“Spider-Man: Homecoming” rules. Here are 12 take-aways.
1. No, really, this is the best Spider-Man movie in years, possibly since the first two, “Spider-Man” (2002) and “Spider-Man 2” (and I say that as someone who always thought Tobey Maguire was a little overrated and that Andrew Garfield was a little underrated).
2. Tom Holland, on the other hand, is note-perfect in this film, the closest in look and feel to what is on the comics page since Christopher Reeve tied on Superman’s cape and turned into a dead-ringer for a Curt Swan drawing. He is, by a wide margin, the best live action Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
3. It seems vaguely insane to refer to a Sony movie as scrappy, but one gets that feeling here. "Homecoming” is a co-production between Sony (which had the rights to Spider-Man) and Disney (home of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies). So it is a Sony picture that takes place in a Disney universe -- not for nothing is this thing called “Homecoming.”
So there is something refreshingly off-brand about the whole enterprise. The film is well aware of this, and the way it conflates with Peter Parker’s underdog persona (Spoon’s “The Underdog” is the first pop song you hear.)
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4. As far as the cast goes, Sony/Disney seems to have taken color-blind casting to heart with terrific results -- Peter and his pals go to a New York magnet high school that LOOKS LIKE A NEW YORK MAGNET HIGH SCHOOL (as in, not just white folks). Former Disney star Zendaya is the cynical, aloof Michelle, African-American actress Laura Harrier plays Peter’s love interest Liz, Philipino-American actor Jacob Batalon kills it as Peter’s best friend Ned.
And, in a particularly ingenious move, Flash Thompson, traditionally a blond football-bully, is recast as a rich jerk (Tony Revolori), the sort of jackass who leans on the airhorn when he is DJing. Every single character here is more interesting for the change.
5. Unlike every other Marvel film, which relentlessly marches the story forward, there is a fair amount of filling in the gaps from other movies in “Homecoming.” Before he becomes the Vulture, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is a contractor hired to clean up Stark Tower after the events of “Avengers.” When the Department of Damage Control (headed up by Tyne Daly -- where you been, Mary Lou Lacey?), takes over, Toomes is out of a job. So, naturally, he keeps some alien tech for himself and he and his crew start taking scores with it. Later, we see that Peter Parker filmed himself during the Berlin mission (aka the best fight scene in “Captain America: Civil War”).
6. Which brings us to what really makes “Homecoming” stand out: Its savvy combination of big heartedness and low stakes.
It is a genuinely sweet movie -- Peter is still a wide-eyed 15-year-old thrust into a world (i.e., the Avengers) he wants to be a part of.
But, even with a suit provided by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. and his increasingly weird facial hair), Peter is just not that good at being a hero yet.
In classic Spider-Man fashion, he makes a whole mess of unforced errors, is forced to clean up messes he made and cannot win for losing.
7. But Holland is incredibly charming, and embodies Spidey’s traditional fondness for wisecracks while not seeming smug. The jokes fly fast, but everything hangs together tonally.
8. Speaking of reduced stakes, there has always been something rather low rent about Spidey villains. The Shockers, the Vulture, the Tinkerer, the Beetle, Rocket Racer -- these guys always seemed like two-bit hoods who happened to get a hold of a super-suit that did one or two things well and thought, “Eh, let’s rob a few banks or something.” In “Homecoming,” this is presented, cleverly, as a class issue. Toomes is just trying to provide for his family after being screwed over by the man.
9. The mid-movie twist is clever, completely unexpected (by me, at least) and a really cool recasting of a traditional Spider-Man trope, more of which I will not spoil.
10. All of this said, the script, which sports no fewer than six credits, feels a little tastes-like-chicken in spots, especially when exposition has to occur.
11. Director Jon Watts does a solid if slightly flavorless job of making this all hang together, and is especially sharp on his meta-commentary on various action movie tropes. When Ned finds out his friend’s secret, he begs to be Spidey’s “guy in the chair” i.e. the hacker-person who gets into the bad guy’s mainframe and talks to the good guy in the field.
12. Does Spider-Man lift a Big Heavy Thing? Yes, he does. That is never, ever going away.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” opens July 7.
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