It only took five movies, two new leads and the dissolution of Emma Stone’s and Andrew Garfield’s relationship, but Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man at last has a worthy saga successor.
That torchbearer is Spider-Man: Homecoming, a film whose creators employ the novel concept of high schoolers played by people who convincingly pass as their characters’ ages and — shock of shocks — spare viewers the Webslinger’s origin story a third time.
Solid foundation in place, director Jon Watts (Cop Car) and five additional screenwriters, including the team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2), bask in the glory of Marvel Cinematic Universe freedom and give Peter Parker (Tom Holland) the chance to be fun for once.
A creative refresher of how the teen was recruited to work with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his colleagues through a perspective unseen in Captain America: Civil War brings hearty early laughs and Spider-Man: Homecoming further distances itself from peers in its introduction of the film's eventual villain, who appropriately doesn’t fit the usual unhinged character type that cause superheroes headaches.
Indeed, from the moment Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is cheated out of a contract to clean up the NYC mess left at the end of The Avengers, he’s a sympathetic character and pretty much stays that way after he keeps some of the alien technology and, flash forward to present day, has used it to become a wealthy dealer of unique weapons.
Following this tangent and reminded of Peter’s heroic exploits, viewers — much like our marooned protagonist — are thrust back to his day-to-day as an awkward high schooler, surviving through each period with his nerdy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and pining for intelligent dream girl Liz (Laura Harrier), all of which gets them imaginatively insulted by “loner by choice” Michelle (Zendaya).
The sting is lessened by having other talented young performers — namely Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys), Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Michael Barbieri (Little Men) — play Peter’s academic decathlon teammates and teachers (the consistently charming Martin Starr and Hannibal Buress) who make their students watch wonderfully corny PSAs starring a pre-tarnished Cap (Chris Evans).
Montages of Peter’s extracurricular activities performing Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man good deeds — not all of which are warmly received — smoothly incorporate his skills while his annoyance of Tony’s driver/assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) with queries of his next Avengers mission not only gives Favreau his best material since The Wolf of Wall Street, but provides the film a buffer that keeps Tony from wrangling the story away from Peter.
His mentor’s perplexing (to Peter) ostracism also has the benefit of churning Spider-Man: Homecoming’s plot forward as Peter keeps trying to prove to Tony that he’s ready for full-time superhero status. Attempting to save the day brings him in contact with Adrian, who flies around in a deadly avian suit that in no way calls to mind Keaton’s brilliant turn in Birdman — nope, not in the least.
In their multiple thrilling showdowns and Peter’s standalone endeavors that showcase his inexperience beyond the Avengers showdown and its consequences on innocent bystanders, the action remains easy to follow within its reasonably grandiose presentations.
With all of the above going in the film’s favor, its one-note humor eventually grows a bit tiresome, but is eventually deployed in new settings that reheat it to successful ends. Other characters’ inabilities to notice that Peter isn’t with them while Spider-Man appearances coincidentally happen, nor that he’s absurdly muscular for someone of his stature, is less easy to forgive, as is the squandered potential of Marisa Tomei as Peter’s Aunt May.
Thankfully there are these things called sequels to potentially atone for a prior film’s shortcomings, and based on Spider-Man: Homecoming’s many victories, more adventures with these characters under these filmmakers’ guidance will be most welcome.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment)