Spider-Man: Homecoming is the third Spidey reboot in 15 years, but just may be the most refreshing.
In a unique movie studio deal, Sony and Marvel (owned by Disney) drafted a never-before-heard-of compromise. Sony allows Marvel creative control over Spider-Man, far and away its most valued property, if Sony keeps all the money the movie rakes in at the box office.
So, there’s definitely something self-aware about Spider-Man: Homecoming’s title, as the film brings Marvel’s most iconic character into its sprawling, 15-entry connected universe.
To the casual moviegoer, a third Spider-Man iteration in 15 years may seem like overkill. Tobey Maguire, for all intents and purposes, originated the role in Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, and Andrew Garfield kept the role alive (and film rights in Sony’s hands) in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man.
Which is why it’s especially impressive that Jon Watt’s Homecoming feels like such a unique, air-conditioned refresher into well-known territory.
This time around, Peter Parker (nerdier and more Peter Parker than ever) is part of the Avengers universe, sharing the same world as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, who serves as an Uncle Ben transplant to be the character’s mentor and motivator.
Watts and Tom Holland, Spidey’s new portrayer, had enough spider sense to create a checklist for the movie before they started filming. It had to take place in the firmly established Avengers universe, but still be a story that focused on Peter himself. It had to explore new territory with the character, by making him younger and less confident than ever. Above all, it had to tell its own, original story while being true to its comic book roots.
The movie did all of the above, and more. It’s a rare film where not a second of screen time is wasted. Viewers are pummeled with nonstop jokes, surprises and plot twists that keep every scene bounding forward with enthusiasm matched by its title character.
The film starts off almost as a Captain America: Civil War spinoff. Holland made his debut extended cameo in the 2016 film, where his character was exposed to the highs of being a superhero. Now, he’s returned to his dumpy apartment in Queens, where his biggest enemy is the occasional bike thief. He (impatiently) waits for Stark to assign him a next mission.
Like many hubris-influenced teens, Parker is “over” high school. He’s a star member of the school’s academic decathlon team, which he dumps at least twice in favor of web slinging. Friendships are deteriorating; he disappoints his crush Liz (Laura Harrier) repeatedly, but can’t keep his secret identity hidden from his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).
Peter’s more focused on a criminal ring that’s trading illegal Chitauri weapons, which are advanced technology left in New York City by aliens in previous Marvel films (this is a complicated series, folks). The leader is Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture, aka Michael Keaton playing the third winged superhero/villain of his career.
From the opening moments, Keaton is a standout. His character is a humanized example of how the public is being affected by the constant changing landscape in this universe. He’s a villain, and a menacing one at that, but he comes from a completely relatable place.
He doesn’t upstage Holland’s Spider-Man, though. Holland isn’t as clever as Garfield’s version, but Watts’ wise decision to make the character younger was an intelligent one. This new Peter is clumsy and can barely control the high-tech suit Stark designed for him (previously, he was wearing just a hoodie and goggles). He messes up. A lot. He’s in over his head battling the Vulture, but refuses to give up, even with everyone telling him to.
The film pulls off the high-wire trapeze act of being a superhero film, a franchise forwarder and a high school drama. But it does it all in a way that will satisfy hardcore fans and casual audiences alike.
It’s refreshing to see a superhero stumbling and creating his own problems like Curious George, but it fits the young, upbeat tone of the film. Despite the super-powered furnishings, the film’s heart is a high school drama featuring a protagonist overcoming extreme odds in all aspects of his life.
Isn’t that what Peter Parker has always been about? ••