Movie Review: ‘SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING’ should have “amazing” back in its title

James Cole Clay // Film Critic

 SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, 133 minutes, PG-13
Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom HollandRobert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Marissa Tomei, Jacob Batalon and Bokeem Woodbine

Sure, there have been good Spider-Man films in the past 15 years, but Peter Parker has never been given his due. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both way too old to be playing the frantic high-school science whiz, and directors Sam Raimi and Marc Webb never captured the spirit of what made the web-slinger such an iconic figure. Tom Holland, on the other hand, has the wide-eyed look of Parker and stumbles his way through the role with grace. That’s not to say those aforementioned Spidey films don’t have loads of redeemable qualities; there’s just something in the back of my mind that screams that these five previous entries are dated.

At first glance, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is the best adaptation of the Marvel character to appear on the silver screen. However, that’s not without a few gripes here and there. This is by no means a perfect superhero film. Director Jon Watts (COP CAR) gives a spastic energy to the film, which captures the irreverence of high school, all the while creating an actual journey for Parker that looks and feels organic. I suspect this is coming at the hands of screenwriter John Francis Daly, who has experience working on the classic high school based TV show FREAKS AND GEEKS.

Word on the street is Holland will be the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe once Phase 3 wraps up, following AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR PART II. It’s clear the MCU feels like a homogenized franchise, yet each film does bring its own spark, with some better than others. Watts and his team created a scatter shotted film that took risks and stayed well within the realms of the personality of what a Marvel movie should truly be.

Spider-Man (Tom Holland) doing superhero things. Courtesy of Sony and Marvel Pictures)

Holland embraces the role of Parker and gives him a nebbish sense of pride that hasn’t really been captured in a coming-of-age film. Parker may have amazing abilities that will take him all over the world, but he still has to graduate high school, and the film never forgets that. His sense of self-importance starts to consume his way of thinking and could impact his immediate future as the friendly neighborhood hero.

For me, the plotting of the film isn’t as important as the tonal structure. There is a baddie, and this time it’s the Vulture (played by a vintage Michael Keaton), who is salvaging the wreckage from previous Avengers battle sites and selling the weaponized material to criminals. Keaton and Holland have an excellent dynamic, one that brings genuine tension despite knowing the typical superhero story beats. Showcasing a good villain has got to be tough, but Keaton nails it completely.

Another aspect that makes HOMECOMING refreshing is that there’s no Uncle Ben (he’s never been mentioned by name), there’s no emo dancing, there’s no silly wresting match and the students actually look like they could be in high school. Not to mention, the cast is incredibly diverse, from Parker’s best bud Ned (a fairly annoying Jacob Batalon) to the love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) and the bully Flash (Tony Revolori). It’s about time that students aren’t played by 6′ 2” buff 30-year-olds.

You probably have noticed Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who’s Parker’s mentor and access to the Avengers, has yet to be mentioned. But it’s because Watts and Marvel allow this to be Parker’s film, and my fear was that Downey Jr. would be an over-bearing presence. Luckily, Stark gets hands down the film’s best line — one that will be quoted along with the iconic “With great power comes great responsibility.”

HOMECOMING does its job. Not only is it a super fun ride as a superhero romp, the bubbly pace will warrant multiple viewings. This is finally a fresh take on the classic hero. Welcome home, buddy.

Grade: B+

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING 0pens nationwide on July 7.

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