Home-movie footage flickers across the screen, showing an overenthusiastic teenager as he travels from Queens, New York to Berlin, Germany for a secret mission. Moments before going into battle, he finds a metal case containing a “minor upgrade” from his onesie-like suit. He opens it and finds himself stunned speechless by the contents, unaware that they will forever change his life.
After five films and two radically different film franchises, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” offers a refreshing take on the iconic Marvel superhero. It scales down his adventures, eschewing the extraterrestrial invasions and plans for world domination in favor of something much more intimate. It turns back his biological clock to his adolescent years, a time when the only thing that mattered was finding a date for the school dance. Most importantly, it imbues him with a wide-eyed innocence that makes him relatable and, at the same time, human.
Based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, the film kicks off shortly after the events of “Captain America: Civil War”. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has resumed life as a high school sophomore, his involvement in the Avengers’ internal dispute a dim memory. He goes through the motions of a typical day – hanging out with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), lusting after senior Liz (Laura Harrier), avoiding rival Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) – but is eager to prove that he’s more than just a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”.
Peter eventually gets his wish when, while patrolling the streets one night, he encounters a gang of ATM robbers wielding alien technology. Further investigation leads him to a weapons trafficking ring led by former salvage company owner Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who’s been repurposing artifacts from past Avengers battles to further a sinister agenda.
Against the explicit instructions of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter sets out to dismantle Toomes’ criminal network on his own, all the while struggling to balance the responsibilities that come with his dual identity. But as the stakes grow increasingly higher, a sudden turn of events promises the destruction of everything and everyone he holds dear.
Much like its predecessors, which respectively starred Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in the lead role, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” satisfies the usual high-stakes heroics quota without going completely overboard. But rather than add to the already-sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, writer-director Jon Watts concentrates on the small-scale problems underlying the ostentatious narratives of past Marvel movies. He chooses to make the audience emotionally invest in Peter by showcasing the world he lives in, the world in question being Midtown High School.
Depicted as a prestigious STEM school, Midtown High exemplifies the day-to-day struggles most high school students endure. Whether it involves dealing with bullies or working up the courage to talk to a crush, said struggles make the high school setting, which has been a key element of coming-of-age films for decades, feel genuine.
At the same time, Midtown High helps embody Queens’ status as the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. It’s no secret that Caucasian actors have portrayed most of the characters already introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Mr. Watts breaks this stigma by casting an ensemble that evokes the image of a modern-day high school and creates a world where Peter Parker feels at home.
On the subject of Peter Parker, I found Mr. Holland to be just as charming as he was when he made his debut in “Civil War”. He continues to infuse the titular wall-crawler with a concentrated dose of humor – something Mr. Maguire and Mr. Garfield both lacked – that makes him all the more likable. At the same time, his boyish fervor saves him from being reduced to the brooding hero stereotype. Rather than languish in despair every time he falls, Mr. Holland’s Peter keeps picking himself up even when others consider him down for the count. And that determination makes him, without a doubt, the best version of Spider-Man to have graced the silver screen.
Mr. Keaton’s portrayal of Adrian Toomes is sinister yet, at the same time, simplistic. Past Marvel villains have been driven by a lust for power, but Toomes’ motivation – specifically, the need to financially support his family – is so grounded in reality that you can’t help but sympathize with him. That sympathy, however, tends to serve as a weakness. He can be intimidating when the script needs him to be and his mechanical exo-suit is frightening, but he’s not as menacing as Mahershala Ali was in “Luke Cage”. That aside, I consider Toomes to be a welcome reprieve from all the other one-dimensional antagonists.
While others might wax lyrical about each individual actor, be they leading or supporting, words cannot describe how amazing they are as an ensemble. However, I would like to pay particular attention to two actors: Mr. Batalon, who plays Ned, and Zendaya, who plays tomboyish genius Michelle.
Mr. Batalon’s Ned, who is a friend first and a sidekick second, is so engaging that he feels like the true hero on more than one occasion while Zendaya, best known for her work on the Disney Channel, leaves you laughing from start to finish with her acerbic wit. Their performances are very much the film’s high point and it is my sincere hope that they continue to surprise me when they return for the sequel.
On a relatively minor note, the plot feels rushed in certain areas, specifically towards the film’s climax, and not everyone – particularly Marisa Tomei, who returns in a minor capacity as Peter’s Aunt May – gets the amount of screentime they deserve. But I don’t blame Mr. Watts for this isolated hiccup. After all, he’s had to deal with five other writers and I imagine more than a few essentials were misplaced during the writing process.
Despite the fact that this is the third reboot in over a decade, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” brings a much-needed touch of freshness to the superhero genre and leaves us wanting more.
For the original review, go to http://www.globalglam.com/spiderman-homecoming-review/