One of the things that can tank a super-hero movie fast, is having a sullen and morose hero. I don’t know anyone who wants to imagine themselves in those footsteps. It’s one of the reasons the DC Universe had trouble finding its footing until Wonder Woman. There was no joy there. But in Marvel and Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, joy is baked right in.
Even factoring out the enormously charming screen presence of Spidey actor Tom Holland, the movie scores by surrounding him with a delightful cast of characters and the best Marvel movie villain since Loki. Jacob Batalon as the best friend of Peter Parker, Spider-Man’s secret identity is particularly hilarious, wringing laughs out of nearly every line he utters. And there’s Marisa Tomei’s sardonic Aunt May, sexy throughout despite the high-waisted pants the costumers forced her into in every scene. Winning turns from Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, and Tyne frickin’ Daly are peppered throughout.
However, this movie belongs to Tom Holland, the latest in a long line of stellar casting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe dating back to Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark (who makes his eighth MCU appearance in this flick). Holland is the perfect Peter Parker/Spider-Man: nerdy, finding his footing, sweet, sincere, hopeful, awestruck, smart and awkward. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man was entirely too mopey even before his Venom jazz dance, and Andrew Garfield got saddled with the prick Parker. But Holland gets everything right, and can make an innocuous scene in a deli amusing with just a hint of his endearing smirk. Whereas other films spent too many minutes showing the weight of Parker’s tragedy, Holland gets to highlight what should be true about every character developing superpowers: enthusiasm and excitement.
Juxtaposed with the worldly Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) as the villainous Vulture, whose motivations and actions actually make sense in a world continually threatened by gods and aliens. Keaton’s an amazing talent and makes Toomes sympathetic even as he’s doing terribly unsympathetic things. Keaton and Holland really only get to face off from behind their masks in one incredibly uncomfortable scene, but it underscores what a great choice of character and actor Vulture was (even as his comic book counterpart is something of a dud).
The plot of the movie is fairly inconsequential. Young Spider-Man, fresh off his alliance with Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War is eager to prove himself and become and Avenger, but Stark wants him to lower his aspirations, stick closer to the ground (be a more “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man”). He finds a challenging adversary in Toomes, someone who has been building weapons scavenged from the rubble left behind from previous MCU movie disasters. It’s a great tie to the bigger universe without leaning too heavily on it.
Though the climactic plane scene was a little clumsy in the CGI department (hard to follow, dark, muddy), it was still a nice cap to a movie that eschewed the general Spider-Man tropes (I missed him zipping through the New York city skyline, but appreciated the need to get him out of that part of the city in order to let the film capture its own identity).
This is the first year the MCU will dump three movies out (following Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and November’s Thor: Ragnarok), and it doesn’t appear to be losing any steam, thankfully. Spider-Man: Homecoming exceeded my lofty expectations (Spidey’s brief appearance in last year’s Civil War was still better than the last three Spider-Man movies), and left me feeling as exuberant and joyful as Peter Parker discovering the myriad uses of his spider suit (yet another winning scene).
My Grade – A-