MOVIE REVIEW: Spider-Man: Homecoming

  (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment via EPK.tv)

(Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment via EPK.tv)

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING-- 4 STARS

Advancing to a future landscape while turning back our hero’s biological clock, Spider-Man: Homecoming counts as a clean slate for Peter Parker’s web-slinger.  Now nestled into the established Marvel Cinematic Universe after an outstanding debut in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland is a true teenage Spider-Man, one that was never successfully conveyed by two previous franchises and their over-aged actors.  Aiming to please and bursting with effervescent zest at every flip, swing, and turn, Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds as a brand new jumping off point for a character that badly needed course correction.

Summed up humorously by Peter’s video diary entries, this film takes place a few months after Spider-Man’s recruitment and participation alongside Iron Man battling Captain America's defectors in Berlin.  Peter Parker, empowered by mentorship and an upgraded costume from Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his right-hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), sticks to fighting crime on the streets of Queens as a friendly neighborhood YouTube sensation.  He longs to become a full-fledged Avenger, but is squelched, and for good reason, by Stark’s countermeasures and safety protocols built into the artificial intelligence of suit.

Arising concern from his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) at home, Peter has scaled back his sophomore year extracurricular efforts at Midtown Science and Technology School.  His over-extended moonlighting as the local do-gooder often yanks him away from academic decathlon team duties with his best friend Ned (newcomer Jacob Batalan), the bully Flash Thompson (The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori), the snarky wit of Michelle (dual entertainment threat Zendaya), and his #1 romantic crush Liz (the debuting Laura Harrier).  Peter may be making a difference in his community, but he is missing out the positive high school experience he should be having.

Thwarting an ATM robbery enacted by local thieves carrying advanced weaponry way above their pay grade, Peter tracks the hardware’s sources to the hostile Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), the head of an NYC salvage company secretly exploiting and selling stolen alien Chitauri technology left over from the Battle of New York that occurred in 2012’s The Avengers.  Stark advises to leave the dangerous black market crime scene to the professionals, but Spider-Man dives in and clashes with Toomes himself donning a powerful mechanical-winged battle suit as the Vulture.

Notably, Keaton excels as a formidable and indignant nemesis that fits this film’s urban confines and plays off the adult vs. kid dynamic.  After a lengthy cold streak of embarrassingly one-dimensional rage villains until Kurt Russell’s Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Marvel has now put forth two vivid antagonists with edge and complexity in a row.  For goodness sake, it’s Michael Batman-Beetlejuice-Keaton!  The credit goes to casting solid actors like Keaton and, more importantly, improving their material.

Speaking of substance, Spider-Man: Homecoming is cinematic high school yearbook’s worth of swell touches and thoughtful details.  Foremost, the against-the-grain casting of minorities and diversities, especially within Peter’s circle of peers, deserves a stupendous compliment.  From there, the innumerable nods and Easter eggs come in all shapes and sizes to entertain both comic and casual fans with sharp eyes and invested dedication.  Small ancillary roles played by Donald Glover, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Chernus, Hannibal Buress, Martin Starr, Mac Gargan, and Kenneth Choi all turn heads and carry roots and branches to the universe’s past and future.

Elder viewers with an ear for classic cartoons will be overjoyed by the opening measures of Michael Giacchino’s robust musical score.  The influential flavor of John Hughes stylishly marks the teen and school layers.  The emotive Steve Ditko-inspired eyes on Spider-Man’s mask are used to great effect.  Sorry, Deadpool, the wall-crawler came before you and does it better.  Call all of it what you like, fan service or smart decisions, but they work swimmingly to inject vibrant energy and flair to every corner of the film.  The brightest quality of Spider-Man: Homecoming is the lead.

Last summer, this website’s review of Captain America: Civil War declared Holland’s extended cameo did “more corrective magic in fifteen minutes to give you the young, fun web-slinger you've always wanted compared to all five tedious, angst-ridden, and overstuffed full-length films since 2002.”  I stand by that even more now after a complete solo film, a wise rivalry-ending coup of a lobbying agreement between Sony Pictures and the Midas Touch producers at Marvel Studios.  

The 21-year-old Londoner and the fleet of six screenwriters (Watts and his writing partner Christopher Ford, the Horrible Bosses duo of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, joke specialist Chris McKenna, and TV veteran Erik Sommers) properly sketch a plausible 15-year-old Peter Parker characterized with a canonical inferiority complex stoked by rejection and inadequacy.  Holland expresses those traits as self-inflicted stress and pressure and leaves out the wimpy, whiny, and flaky angst of his Spider-Man predecessors.  His style of pluck and mettle for this character is a breath of fresh air.  

LESSON #1: STAY IN SCHOOL-- During your sophomore year of high school, you likely were not fighting crime with superpowers and letting your academic brilliance excel at a specialty STEM-focused high school.  You were probably wondering how to make friends and get noticed by your crushes.  Peter Parker still does the latter too.  In fact, his life needs more of that right now than globetrotting superhero battles interning with the Avengers.  He should be a kid first and that includes putting in the proper time in learning with people his own age.

LESSON #2: A KID’S ENTHUSIASM OF HEROISM-- The youthful vibe of Holland and Spider-Man: Homecoming is infectious.  Peter has clearly watched The LEGO Movie where every experience with his powers is awesome.  Who can blame him?  The way he geeks out for every heroic achievement and chivalrous victory shows his unending spirit.

LESSON #3: REPRESENT THE LITTLE GUY-- One of the best qualities about Peter’s adolescent verve is that it is tied to his borough of Queens.  Other than a big sequence in Washington, D.C., Spider-Man is a small-time and fallible superhero-in-training who is still learning what he can do and who he can be.  Until Peter Parker fully matures to put the “Man” in his codename, the best benefactors of his help are the locals and fellow blue-collar people closest to him.

  LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#581)

LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#581)