I think it was Andy Warhol who said that in the future, everyone would have their 15 reboots of Spider-Man.
I could be paraphrasing, here.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the latest in a long (particularly) recent series of reboots of the wall-crawler and his mythology, both in movies and on television.
From the curiosity that was “The Amazing Spider-Man” starring Nicholas “Friedrich von Trapp” Hammond, to the innumerable animated series — 1967’s “Spider-Man” (which, if nothing else, gave us a forever-memorable catchy theme song about him being able to do whatever a spider can), 1981’s “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” 1994’s “Spider-Man,” 2003’s “Spider-Man: The New Animated Series,” 2008’s “Spectacular Spider-Man,” and 2012’s “Ultimate Spider-Man,” fans have rarely had much opportunity to miss the character being on their small screens, and from the outset of the new millennium, there haven’t been many years when the character wasn’t on the big screen.
With no less than three Sam Raimi-directed, “Spider-Man” films (and a planned fourth which never got off the ground) and then two “Amazing Spider-Man” movies starring too-good-looking-to-be-Peter Parker Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, the poster boy for Marvel Comics has rarely been out of the public’s consciousness, which brings to mind the question “Do we need ANOTHER Spider-Man movie?”
Up until the character’s cameo in “Captain America: Civil War,” in which he stole every single scene he was in, I would have said “No,” but what began as a stand-out character in a movie with too many heroes to keep track of definitely deserved his own solo film which he gets in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
The subtitle, “Homecoming,” actually has nothing to do with the story of the same name from the comics in which he was returning from the Secret Wars wearing the black suit which he would later learn is a symbiote (as I’m sure everyone was thinking), but rather, it refers to a dance at Peter Parker’s high school.
That’s right — this incarnation of the web-slinger is a scrawny 15-year-old who most resembles the character’s physique as originally drawn by co-creator Steve Ditko, and who’s at least as concerned about the perils of adolescence as he is about using his great power with great responsibility.
Taking Peter back to high school is one of several things “Homecoming” does to distract audiences from the fact that this is the sixth Spider-Man movie (and third Spider-Man actor) in the past decade and a half, but the main trick employed to keep us from feeling exhausted by the repetition is to make “Homecoming” exhilarating, hilarious, fast-paced, and believe it or not, grounded in reality.
Even after “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the funniest chapter yet in the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, directed by Jon Watts with an eye for humorous details and recognizable teen angst. Imagine if John Hughes had made a Spider-Man movie, using a script punched up by “SNL” writers — the good ones, that is.
Of course, the title “Homecoming” is also a nod to the character’s much-anticipated integration into the Disney-owned Marvel Cinematic Universe after being held captive by Sony for so many years — you’d be surprised how many seemingly ordinary moviegoers, myself included, that matters to. Now, at last, Spidey can interact with the other Marvel heroes (except for the X-Men, who belong to 20th Century Fox, but that’s a whole other story), adding a much-needed teenager’s perspective to the affairs of Norse gods, irradiated green monsters, and patriotic Nazi-punchers.
Played with adorable eagerness by baby-faced Tom Holland (who was 20 when it was filmed), this Spider-Man memorably made his debut as the MVP in “Captain America: Civil War,” helping Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) sort out some intra-Avengers squabbles.
“Homecoming” is set two months after that, with Peter back in Queens, N.Y., waiting for Mr. Stark to call again. Keeping his secret from his worried Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, which is a little weird, but actually works here), Peter spends his non-school hours doing whatever heroics he can in his neighborhood, which sometimes just means giving people street directions. “The Spider-Man,” as he’s called, is a YouTube celebrity, loosely tied to the Avengers, but he wants to be an official Avenger, pestering Tony Stark’s right-hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) for an invitation.
Meanwhile, Peter wants to impress Liz (Laura Harrier), a pretty senior at his school, and to do well at the academic decathlon, and to continue perfecting his web-fluid formula (which he works on in science class when the teacher isn’t looking).
Soon he has a new goal, too: keeping his nerdy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who has discovered his Spider secret, from revealing it to the world. Ned proves crucial to the film, grounding it, acting the way we imagine we might if we (as a teenager) found out our friend was a superhero. Between that and the Queens locations, this might be the Marvel film that seems most like real life.
It conveys what has always been the selling point for Spider-Man: he’s just a regular kid, with the powers of a superhero but the brain of a teenager. He often jumps headlong into a conflict with no actual plan for resolving it, motivated by good intentions but often lacking the maturity and experience of his fellow superheroes. It’s extremely endearing.
Like any teen, Peter pushes against the boundaries established by the adults in his life. In this case, that means pursuing a potentially very dangerous villain, one Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who’s been using stolen alien technology to develop high-tech weapons which he sells on the black market.
Peter-as-Spider-Man gets in over his head more than once and has to be humiliatingly rescued by Iron Man, which only makes him more determined to prove himself.
He’s frustrated by the (funny) “training wheels” limitations built in to the high-tech Spidey suit Tony Stark made for him, and he feels stifled by his relatively small sphere of influence.
Watts, who’s credited with five other writers for the screenplay, manages to keep the story clear and cohesive and manages to pull off a few delightful narrative surprises. He has also conscientiously inserted humor wherever he could, never in a jokey, set-up/punchline kind of way, but naturally — a bored Washington Monument tour guide; a nihilistic classmate named Michelle (Zendaya); a poster warning against identity theft in the background when Spider-Man fights bank robbers impersonating the Avengers; Captain America (Chris Evans) doing educational PSAs for public schools, etc.
Michael Keaton makes for a convincingly menacing villain, his facial expressions doing much of the work, even if Toomes’ motivation is oddly vague. Despite all the discussions over Aunt May being significantly younger than she’s been in previous versions, she’s sadly underused here. Apart from a running joke where every male in Peter’s life has the hots for her — and honestly, who can blame them? — she really doesn’t serve any purpose in the story.
Little else is wasted, though. Watts makes every one of the film’s 133 minutes count (including the worth-sticking-around-for-post-credits scenes), relying on Holland’s relentless enthusiasm to carry the audience through and delivering action sequences worthy of the character. Let’s hope there are many more bright adventures to come before they reboot him all over again.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for action, violence, a couple of mildly suggestive references, and a TON of Easter eggs. No spoilers here.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is showing locally at the Claremore Cinema 8.