The latest attempt to revive Spider-Man adds a lot of humor into the mix, making this a fun mix of a superhero film and a “Ferris Bueller” homage. That combination should make this a great date night flick by adding a human appeal that both men and women can enjoy, plus Michael Keaton makes one of the most entertaining villains in superhero movies yet.
Even in a cinematic world overrun with sequels, reboots and superheroes, Spider-Man stands out as one character particularly at risk of over-exposure. After all, the new film “Spider-Man: Homecoming” marks the start of the third series of Spidey films in just 15 years.
Following the Tobey Maguire trilogy, which yielded two genre classics before falling apart with the overstuffed third film, and two mediocre “Amazing Spider-Man” films, “Homecoming” brings a fresh sense of youthful energy and fun to the mix. It draws much of its charm from ace casting, with Tom Holland bringing a lovably geeky teen awkwardness to Spidey’s alter ego Peter Parker, and Michael Keaton serving up his unique mix of manic energy and working-class heart in the role of villain Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture.
A Younger Spider-Man Meets Tony Stark
The film opens on Adrian, an average-guy contractor hoping to make a fortune off of salvaging alien-weaponry shrapnel found amid the rubble from the Battle of New York in the first “Avengers” movie. He plans to sell the pieces off for scientific development, a job that could set his family and workers up for life— until federal agents seize the site.
With a small stash of the shrapnel hidden from the feds, Adrian vows to fight back by making money ruthlessly off what he has left. Jumping to eight years later, he and his henchmen have developed a slew of nasty laser-based weapons they commit robberies with and sell on the black market. Adrian also has created a wing-laden flight suit for himself that has earned him the Vulture nickname, and years of crime have given the once-simple working-class guy a dangerous edge.
Meanwhile, Peter is back in high school sophomore mode after his Avenger escapades in “Captain America: Civil War,” dreading his days in class and acting as a goofball vigilante by night while living with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). He constantly begs Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), and his assistant Happy (Jon Favreau) to re-enlist him in heroics, but they don’t quite take him seriously despite having given him a souped-up new Spidey suit.
When Spider-Man makes the news battling a team of burglars using Adrian’s souped-up weaponry to rob ATMs, he suddenly draws both Tony’s and Adrian’s attention. At the same time, he has to contend with the fact his funny ultra-nerd friend Ned (Jacob Batalon, in a breakout role) has discovered he’s Spider-Man and figure out how to woo Liz (Laura Harrier), the beautiful senior girl of his dreams, amid homecoming season.
Surprisingly Balanced Mix of Humor, Action, and Personality
“Homecoming” uses humor and occasional moments of teenage angst to set a tone that tells the story expertly from Peter’s youthful frame of mind. While there are a couple of spectacular action sequences set at the Washington Monument and aboard the Staten Island Ferry, the film also scores points with an inventive chase through suburbia and the personality clashes found amid his high school social scene.
The scenes focusing on Peter’s struggles as an outcast are a great homage to the spirit of John Hughes’ teen movie classics, with the suburban chase scene even paralleling the climactic run home at the end of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” While that tone takes away some of the intensity found in other superhero films like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” it makes for a refreshing change of pace and marks “Homecoming” as a superhero film that anyone can enjoy along with the fanboys.
Peter’s sense of vulnerability goes a long way towards making up for Holland’s initially annoying performance, in which his high-pitched voice and constantly snarky comments make a couple of the early fight scenes more goofy than exciting. Just like Peter, Holland rises to the occasion as the film goes on, particularly in a tense man-to-man showdown with Adrian that arrives with a stunning plot twist.
Keaton makes Adrian one of the best villains yet in the Marvel universe by creating a three-dimensional persona as a man who wants to provide for his family and friends, but was simply pushed too far. With Tony largely used as Peter’s mentor, Downey fits his role like a glove but takes a back seat to much of the action.
With six writers sharing the credit, “Homecoming” could have been a disastrous hodgepodge. Yet that team, and director Jon Watts (whose only previous film was the 2015 indie flick “Cop Car”), have pulled off a Marvel of a movie that has as many laughs as thrills and accomplishes the unlikely task of making the endlessly rehashed Spider-Man feel fresh again.