In recent years, Spider-man reboots have become as frequent as shock election results. Understandable then, that one should approach this latest iteration with a certain weary cynicism. However, I am pleased to report that for the most part, Spider-man: Homecoming is a light, enjoyable and above all different take on the iconic superhero.
Due to tedious legal wranglings, Spider-man had until very recently been off limits to Marvel Studios. Said legal issues now resolved, Marvel neatly introduced the character in Captain America: Civil War. A retread of the Uncle Ben origin story became entirely unnecessary. Instead, Homecoming focuses on Peter Parker’s post Civil War provisional Avengers membership, under the mentoring of none other than Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr).
Peter (Tom Holland) has the usual nerd-in-high-school problems, but they are tackled here with a refreshingly indie sensibility courtesy of Cop Car director Jon Watts. For example, early in the film, Peter’s equally “uncool” best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovers his secret identity and becomes a comedy sidekick/conscience of sorts. As Spider-man, Peter is still very much finding his way, and his attempts at being a hero are hilariously inconsistent, to put it mildly. Frustrated at not being given more to do by Tony Stark, determined he is ready for big-league villain confrontations; Peter unwisely seeks to bring down hi-tech arms dealer Adrian Toomes aka Vulture (Michael Keaton playing a different kind of Birdman). Moral lessons about not running before you can walk ensue…
Holland is winningly awkward in the lead, and the supporting cast, which includes the return of Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan and Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May, all do well. Keaton isn’t a particularly menacing bad guy, but his blue collar salvage worker trampled by government bigwigs backstory provides good motivation. The action scenes are well done (particularly a set piece at the Washington Monument) and there are a couple of good plot twists, as well as an amusing running gag involving Captain America. Michael Giacchino contributes a fine music score, and although perhaps the regulation post credits scenes are getting a little wearing, this time it really is worth staying to the very end.
The first two Sam Raimi Spider-man films remain the high watermark for the webslinger on the big screen, but Spider-man: Homecoming is superior to the last two entries (which despite the winning chemistry of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, felt like they were trying too hard to build a franchise). By contrast, Homecoming feels leaner and more satisfying, even though it is already connected to a much bigger universe.