Review: Holland flies high in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’
British actor brings a sense of renewal to latest reboot of the webslinger series
Print advertisements for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” show our friendly neighborhood webslinger laying down, headphones on, one knee bent upward, staring up at the sky as New York City rests across the river in the background.
He could be taking a nap, or enjoying a casual afternoon in the park. Either way, the message is clear: This is not a chaotic, bombastic Spidey. This is a teenager, and the world can wait until his playlist is finished.
That same attitude permeates “Homecoming,” the third start-up of the “Spider-Man” franchise and the sixth “Spider-Man” movie since 2002. It was Spidey who kicked off our modern superhero obsession back when Tobey Maguire suited up and Sam Raimi brought the comic book adventure to life 15 years ago. Now we’re back to where we started, yet again, and “Homecoming” acknowledges this by kicking back and slowing its roll.
No, we don’t need another “Spider-Man” origin story, and “Homecoming” acknowledges this, instead offering a laid back, earthbound story of a teenager struggling to figure out his place not only in his peer group but within the superhero fraternity of the Avengers.
Tom Holland debuted as Spider-Man in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” so we’re spared the radioactive spider bite and everything else we already went through with both the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies. “Homecoming” trusts that the audience knows Spider-Man and just gets on with it, so it throws us into the story and catches up with Parker as he balances crime fighting and his class load (and spares us any speeches about power or responsibility).
Parker’s got an impressively multiculturual group of friends at school — Jacob Batalon is a stand-out as his best pal Ned — and he’s working up the nerve to ask out his crush, Liz (Laura Harrier). Former Disney star Zendaya also is on board as a classmate with a slight obsession with Parker; she’ll figure prominently into future installments of the series.
The “Homecoming” of the title, besides being a play on another return of Spider-Man, literally pertains to an upcoming homecoming dance at school, which the script (credited to a team of six writers) rightfully plays as a big event in Parker’s life. It’s not the only thing on his plate, of course: He’s also trying to stop Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), an arms dealer trafficking in alien weapons left behind from the Avengers’ last big battle. (It’s worth noting that when Keaton suits up in his mechanical wings and becomes Vulture, there’s a serious callback to his Oscar-nominated role as an actor playing a flying superhero in “Birdman.”)
There’s a groundedness to Keaton’s character that fits “Homecoming’s” M.O.; he’s not trying to take over the world, like so many superhero movie villains, just as Parker’s Spidey isn’t trying to save the universe. These are local problems dealt with at a local level, and “Homecoming” — which is directed with an appropriate sense of scale by Jon Watts — knows how to keep itself contained.
Which is not to say there aren’t big action set pieces, and “Homecoming” stages a pair of thrilling sequences, one at the Washington Monument and another on board the Staten Island Ferry. There’s nothing here that compares with the highs of Raimi’s second “Spider-Man,” still the standard-bearer for “Spider-Man” flicks, but “Homecoming” delivers on the action front.
It stumbles a bit when bringing in pieces of the larger Marvel Comics Universe; Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark/Iron Man, and the flip attitude that once defined Downey’s characterization of the billionaire playboy has given way to something resembling parody. It’s good to have Jon Favreau back as Happy Hogan, Stark’s assistant, and Chris Evans shows up for a few moments as an instructional video-hosting Captain America.
It’s Holland, however, who is the heart of “Homecoming.” The British actor, who just turned 21 last month, has an innocence in his eyes and a wholesomeness in his performance that makes Peter Parker feel like a real teenager. He makes Spider-Man seem fresh again, which isn’t easy for a series that audiences have already lived through multiple times in very recent history. He’s a winner, and the reason this is a welcome return home for Spidey.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Running time: 133 minutes