SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING richly rewards us by getting the hero back to his roots.
Review by Matt Cummings
If the larger-than-life premise behind most Marvel movies has lifted it to become the top box office draw over the past eight years, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING succeeds by going against that grain. There are no portals, no end-of-the-world scenarios on the line; it’s just a story about a teen, his newly-discovered toys, and the struggles he undergoes to balance all of that against just being 14. And it succeeds wildly, once again proving that Sony’s new relationship with Marvel can pay dividends, while reminding us that they’re perhaps not the studio who deserves to tell this hero’s story.
Fresh off of his experiences with The Avengers, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is ready to take his alter-ego Spider-man to the next level. But with the events of CIVIL WAR leaving him without a team to join, Parker is sidelined by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who sees the restless teen as needing more seasoning. This includes stopping bank heists in his native Queens, assisting old ladies with directions, and navigating his increasingly difficult experiences at Midtown School of Science & Technology. There, he’s enamored with the senior Liz (Laura Harrier) and desires to take her to prom. But Peter’s life is about to get even more complicated, as the villain Vulture (Michael Keaton) sets his sights on Spider-man by using stolen Chitauri tech from The Avengers’ battle in New York. Desiring to impress Stark but wanting to get his own seat at the Avengers’ table, Parker must lean on his nerdy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) while keeping Stark from learning of his late-night adventures in his hacked Spidey suit.
HOMECOMING succeeds for a variety of reasons. First, it isn’t an origin story: there’s no spider bite, no realization of powers and responsibilities due to an untimely demise. This is about a boy trying to deal with those powers while navigating the sometimes terrible life of high school. This is as much a story about Peter learning to become Spider-man as it is becoming an adult. We can see in him a bit of ourselves at that age, ready for anything, feeling invulnerable, and unwilling to listen to adults. But none of that is done After-School Special drama style, because our director has assembled some top-tier talent to tell this tale.
Holland impresses even more than he did in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, granting Parker with just the right mix of hero and geek, whose honesty and genuineness forces us to love him. He’s the best Spider-man yet, because he succeeds so completely as Peter Parker. The one issue audiences might have had – that of Robert Downey Jr – are in no way overwhelming. This isn’t IRON MAN 4 with Special Guest Star Spider-man, but something more of a mentorship between the two, at once a bright-eyed experience for Parker and then a heavy burden that Stark removes from Parker late in Act 3. Director Jon Watts captains this ship by making it less of a comic book story and more human interest tale. HOMECOMING succeeds because it’s not necessarily a Marvel movie, but a shrewdly-crafted John Hughes flick with action elements. And while Watt handles those well enough, they aren’t the best parts of HOMECOMING. Supporting characters like Batalon are given enough time to tell their stories (he and Peter’s shared love of Star Wars LEGO is great), and performances from Zendaya and Harrier are well worth our time. Watts and his veritable army of writers (7 in fact) step up to give Keaton’s character enough NY edge to make him one of the best Marvel Cinematic villains we’ve seen. And be ready for a couple of fun cameos, which have become a staple of the MCU.
THE BOTTOM LINE
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is the best Spider-man movie yet. Filled with enough youthful vigor to outlast any and frankly not as campy or, it brings the character back to its roots: a local crime fighter who’s pulled between being hero and just trying to fit in as a teen. In that way alone it succeeds: add Stark and a couple of surprises along the way and you have a richly rewarding Summer experience. It sets Sony up for good times ahead while further making the case that the best owner of Ol’ Webhead probably isn’t them. Marvel has rediscovered Spider-man’s heart, and after several overstuffed misfires, it’s about damn time.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments, and has a runtime of 133 minutes.