Director: Jon Watts
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 133 minutes
Aside from the more obvious references to a high-school dance and a beloved character’s addition to the MCU, the Homecoming of Spider-Man: Homecoming also denotes a refreshing return to simpler superhero cinema. Though now part of a plot-driven epic universe overflowing with self-importance, Spidey’s first solo adventure within it is lighthearted fun, with stakes that don’t involve saving the planet from the clutches of a boring villain.
Homecoming exists inside, yet adjacent to the overarching, overstuffed world that’s been built, working on a smaller scale. The self-contained realm fits the neophyte hero as snugly as his spandex. We’re dropped right into the middle of things – following a fun home video recap of events from Captain America: Civil War, with teenage tribulations comingling nicely with superhuman responsibilities.
This being the third big-screen beginning for the character in 15 years, we’re also thankfully spared an origin story that details spider bites and the tragedy of Uncle Ben. Spider-Man is already burdened with his powers and is learning how to use them while navigating the dramas within the school hallways.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) hopes to use those special skills to impress advisor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who urges the youngster to be a more street-level hero. While keeping his Queens crimefighting a secret from Aunt May (Marissa Tomei), Peter balances heroics – like the return of a stolen bicycle and providing a senior citizen with directions – with a crush on Liz (Laura Harrier) and bro-geek time with pal Ned (Jacob Batalon). A larger threat presents itself in Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who uses alien technology recovered from the events of The Avengers to pull off heists and develop weaponry to sell on the black market.
The practical, by comparison, plot is made more enjoyable with great performances by the adversaries. Holland is the most age-appropriate-appearing Peter of the three cinematic incarnations, and gives us a believable, loveable geek to care about. Keaton captures the humanity of Toomes, a blue-collar guy with no supernatural abilities lost in the shuffle of a changing world, and also adds an air of menace when donning his Vulture wings to perform jobs.
The world-weary Toomes is also formidable due to life experience, something Peter lacks. Spider-Man has problems adjusting to his super-high-tech suit, which disappointingly skews too closely to Iron Man’s armor with some of the things it can do, while Toomes complements his metallic Vulture wings with a bomber jacket and a pilot’s mask. Peter really does need to discover that the suit doesn’t make the man, a piece of advice given by Stark.
Robert Downey Jr. dials back a bit of the snark to take on the role of mentor and, while still funny, his scenes work better because of the lack of snootiness. The rest of the diverse cast is there to punch up the cheerfulness, Tomei as Aunt May and Zendaya as a sarcastic classmate standing out with limited screen time. There are some irritants within the preciousness. Batalon’s Ned is always “on” and Jon Favreau’s ironically stoic Happy Hogan is probably given a scene or two too many.
The script credited to six writers is surprisingly coherent, though it feels like all of them got in a high volume of cutesy jokes. For the first time, a superhero film feels a little overlong due to repetitive gags instead of over-plotting. A couple of the running bits, like an unenthusiastic duo anchoring a high-school news program or Captain America (Chris Evans) showing up in generic PSAs, work, but the twee tone grows overwhelming and slightly annoying at times with director Jon Watts indulging in the quaintness.
One area where Watts dials back is the action sequences, which doesn’t mean they’re not exciting. The set pieces and the destruction of them are well-structured. A sequence involving the Washington Monument is thrilling and also ties together Peter’s two worlds. He, and we, may have some issues with vertigo as he saves the day. The climactic showdown is a little muddy as it takes place in darkness, but there’s never a question as to what’s going on and, more importantly, the stakes are clear and incorporate the motivations of hero and villain well.
With its likable cast and exuberant tone, even if sometimes excessively jaunty, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an enjoyable superhero romp. This is a universe worth revisiting and exploring, and hopefully the MCU doesn’t ruin the fun.