“Okay Spider-Man! Do a flip!”
Thank heavens — someone finally made a Spider-Man movie! At long last, Hollywood wised-up and said, “Hey, I have a new exciting idea: what if we made a movie about Spider-Man?!” Alright, that’s enough snark. Yes, there have been Spider-Man movies before. Multiple films, in fact. But this is the first full-fledged Spidey outing firmly in the MCU. After Sony and Marvel struck up a deal, Spider-Man made a memorable appearance in Captain America: Civil War. Now he gets to take center stage in Spider-Man: Homecoming. And guess what? It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Tom Holland is Peter Parker, a bright kid from Queens who also happens to have super powers thanks to a radioactive spider-bite. Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t bother with an origin story; here, Peter is already set-up as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, donning a high-tech suit courtesy of mentor/father figure Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., who is not in the film nearly as much as the advertising would lead you to believe). Peter dreams of becoming a full-fledged Avenger some day, and tells his friends and family that he’s currently enrolled in the “Stark Internship Program.” But Tony would prefer he tackle low-level stuff, like muggers and bike thieves. The biggest piece of advice he gives Peter is, “Don’t do what I’d do.” Tony has spent his life doing reckless things, and he wants Peter to be better than that.
Easier said than done. Peter juggles his crime-fighting skills with his high school life, where he’s a star on the debate team and pines for classmate Liz (Laura Harrier). He spends what free time he has with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), when he’s not spending quality time with his legal guardian and aunt May (Marisa Tomei, having a blast but not featured nearly enough). But Peter’s life is about to become a lot more complicated, and dangerous, once he stumbles upon a group of arms dealers selling some out-of-this-world weapons.
The gunrunners are lead by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a family man who claims he just wants to look out for what’s his, and make a huge profit along the way. Toomes has been harvesting alien tech left over from the Battle of New York from The Avengers and creating super-weapons that are capable of turning people into ash in a split second. It’s scary stuff, but if Toomes has any moral hang-ups about any of this he doesn’t show it. When he’s not selling guns, he’s strapping on a pair of robotic wings and taking to the air as the Vulture, using his flying powers to pull off more heists. Keaton really sinks his teeth into the role, employing a deep dish Chicago accent and emphasizing every other word with twitchy body motions. It’s a fun performance, which makes up for how underwritten the character is. Like most Marvel bad guys, there’s just not much too the Vulture, but that doesn’t stop Keaton from giving it his all. He particularly shines in a tense scene late in the film where he menaces Holland while the two are in the same car.
Spider-Man: Homecoming truly belongs to the remarkably charismatic Tom Holland, who is charming and laugh-out-loud funny as Peter & Spider-Man. Holland behaves just the way you’d imagine a kid with superpowers would, full of impulsive choices and goofy mishaps. Deep down, we can see that Peter is just a good kid, trying hard to carve out his own heroic corner in a universe populated with bigger, more powerful heroes. Holland Downey Jr. have a stellar dynamic together, playing off each other well, and some of the film’s most poignant moments arise as a result of the Peter/Tony father/son relationship. This might be the most animated and lively Downey Jr. has been in his Tony Stark role in some time; perhaps all he needed was a chance to play second-banana for once instead of lead.
Director Jon Watts, who helmed the Coen Brothers-lite indie Cop Car, stages several high-octane action set pieces: an emergency at the Washington Monument; a disaster aboard the Staten Island Ferry; a big, climactic battle on a crashing plane. But Watts’ direction truly shines in the smaller, funnier moments of the film, particularly a scene where Spider-Man finds himself chasing some bad guys through a suburban neighborhood. Without all those tall city skyscrapers to web onto, Spidey is a out of his element, and Watts is able to create some great physical comedy with the scenario.
Watts also clearly enjoys playing up the every-day, normal high school stuff Peter has to deal with, and Peter’s fellow students shine in these moments. The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s Tony Revolori is amusing as the sort-of bully Flash Thompson, Batalon is a scene-stealer as Ned, and Zendaya is marvelous as the droll, somewhat weird Michelle, although just like Tomei, the film could use a heck of a lot more of her. Then there are the cameos sprinkled throughout: a few appearances from certain Avengers (Chris Evans’ Captain America appears via several pre-recorded videos in one of the film’s funniest running gags); Hannibal Buress as a miserable gym coach and Donald Glover as a sympathetic thief.
Homecoming inevitably begins to run out of steam in its final moments. While Watts stages most of the film’s action clearly and in focus, the final battle between Spider-Man and the Vulture is often a blurry, incoherent mess, full of confusing close-ups and more prone to inspire headaches than awe. It’s an unfortunate sequence that somewhat tarnishes an otherwise wildly entertaining film, but thankfully it’s not enough to blemish it completely. For most of its running time, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a total blast, bursting with energy and heart, and a nice reminder that Marvel can still have fun from time to time when its not busy trying to set-up more stories about Infinity Stones. We may not have needed another Spider-Man film, but we should be thankful they made this one anyway.