After making an impressive (but short) debut in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland returns to theaters as arguably the definitive onscreen Spider-Man. Although Spider-Man: Homecoming is easily the best motion picture iteration of the character since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, the film isn’t quite able to overcome a dragged out sense of staleness and predictability. This is very much a safe Marvel film, hitting all the regular checkmarks expected from the multi-hero franchise with one anticipated twist – it also happens to be a high school movie with a keen desire to pay homage to the John Hughes films of the 80’s (and in case audiences miss the comparison, the film provides a clip from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for reference).
Following the events of Civil War, sophomore Peter Parker (Holland) has grown frustrated with Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) training wheels approach to his masked heroics. In an effort to prove himself as Spider-Man, he embarks on a solo mission to take down the Vulture, a scavenging alien-tech arms dealer (Michael Keaton – further solidifying his penchant for playing flying masked men). As his brazen encounters with the Vulture and his goons grow more dangerous, Parker quickly finds himself at odds with Stark, his school life, and his doting, (hot) Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
Spider-Man: Homecoming has many things in working its favor—great casting, some genuinely funny moments, a welcome lower-key approach—but buckles under its overly calculable structure and sometimes incomprehensible action (particularly a climactic encounter that resembles a strobe-lit break-dance fight in the sky). Gone is the bloody peril from the first two Raimi films which is admittedly a turn that’s to be expected given the focus on a much younger Parker; however, these lower stakes in conjunction with Stark’s remote supervision and deus ex machina appearances hamper the film with a monotonous safety net – a pure antidote for bona fide excitement (a detriment that’s far worse for those that experienced the aggravating, plot-divulging trailers for the film).
Thankfully, the third act rectifies some of these faults, notably due to Michael Keaton’s turn as the Vulture. The film deftly avoids a third interpretation of Spider-Man’s origin (which is explained away sufficiently in conversation) and instead focuses on Keaton’s somewhat sympathetic backstory. Heck, his devilish smile alone is emblematic of an intensity lacking in the action; however, there is a sense of underlying repetition present as a couple of his scenes directly reflect similar twists from Raimi’s inaugural effort.
If there’s one aspect of Homecoming that completely nails what’s been missing in the character’s recent onscreen adaptations, it’s a sense of heart due to Holland’s earnest, vulnerable performance. Holland wholeheartedly presents all the joy and frustrations associated with the friendly neighborhood webslinger perfectly. Although the overlong, uneven screenplay (credited to no less than SIX screenwriters) stumbles about as often as he does perfecting his powers, Holland’s enthusiasm ably masks many of the broken seams.
The film celebrates a literal Spider-Man homecoming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, benefiting the hero with all the accrued perks of the franchise (this would mark the 16th entry). One superhero cameo, which I dare not spoil (although the advertising clearly has), provides a hilarious running gag and garners the film’s biggest laughs (a setup that would have been impossible outside of the established MCU). Nevertheless, in a year already overpopulated with theatrical comic book extravaganzas (with more to come), Spider-Man: Homecoming proves to be passe in comparison with the more venturous, risk-taking efforts of Logan and Wonder Woman (nor is it as thoroughly enjoyable as its MCU counterpart, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). A definite upswing in the right direction following the inauspicious Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man duology, Holland’s incarnation shows much promise – if only the film hadn’t felt like it too suffered from a paralyzing training wheels approach.
Note: there are two post credits scenes (the last one is very much worth the wait).