4 out of 5 stars.
The number of film incarnations of “Spider-Man” to come out in the last 15 years, regardless of what you think of them, is ridiculous. In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Tom Holland becomes the third actor to take on the role of the web-slinging hero in a live-action movie, following on the heels of Andrew Garfield and Toby McGuire. But while it sounds tiring, the movie brings a fresh take to both the character and the story, and suddenly, “Spider-Man” is the teen coming-of-age story within a superhero movie that we never knew we needed.
This movie is also different in that it is the first instance that Sony (who holds the film rights to the character) has teamed up with Disney and Marvel Studios to allow the character to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-man was actually introduced in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” in which Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) enlisted Parker’s help in his battle against Captain America, providing him with a snazzy new suit, as well as the desire to join the Avengers. That burning wish carries over in to this film, where we open with Peter calling Stark’s bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau) daily, telling him what he’s been up to and dropping not-so-subtle hints that he’s ready to come join the team at any time. But Happy never returns his calls, and 15-year-old Peter, already an outcast at school (even though said school is a science academy where everyone is a nerd), is left feeling like he needs to be doing more with his powers than, as Tony says, just being a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
But Peter’s chance comes when he discovers that local criminals have started utilizing advanced weapons with a strange power source. Those weapons were crafted by a team led by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), whose salvage company was booted out of a potentially profitable job cleaning up after the Battle of New York (see “The Avengers) by a company headed by Tony Stark. Toomes convinced his employees to steal the alien tech they found in the rubble and use to it to make and sell powerful weapons. Peter sets about tracking down the increasingly power-hungry Toomes (who would become known as the Vulture) with the help of his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), but the still inexperienced hero may be getting in over his head. It a culminates on the night of—you guessed it—his school’s homecoming dance.
In case you can’t tell, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” isn’t the traditional origin story. We don’t spend most of the movie watching Peter obtain his powers and learn how to use them. He already has them at the start (this movie is basically assuming that everyone already knows how Spidey got his powers and what exactly he can do with them, which really, after two different film franchises, you should by now), and has gained some fame around the city, but this story is clearly set at the beginning of his path to becoming a hero, and figuring out exactly what that means. It’s a good idea, but director Jon Watts doesn’t do a great job executing it. The story’s big, glaring flaw is that we don’t really get a sense of what motivates Peter Parker to be Spider-Man. Sure, he likes the idea of fighting great villains in the company of the Avengers, but he seems to want to do it for the sake of doing it, not because he really wants to help people. But going back even further into his backstory than that, absolutely nothing seems to happen, on or off screen, that would push a normal, nerdy teenager into becoming a hero. Traditionally, in the comics, Peter’s Uncle Ben is shot and killed, which prompts Peter to start going after bad guys. But not only is Uncle Ben not in this movie, he isn’t mentioned at all. There is one line of dialogue that alludes to everything that his Aunt May (played here by Marisa Tomei) has gone through, but we don’t go any deeper, and it is never mentioned again. In a recent interview with Screencrush.com, Watts says that Uncle Ben’s inclusion in the series is not something that was talked about, showing a disturbing lack of knowledge of their protagonist’s backstory on the part of the filmmakers. The franchise doesn’t necessarily need Uncle Ben or a tragic backstory to motivate Peter. He doesn’t even need to be motivated by a pure, innate desire to help people, like Wonder Woman. But there needs to be something more than what we’re given here.
Outside of that, “Homecoming” is pretty solid, carving out a place for Spider-man in the larger MCU without depriving him of the chance of making this movie is own, despite having to play a bit of catch up since we are jumping right into the character already having powers here. Watts—who comes from an indie film background—and the other screenwriters, however, are definitely more adept at the high school comedy/drama scenes than the action sequences, which aren’t especially unique or exciting. “Homecoming” is the most fun when it’s focusing on the banter between Peter and his group of friends, whether that’s Ned, his crush Liz (Laura Harrier) or Michelle (Zendaya), the weird girl in their group who doesn’t seem to serve much purpose outside of being weird (but hey, she’s funny). All of their scenes capture the awkwardness of high school with a humor and sincerity that the previous two Spider-Man franchises weren’t able to, and the film is more about Peter learning what he should do with his powers while balancing being a teenager.
Tom Holland brings a lot of wit and enthusiasm to the title role. His interactions with existing MCU characters, namely his mentor-of-sorts, Tony Stark, especially show how well he fits into this character and this universe. He and Robert Downey Jr. continue the good chemistry they established in “Civil War,” with the latter stepping in at just the right moments, but never overshadowing Holland’s performance with his presence. The rest of the cast is solid as well, although Keaton’s character isn’t really villainous enough to be memorable (but he does get a scene with Holland that’s rather chilling).
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man in the early 1960s because they liked the idea of a teenager not being the sidekick to an adult hero, but getting to actually be the hero for once. The character gave younger comic fans a hero who was closer to their age, who they could relate to. And for the first time, that can be said of a Spider-man movie. He is someone who is relatable for younger fans, but still fun for the older fans to watch, and in that way, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” becomes a bit more than just another superhero—or, more specifically, just another Spider-Man—movie.
Runtime: 133 minutes. Rated PG-13.