Balancing high-school life while trying to be a super-hero can’t be easy. Sony Pictures tried. In fact, it tried twice. But as good as Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield were, and as much overall fun as most of their films remain, when it came to high-school angst, they never quite convinced. Despite playing teens, things always tilted heavily towards a more adult angle, leaving high-school in the background.
Now the good news: A third try proves to be the charm. Marvel’s casting of a new Peter Parker has finally made things right, and fans of the character as he was originally conceived should be happy. Tom Holland, successfully abandoning any sign of his English background, makes for one great fifteen-year-old Spider-Man, dealing with the problems of his Midtown Science and Technology School while swinging from local block to block, saving the world. Well, maybe not the world, but certainly Forest Hills and other parts of New York. After all, he’s still a kid. It’s Balanced Restored.
Spider-Man: Homecoming may be a second reboot, but having already established Holland as a new Spidey in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, this new origin story doesn’t require the total backstory. It assumes everyone already knows how the teenager became a super-hero, so the part about the radioactive spider bite and how it changed science-whiz-kid Parker into someone who could climb walls and ceilings is never covered. He’s passed that point. But he’s still new to this and hasn’t quite got the handle on how he operates. When Spider-Man: Homecoming begins, Parker is nowhere near his full potential. But he’s really trying.
There’s no Uncle Ben to be found, but in Homecoming, young Parker lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei – less matronly, much more fun). After his brief adventure in Civil War, billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) becomes a kind of mentor to the young boy. “Don’t do anything I would do,” advises Stark with his usual Downey snark, “And definitely don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Parker’s not quite ready for the whole super-hero world, but with the right grooming, he could be. Advised to keep it low-key and local, Stark has his driver and bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) keep an eye on the boy from time to time. “I’m responsible to make sure you’re responsible,” Happy tells the boy, then spends most of his time avoiding Parker’s calls and messages.
But the young Parker is impatient and thinks he can skip a few of those preliminary super exercises in order to be the fully-fledged hero he believes he can be. So he dons the new costume Stark has designed for him and goes leaping about some of the local areas, fighting petty criminals, saving the world from bicycle thieves, and often messing things up with a little too much youthful enthusiasm. When student Parker feels the need to run off from school and be a super-hero for a quick moment, his best friend, the over-weight, nerdy Ned (Jacob Batalon) has to remind him, “But we’ve got a Spanish quiz.”
However, as with every super-hero, there’s a super-villain on an equal level, and here Marvel goes back to the classic character Adrian Toomes, more popularly known as The Vulture. When we first meet him, Toomes (Michael Keaton) is running a New York salvaging company. He’s an ordinary guy who has invested all of his money into tidying up and salvaging the alien mess left by the ‘Battle of New York’ from the 2012 Avengers’ film. But the U.S. Department of Damage Control closes him down, takes control, and tells him to handover everything he’s gathered so far, leaving the man and his company on the verge of bankruptcy. To survive, he takes matter into his own hands; he keeps what he’s secretly salvaged – powerful alien technology he doesn’t understand – and has his men design weaponry. “The world’s changed,” Toomes tells his team. “It’s time we changed, too.”
The bulk of what happens next occurs eight years later. Toomes, now in command of that alien technology, has no delusions of taking over the world. Keeping in the spirit of being somewhat small scale and possessing less of an overwhelming epic stature such as other Marvel adventures, the man’s wants and needs are narrower; he just wants to enjoy the good life as much as he can for himself and his family, and he does it by harnessing that alien power and selling it on the black market, or stealing from ATM machines. He even creates a persona for himself, a man with mechanical wings who can fly. It’s Keaton once again as Birdman, but not as a hero; he’s now the guy who needs to be taken down before his delusions expand.
In many respects, the film is a high-school adventure to be enjoyed more by a teenage audience than anyone else. In the way The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink worked so well for the young adult in the eighties, so, too, will Homecoming. With its young hero and the terrific ensemble of classroom supporting characters, it’s practically a John Hughes production for 2017. And as with most of the super-hero films that make Marvel’s approach so entertaining, Spider-Man: Homecoming is full of good humor.
When Parker’ s Spider-Man is giving chase, frantically running behind homes and leaping over backyard fences, he passes a TV by a pool running a copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Parker appears to be re-enacting a similar movement from the film at just the same time. Best of all are a series of short Public Service Announcements or friendly advice videos that Captain America (Chris Evans) makes for students. “So your body’s changed,” he states in one PSA, “I know how that feels.” Though perhaps the most quotable line comes from an incomplete sentence that Aunt May declares just before the closing credits. Wait for it. It will bring the house down, every time. Guaranteed.
MPAA rating: PG-13 Length: 133 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)