‘Spider-Man: Homecoming' review
Peter Parker is back at Marvel and better than ever in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'
Fans of the Spider-Man movie franchise are no stranger to reboots, having watched the character get reset twice in the last 15 years, and now a third time in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. The character’s latest reboot is the most ambitious yet, though, as it’s a return to his roots not just in front of the screen, but also behind it; after years abroad, the franchise has finally returned to Marvel’s loving arms. That means there’s a lot riding on young star Tom Holland’s shoulders, but Holland and company swing through with flying colors.
The product of a blockbuster 2015 agreement between Spider-Man movie rights-holder Sony Pictures and Disney-owned Marvel Studios, Homecoming brings the character into the same big-screen universe as Iron Man and The Avengers. It’s the sort of gamble most studios won’t make with their tentpole properties, but it’s a bet that seems likely to pay off in a big way for Sony and everyone else involved, because make no mistake, this is the best Spider-Man movie so far.
Directed by Jon Watts (Cop Car) and featuring Holland (The Impossible) as the new face of Spider-Man’s teenage alter ego, Peter Parker, Spider-Man: Homecoming is set in the aftermath of last year’s Captain America: Civil War. While Civil War introduced Spidey into the MCU in style, Homecoming explores what happens when Peter Parker is dropped back into his normal life as a high-schooler in Queens, NY, after tangling with some of Earth’s mightiest heroes during Civil War.
As Peter struggles to find his place in the world of superheroes and villains, balancing his costumed life with his high-school routine, he also tangles with the owner of a salvage company making weapons out of recovered alien debris, Adrian Toomes (played by Oscar-nominated Birdman actor Michael Keaton). His encounters with Toomes make him a target for the villain and his gang, and he soon finds himself facing terrifying threats to everything — and everyone — he holds dear.
In one of many smart decisions made by the film’s creative team, Homecoming dispenses with the typical retelling of Spider-Man’s origin story and jumps right into the action, wisely assuming some audience familiarity with one of the world’s most popular superheroes and the subject of more makeovers than a red carpet gala. The key points in Spider-Man’s transition from average teenager to super-powered crime-fighter are referenced without dwelling on them, leaving the bulk of the film’s 133-minutes to focus on telling a new story.
And tell a new story it certainly does — with ample help from its talented cast, some impressively crisp action sequences, and a script that highlights Spidey’s best attributes in ways that few of the prior Spider-Man films managed to do.
Whereas previous franchise stars Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield each pulled the character of Peter Parker in some interesting (and occasionally controversial) directions, Holland makes a strong case for himself as the most authentic version of Spider-Man yet.
The actor’s background in gymnastics and dance (the latter of which had him play the title role in Billy Elliot the Musical in London’s West End) translates well to the character’s movement. His mix of acting chops and athletic abilities create a new baseline for practical action in the film, bringing genuine physicality to every flip, twist, and high-flying maneuver in the adventure’s frequent action sequences.
Holland isn’t the only one who pushes the Spider-Man franchise to new heights, though.
With all respect to the franchise’s most memorable villain actors in films past — chief among them Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn in Spider-Man and Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2 — Keaton’s performance raises his winged antagonist to a higher level than prior Spider-villains. The former Batman and Beetlejuice actor takes a character that could easily slip into traditional bad-guy tropes and gives him a level of depth and emotional resonance that few villains (even in Marvel’s blockbuster cinematic universe) offer in modern superhero movies.
Much like Tom Hiddleston’s trickster god Loki from Thor and The Avengers, Keaton’s villain — informally labeled “The Vulture” — is one you can’t help wanting to see again in future installments, almost as much as the film’s hero himself.
There’s not a weak link to be found in the rest of the film’s cast, either.
Actor Jacob Batalon plays the perfect complement to Holland as Peter Parker’s best friend, Ned Leeds. Batalon brilliantly walks the line between serving as both an audience surrogate — asking the questions we’d all ask a teenager who can climb walls with his bare hands, for instance — and a grounding factor when Peter’s superhero ambitions test the limits of believability both in the movie’s fictional world and our own.
Marisa Tomei, who generated some buzz when she was cast as the youngest version of Peter’s doting Aunt May so far, makes the role her own to such a degree that this younger, hipper Aunt May feels just as natural to Peter’s story as the prior geriatric iterations.
Reprising his role as playboy engineer and armored superhero Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. also manages to mine some previously unexplored depths of this well-tread character by taking on a mentor role to Parker. Downey’s performance retains all of the snarky confidence that has become his character’s trademark while also adding some nuance to the role. The performance gives even more definition to the part Tony plays in shaping this new world of superheroes, aliens, and extra-dimensional elements. It can’t be easy to bring something new to a character he’s played in three solo films and at least four other movies, but Downey does exactly that with his Homecoming performance.
Fortunately, despite its length, Spider-Man: Homecoming never feels like a movie that drags on past the witching hour.
Watts shows a deft hand at managing the pace of the film, pushing the story along from start to finish with a sharp, playful tone that keeps the stakes high without letting it feel too grim. Peter Parker’s life is a constant tug-of-war between the demands of what he wants as a teenager and what he wants to be as a superhero, and Watts does a fine job propelling the narrative forward, even as it jogs to one side or the other with Peter’s constantly fluctuating attention span.
It does a disservice to Spider-Man: Homecoming to describe it as the “youngest-skewing” movie in Marvel’s cinematic universe so far, as it’s not a movie made for children, but it is the movie in the MCU that’s most likely to resonate with a younger audience — along with being the most bloodless of the Marvel movies so far, Homecoming willingly embraces the perspective of its teenage protagonist.
Like its titular hero, Spider-Man: Homecoming inhabits that middle ground between childhood and adulthood where an innocent sense of wonder still exists alongside the impending awareness of responsibility and mortality. It’s a realm few superhero movies have extensively mined up to this point, including the prior Spider-Man films, which felt as if they were in a hurry to bring Peter to adulthood. The result is a fresh take, fleshing out yet another corner of Marvel’s cinematic universe that seems ripe with storytelling potential.
Not only is Spider-Man: Homecoming the best movie in the character’s big-screen history so far, it makes a strong case for consideration as one of the most entertaining and satisfying superhero movies in recent years. For Spider-Man and his fans, the return of everyone’s favorite web-slinger to the Marvel universe is a homecoming to be proud of.
This article was originally posted on Digital Trends