Marvel's predictably fun Spidey is at best when web-slinger is front and center
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is more than just a return to high school for Peter Parker. It's his welcome home to Marvel Studios. But between adolescence and Avengers, the latter proves to be his bigger challenge.
Spider-Man has been cinematically stuck since 2004, when Tobey Maguire's web-slinger sequel broke the box office with rave reviews. “Spider-Man 3” also killed — the franchise, that is. Then in 2012, actor Andrew Garfield took on the role, and although his “Amazing Spider-Man” is underrated, its less-than-amazing sequel took the series under yet again.
So while Spider-Man's Sony stepfather bungled the iconic superhero, his Marvel mother assembled “The Avengers,” of which Parker was a component in the comics. Sony followed its Spidey sense and struck a deal to reintroduce Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland, in Marvel's 2016 flick “Captain America: Civil War.”
That's where “Homecoming” swings in, following Parker's transition from “Civil War” to sophomore. In Holland, the silver screen has its youngest and best Spider-Man yet. He's juvenile, irresponsible and amateur. He's a kid. And you feel for him, since we've all experienced the social pressures of school. Donning red tights for fights? Not so much.
But fight he does, most notably against Michael Keaton's the Vulture. From Batman to Birdman to bad guy, Keaton must have an affinity for flying. And flying high. As a wronged blue-collar worker trying to make a buck in a world where tech jobs are literally alien to most, Keaton steals the show.
Spider-Man seems more than suited to save New York, with his Iron Man-style spandex from mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his Happy minion (Jon Favreau). But both also weigh him down. Though Stark protectively tracks Spider-Man's every move, the Avenger organizer really need not worry: With Marvel Studios' involvement, Parker's path is almost perfectly predictable.
Marvel movies are good. Too good. Its stories have become so structurally sound that the action lacks attraction, and so commonplace that Captain America himself is appearing in public-service announcements. It's no surprise the students in “Homecoming” ignore him. They've seen it before. So have we, with every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
When Parker is the lone star — and not Stark or his toys — it's a marvel of a movie. His friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the Farley to Spidey's Spade. Loner Michelle (Zendaya) cuts through their comedy with her one-liners (and finger). And Liz (Laura Harrier) lovingly rises above them all while Parker climbs higher and higher to reach her.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a fun dance when Parker is shying around Liz, sneaking around May (Marisa Tomei) and wearing superhero sweats. He should just be himself — a valuable lesson for any high schooler. Especially Parker. That's when he and his movie are at their best.