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‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ (review)

Produced by Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal
Screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein, Jon Watts,
John Francis Daley, 
Christopher Ford,
Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Story by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Based on Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Directed by Jon Watts
Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton,
Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover,
Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon,
Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori
and Robert Downey Jr.

 

Ever since he swung on the scene in Captain America: Civil War, the anticipation for this addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise has grown to the point that the movie would need to be near perfection.

While it has its bumps and questionable script choices, this is a highly entertaining outing that brings back the humor and explores the growing pains as socially awkward Peter Parker tries to balance high school with a decidedly advanced extracurricular.

With laughs, decent fights, and good old-fashioned teen drama, there is nothing but fun in Homecoming. It is a refreshing change from the heavier Spider-Man outings that have led up to this.

The movie picks up close to his debut with the Avengers. As Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns home with a souped-up suit (courtesy of his new super-guardian, Tony Stark, aka Robert Downey Jr.) he is encouraged to stay “low to the ground” and get trained up.

But as a new threat to the city looms with Vulture (Michael Keaton) and his crew selling high tech weapons across the city, Parker must decide whether it’s the man or the suit that gives him strength.

This is as much a coming-of-age movie as it is a superhero one. There is an excellent reason that this Spider-Man loves swinging through the streets of New York: he doesn’t have a license. Our 15 year old neighborhood webslinger exemplifies so much of what it is to be a teen.

Parker’s face lights up with unbridled eagerness and joy in the opening sequence as he recaps his introduction to the events of Civil War in a decidedly teenage fashion (endless cell phone selfie reconnaissance). His shy and bumbling kid-next-door crush on the debate team captain Liz (Laura Harrier) is as earnest and winsome as anyone John Hughes could whip up. Even his temper, ego, and general bravado when wearing the costume are easily more tied to age than personal failings of character.

While other Spideys are saddled with the intense responsibilities and weight of the world from the jump, the ability to watch this Spider-Man repeatedly try, fail, and grow is a nice insight in the lifestyle that has not existed before.

It is early to make this claim, but Tom Holland is poised to be the best Spider-Man in the MCU. He strikes the balance that eluded the two who came before him. Tobey Maguire was an excellent Peter but was less believable in the suit. Andrew Garfield was snappy and at home as Spider-Man, but came off as a cockier version of Parker. Holland has a special balance as an older actor (21) who looks like a teen, but also has the tremendous strength, speed, and agility to move as Spider-Man in and out of the suit. He has such grace in motion that afterwards I simply could not see anyone else doing a better job right now being believable as both a dismissible teen and a lithe crime fighter.

Michael Keaton took an odd way of getting here, first dipping into comic movies as Batman and then winning acclaim as Birdman. He brings a ground-level blue collar aspect to living in the post-Civil War period, and a grittiness that seems disparate to Parker’s Freaks and Geeks storyline till very close to the end.

Though the film was almost nonstop smiles and laughter in the audience, roughly 2/3 of the way through the film I checked my watch and surprised myself with how many minutes were still in the movie. Even though the end result was a masterpiece, removing 15-20 minutes of footage would have wrapped this up nicely. That point passes quickly, however, as Peter readjusting to civilian life is a movie in and of itself. This film basically ties 3 separate tales together (teen angst, Spider-Man training, Civil War aftermath for regular citizens) and wraps it in a web fluid bow.

This Spidey follows a current trend in both TV (DC’s Young Justice) and print (Marvel’s own Miss Marvel/Kamala Khan) that folds in the difficult reality of combining teenage-level executive functioning with world-saving superpowers and 5th period chemistry homework. It also acknowledges that there are older, wiser, and more skeptical superheroes acting as yet another set of adults to both mentor and criticize the new generation of heroes.

Tony Stark is part of the 15-20 minutes that could be cut, though he isn’t all of it. Robert Downey Jr. plays him perfectly, but at times it feels more like an Avengers side trip rather than a standalone film thanks to the branding and continuous mentions and cameos. Hopefully the next will pull back on the supervision and meddling. This also comes through in the Spider-Man suit, which has so many special features that it is almost like a stripped down version of Iron Man’s own suit.

One of the best aspects of Spider-Man is how little is tied to the costume versus the man. It was one of the major recurring elements that jolted the watcher out of enjoying a straightforward Spider-Man movie rather than a trailer for the next Avengers piece. That, and Marissa Tomei’s strangely young Aunt May.

There is nothing wrong with saving the universe. Someone has to do it. But to have Spider-Man return to being a guardian of the boroughs is a real treat and serves the scale required for a teenage superhero versus a more seasoned one. Audiences will enjoy this in the theater, but also the endless possibilities that a movie so bright-eyed, fresh, and dynamic brings us.

Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is back around the corner.

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