Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth movie to feature the wall-crawler in 15 years, the third to introduce a new actor in the role of Peter Parker, the second to reboot the character since 2012, and the first to follow the web-slinger as he navigates his new environs, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whew! These numbers shouldn’t bode well for another Spider-Man sequel. And yet, as a truism of finance states, past performance doesn’t always predict future gains or losses. Homecoming swings past these dire omens with no shortage of glee. Say what you will about Marvel Studios, but Kevin Feige, its president, understands the comic characters, the properties, within his purview. “Homecoming” here works on multiple levels, a school dance, Peter’s return to Queens (following the events of Captain America: Civil War). But it’s Spidey’s cinematic fate, now safe in Marvel’s loving arms, that best fits the reference.

In a supreme act of mercy, no radioactive arachnids were harmed (or filmed) in the production of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Director Jon Watts, and a posse of screenwriters, elide the details of an origin story equal in obscurity to those of DC’s two marquee dudes. Homecoming instead recaps Spider-Man’s guest appearance in the previous Captain America movie by way of some delightful, first-person cellphone videos shot by our hero. With maximum efficiency and little fuss, the film gets to the business at hand: a breezy adventure that could’ve been ripped from a single floppy comic displayed in a convenience store’s spinner rack.

Homecoming mines joy from its low-stakes sensibility, a perspective that’s obvious to the audience and lost on our adolescent protagonist. Yes, lives hang in the balance during multiple action sequences. But no city or planet remains in peril. Peter Parker is a novice with burgeoning powers, unrefined skills and a hi-tech suit (designed by Iron Man). Played by the excellent Tom Holland, he’s also a bright high-school sophomore, managing mundane academic and social commitments while holding down a unique side gig. From Peter’s point of view, this struggle, between his vigilante aspirations and the daily pitfalls of a teenager, might as well be global in scale. Any outcome shy of success would seem cataclysmic.

The movie opens in the wake of the first Avengers installment.Manhattan is in a shambles following that film’s alien invasion. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, soon to be winged, for a fourth time), a local businessman, runs the recovery effort until a government agency (created with the help of that stooge, Tony Stark) kicks him to the curb. With truckloads of extraterrestrial tech at his disposal and heaps of earthbound grievance as his motivation, Toomes starts a black-market operation, peddling refashioned alien armaments to two-bit criminals. He commissions a groaning, Transformers-style flying apparatus for himself, and dons it for (what else?) nefarious ends.

In the comics, Toomes was Spider-Man’s first recurring adversary, the Vulture. So it only makes sense that this minor villain looms as the antagonist in a back-to-basics story. But Homecoming isn’t so concerned with overblown brawls (though they pop up, sadly, here and there, and then dominate the final act). Those moments interrupt the wry high school foibles of a picture more akin to an episode of “Freaks and Geeks” than a blockbuster whose box office totals will match the GDP of a small island nation. Homecoming smartly recalls its hero’s tagline, that Spider-Man’s disposition (“friendly”) and bailiwick (the “neighborhood”) set him apart from the bulk his catastrophe-thwarting peers.

Holland, with his pipsqueak boyishness, salvages the role of Peter Parker that Tobey Maguire approximated and Andrew Garfield whiffed. The rest of the young cast is a panoply of diversity, from Peter’s partner-in-crime Ned (Jacob Batalon) to his schoolroom rival Flash (Tony Revolori), from his current crush Liz (Laura Harrier) to his (maybe) future sweetheart Michelle (Zendaya). And then there’s Marissa Tomei, not yet aged enough to portray the elderly Aunt May, but fine nonetheless. Robert Downey Jr., who zips in and out of the picture as Tony Stark, is Peter’s mentor and benefactor. Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man and its first sequel, plays Happy, Stark’s chauffeur and deputy. All of these human connections are tangled in the particulars of youth, a web of house parties, extracurricular gatherings, evening dinners, side-quests and field trips.

Peter’s juggling act of real-world commitments, newfound responsibilities and soaring ambitions is a deft feat, which Homecoming delivers, sharp and nimble, to the screen. Here is a comedy, dressed as a big-budget reboot, that remains light on its toes despite the usual trappings of a superhero undertaking. The Vulture may be the Big Bad this go around, but it’s a troubled cinematic legacy that Spider-Man overcomes in the end.

  • The Devil All the Time

    It's as if the director told the author of his source material, "Hey I can't write to save…
  • Spider-Man: Far from Home

    Lies and manipulations often feel realer than reality. On the other hand, fun this joyous …
  • Avengers: Infinity War

    Infinity War is a great time, the kind of movie-going experience that even non-fans should…
  • Language Lessons

    Like a classic dialogue, Language Lessons bridges emotional chasms with ease. …
  • Candyman

    A loving reimagining of a cult classic; as a standard horror movie, it’s more disturbing t…
  • Respect

    This perfectly adequate biopic of Aretha Franklin at once suffers from unnecessary bloat a…
  • Copshop

    A hard boiled pressure-cooker whose smaller scale only intensifies the tension and eventua…
  • Oeuvre: Melville: The Silence of the Sea

    What emerges is the story of two people holding off against the forces of occupation in th…
  • Fire Music

    It’s a no-brainer for anybody who listens to experimental music. But the film’s success is…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Language Lessons

Like a classic dialogue, Language Lessons bridges emotional chasms with ease. …