Teen Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider. He marvels at his new wall-scaling powers. He’s horrified by the death of his beloved elderly Uncle Ben. He falls for his classmate, Mary Jane Watson. He’s tangled in a web of self-doubt!!!
You will find zero of these developments in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Yes. A franchise on the last of its eight legs is now officially revitalized. Not only is this reboot zippy and fresh, it delivers more laughs than Baywatch, Rough Night, Snatched and, ahem, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume II combined. Even the post-closing credits tag scene is whip-smart.
And fear not, comic-book experts: It still stays true to the red and blue. Peter Parker — this time played by wide-eyed Tom Holland (The Impossible), who’s 21 and looks 15 — remains on the outs in his Queens, New York, high school. He lives modestly with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, underutilized) and his social life revolves around the academic decathlon. The only reason classmates know his name is because he has a fancy internship with Stark Enterprises.
The internship is a cover. Peter has just returned from Berlin to help battle Captain America and cohorts in an airport hangar, as seen in 2016’s Civil War (and cleverly repurposed in a prologue). As a thank-you, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gives him the tricked out, form-fitting Spider-Man suit. Can he fight with the rest of the Avengers again soon, pretty please? “We’ll call you,” Tony sniffs, before pushing Peter out of his limo.
On his own, Peter tries out his heroics by thwarting a car robbery (oops) and bicycle thief (oops again). He finally gets to test his mettle when he spots a few dodgy-looking guys using a peculiar-looking glow sticks to crack open an ATM. Seems Peter has infiltrated a deadly criminal ring, masterminded by a disgruntled former city employee (Michael Keaton). Dubbed the vulture, he flies around with intent to destroy.
But Peter’s worst enemy is his own ambition. Like a typical insecure teen, Peter longs to belong. If he can just impress his mentor, he reasons, he can join the Avengers full time and gain instant-fame. Catching bad guys is a bonus; the end goal is to be the BMOC. If only Tony would take him seriously! That’s why Peter figures out a way to dispatch the tracking device from his suit and activates its enhanced engineering system. Screw the consequences. He’s ready for the majors pronto. The growing pains are presented in a way that’s relatable and charming —and ideal for mischievous younger viewers not quite ready for the raunchiness of the R-rated Deadpool.
Spider-Man: Homecoming, in fact, might go down as one of the most accurate portrayals of high schoolers in recent years. Though they nonchalantly exist in a world occupied by superheroes Captain America and Iron-Man and The Hulk, Peter’s peers look and talk and behave like honest-to-god teens. His cute, brainy crush (Laura Harrier) pays attention to him. The resident wise-ass (Zendaya) is not quite too cool for school. His best friend (Jacob Batalon) geeks out over technology. One random student gets laughs just by leaving a bathroom stall. What an endearing — and diverse! — bunch.
A whopping six men are credited with the screenplay, usually a kiss of death. It’s a near miracle that they pooled their resources to craft a winsome story crackling with witty and knowing one-liners. (Special bonus for the semi-obscure ’80s New Wave music. Someone is a fan!) The only tradeoff for all this delightfulness is a lack of typical superhero gravitas. The villain machinations are murky at best, and for much of the film, the presence of an ex-Batman/Birdman in the Main Bad Guy role seems more like a casting gimmick. Keaton manages to pull out a compelling character only because he has the acting chops to do so.
There’s already heated social-media talk comparing this home run with Sam Raimi’s stellar Spider-Man 2. Stop. They can both be appreciated. For now, let the new kid soar to new heights.
(Spider-Man: Homecoming opens nationwide Friday July 7)
Also published on Medium.