Who knew anyone would care to see yet another incarnation of the web slinger? Spider-Man has been rebooted repeatedly, and without much time between versions brought to the screen. Somehow, though, the cinematic supergroup co-producing and distributing Spider-Man Homecoming, Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, and Sony Pictures, have found a way to set our spider senses tingling, once again, with their new release.
The film brings together some of the best elements of a superhero movie and those classic 80s John Hughes teen coming-of-age flicks. Tom Holland, the 21 year old Brit actor who stole scenes as Spidey in Captain America: Civil War, plays 15 year old Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, as he attempts to step fully into his superhero suit while navigating the equally challenging world of high school. He is aided by a mentorship with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., who makes a few pivotal cameos), which Peter uses, a la “Stark internship”, as an excuse to drop many extracurricular activities. He lives in eternal hope he’ll be called to take part in more Avengers doings. No such luck. Peter tries his hand at crime fighting, to greater or lesser success, sometimes with the help of his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) to whom he accidentally reveals his superhero secret. His Aunt May, played as a 40 something hottie by Marisa Tomei, has no idea Peter has developed his superpowers, but supports him in all ways she can, given she’s entirely in the dark about his new life.
Conflict comes in the body of Adrian Toomes as Vulture. Many of us are old enough or superhero savvy enough to know Michael Keaton as Batman. The fact that he plays super villain Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming adds to the entertainment, by reframing the actor as a baddie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He makes the character both sympathetic and increasingly terrifying, a feat few actors could pull off.
Co-starring actors Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, the watchdog sent by Tony Stark, Tomei as his far edgier, and more appropriately aged Aunt May, Batalon’s Ned, who is far more excited by Peter’s predicaments than he is himself, and Zendaya as grumpy wiz kid Michelle, are other standouts that flesh out the story. They make it more than just a knit web of action scenes. Most charming is Holland, who carries the movie with his earnestness and believability. I’m sure TV and film is littered with actors in their twenties playing characters 5-10 years younger than they are, but I’ve rarely seen better casting. Holland really looks and acts 15.
The charm of this new version of Spider-Man is in the fact that they aren’t just retelling the same origin story, they’re creating a unique fish-out-of-water, or rather a spider-out-of-web tale, chronicling the torture of teenage life. This is from the perspective of a kid with a new super-body nearly entirely alien to him he has to grow into and control. It plays fully into the awkwardness we’ve all experienced in a way in which we can all somehow relate, while leveraging our expectations for the superhero archetype. He’s a good boy, but just the kind of hot mess you’d imagine a smart, confused high schooler would be, complete with unrequited crushes, and bad decisions made from the right place. His time trying to impress potential girlfriend Liz (Laura Harrier) is even more entertaining than the action set pieces. There lies one of its only weaknesses. The action is entertaining and competent enough, but there’s nothing groundbreaking there. Also, for all the inventiveness of the basic premise (high school awkwardness meets the challenge of superhero development) it becomes a bit of a one trick pony. The character development and casting saves the film.
I’m not on the team that believes it’s the best Marvel release in recent years, i’ll stick to my love of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Avengers for that. However, with Spider-Man: Homecoming, director Jon Watts, his co-screenwriters, and crew do offer us something new, fun, and very watchable with their sweet teen story superhero mashup.