Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man-Homecoming-images-with-Jacob-Batalon-and-Tom-Holland

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The Marvel superhero franchise, labored with one picture after another churned out to capitalize on the individual and collective Avengers is as commoditized as American movies get. They don’t even have to be good.

Except now there’s one that is, and it happens to be a bit or a surprise because it really shouldn’t have worked. As the sixth film in a series that has, by now, generated moviegoer fatigue with endless reboots that exist to cash cow the audience into submission, Spider-Man: Homecoming surprisingly turns out to be funny, light on its feet and often sweet, a highly likable coming-of-age comedy featuring a kid we really, really like. Imagine that.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is all but carried by its gifted young actor, Tom Holland (The Impossible, The Lost City of Z), his comic timing and enthusiasm going a long way to hold our interest in ways that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, both terrific actors, could not. Now, that may not be fair because the new movie gives  its star some good material where the others were a hit or miss, but the actor so adeptly navigates teenaged boy awkwardness—namely the contradictions between cockiness, insecurity and self-effacement—that we nearly forget his predecessors and the fact that this is, after all, a superhero picture.

Picture opens on the heels of the last Avengers movie—you may recall their popularity and public service were in question—with the clean-up and rebuild of their destruction. Contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his team are charged with the job, but when Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) assumes the job and puts them out of work—a clear metaphor for the little guy getting shat upon by big business—the small team are unceremoniously fired.

Sour grapes lead Toomes and his men to secretly covet the materials they have already collected, which include top-secret and sophisticated weapons technology which goes quick on the black market.

Meanwhile, New York City high school geek Peter Parker (Holland), clamoring to graduate from Stark protégé to full-fledged Avenger, hones his budding spidey skills over a number of very public Manhattan crimefighting set-ups (he becomes a YouTube sensation, natch) while studying science downtown. But his promising academic career keeps getting derailed by his late-night escapades.

One of these incidents is botched ATM robbery orchestrated by Toomes, and where gets his first glimpse of Toomes technology, deciding to crack the mystery of its origin and finally become worthy to Stark and the Avengers.

Peter also wants to be worthy to a pretty classmate, Liz (Laura Harrier), and in classic fashion is too obtuse to realize she also likes him. This courtship and the dynamics of the science team, which include Peter’s rambunctious best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) and rival Flash (Tony Revolori), are the picture’s real raison d’être, and in its best moments the freshness and charm of these young actors remind you of something John Hughes captured so effectively what seems like movie generations ago.

As you might guess, Peter and Toomes go head-to-head in a climax that, thankfully, doesn’t capsize the movie with its effects.

Early on the picture seems to suggest some impending social subtext as Keaton’s disenfranchised contractor—a stand-in for blue-collar job loss—is promptly dismissed by a callous Stark drone played by Tyne Daly, but the movie dispenses with any such contextual notions in favor of a half-formed plot to sell illegal weapons, more or less, which is a bit of a letdown.

The best parts of Spider-man: Homecoming have nothing to do with Peter’s crime-fighting alter ego; rather, what works here is a portrait of a fifteen-year-old high school kid navigating his own special brand of puberty, coming out about it to his best friend and tentatively courting a pretty upperclassman.

The action is smartly parsed out and clever, never over-the-top (well, maybe a little near the very end) and contains at least two set-pieces—one atop the Washington Monument that recalls the opening sequence of Superman II, and another doozy aboard the State Island Ferry, that really entertain.

Thankfully, Downey’s now-patented Stark snark is kept to a minimum and Marisa Tomei, the hippest of actresses, delivers a welcome reinvention of a modern Aunt May, closely attuned to Peter’s changes, and the series would do well to continue building her character.

Where the movie doesn’t always work (and doesn’t seem to care much) is in its standard issue villain, who if memorable at all, is purely so on the back of Michael Keaton’s flinty, obsessive performance, which culminates in a scene where he confronts Peter in the most unlikely of settings.

One could do much worse this summer than Spider-Man: Homecoming, which goes down easily and handily tackles a job tougher than crimefighting—saving a franchise that seemed well beyond saving. Credit Holland with a new superhero move.

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