’s not much that would’ve been beneficial to cut in order to expand the Vulture and his M.O. The action is exciting, with inventive set pieces occurring at strategically-placed intervals. The humor laced throughout keeps the tone light—no heartstrings being tugged here, which is fine. The emotional kick that makes, say, Captain America: The First Avenger or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 resonate a little more soundly was simply not director Jon Watts (and his small army of five additional co-writers) were aiming for with Homecoming.
Lots of little touches also help make Spider-Man: Homecoming imminently watchable (and probably rewatchable; this is the first MCU film in a while that I felt like seeing again almost as soon as it ended). Those touches include Marisa Tomei’s plucky Aunt May and Jon Favreau’s return as “Happy” Hogan, Tony Stark’s right-hand (last seen in 2013’s Iron Man 3). Additional familiar faces turn up in cameo appearances. Fun from start to finish.
Spider-Man: Homecoming images: Columbia Pictures; Marvel Studios; Pascal Pictures