I never would have believed it, but Sony Pictures has successfully sold me on a new Spider-Man. Considering the newest incarnation of the web-crawler is the third manifestation of the character in only 15 years, the proficiency with which Marvel has succeeded with this reboot is a profound feat that is not to be ignored.
We were originally supposed to have a third Amazing Spider-Man entry by this point, but Sony’s plans got derailed by fleeting talent and low box office returns. It was unfortunate to have a strong-footed franchise get thrown off track so early in the game. This failure, however, led to talks between Sony and Marvel Studios for the first time, and comic fans rejoiced when Spider-Man was finally allowed back into the MCU fold with his debut in Captain America: Civil War.
Spider-Man: Homecoming implies reference to the high school sporting tradition, but in actuality it is a veiled celebration of Spider-Man’s return to Marvel creative control. Sony still maintains distribution and final greenlight authority, but fans’ dreams have been realized in an arrangement that keeps the character under the primary influence of the genre’s experts. It’s encouraging to have Spidey back in good hands, but are we really ready for another Spider-Man film?
It turns out we are, as Homecoming is not only projected to be the next big hit of the summer, it’s a homerun in execution as well. Tom Holland of The Impossible and In the Heart of the Sea is perfectly cast as the best Spider-Man yet. In an attempt to offset previous interpretations of the hero, the producers skewed far younger in their casting search. This better serves the character, and he remains closer to the source material than his predecessors.
Homecoming takes an unexpected turn by subverting the obligatory origin story. This formula is wearing viewers thin in the age of comic mania, and we’ve seen it two times for this character already. Instead, the film picks up during the events of Civil War, observed through the playful lens of a video blog by Peter Parker. Holland’s impeccable fit for the character is clear right off the bat, as we see him burst with youthful glee as he spars alongside the Avengers.
With Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark appearing in the film, any fears that the producers fall back too often on this selling-point can be assuaged by the fact that he shows up only in restrained portions. This is very much Spider-Man’s movie, as Stark makes a wise decision to maintain little contact with the teen who needs to get out of school and puberty before diving head-first into battling monsters and saving the world.
Peter Parker begins this chapter as a sophomore in high school. He is raised only by Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Uncle Ben is out of the picture, and Peter is well into his web-slinging days, cherishing the high-tech suit designed by Iron Man. Like any kid his age, he’s impatient to grow up, and he’d much rather focus on fighting crime than doing his homework.
Spider-Man’s opponent in this film is Adrian Toomes, or “Vulture,” played feverishly by a warm yet ruthless Michael Keaton. Toomes owns a salvage business that scavenges alien technology left behind by the Chitauri seen in The Avengers to sell dangerous weapons on the black market. Once Spider-Man catches wind, he’s determined to stop him, but he may lack the experience and maturity to do so.
Rookie director Jon Watts (2015’s Cop Car) has said to have taken substantial influence from John Hughes films such as The Breakfast Club in crafting the high school dynamics, and it pays off. The seamless, assured direction of this impressive blockbuster debut demonstrates a steady hand when it comes to the core elements. Despite an unwieldly list of screenwriters, the script is amazingly coherent, and sizzles with inspired jokes and quippy one-liners.
In contrast to the exorbitant wealth and god-like abilities of characters like Iron Man and Thor, Watts’ teenage Spider-Man helps correct the Marvel universe’s quickly vanishing realism. Keaton’s Vulture is also a welcome exception from androids and aliens bent on world destruction. Perfectly relevant to today’s political climate, Toomes is a disillusioned, working-class father fed up with unkept promises and corporate greed.
While the majority of the film’s components are orchestrated with finesse, action junkies may walk away unfulfilled. As this movie explores Spider-Man’s lack of practice, the feature is light on thrilling takedowns via web-shooter. The final confrontation between Parker and the Vulture is fairly anticlimactic, but to avoid spoilers I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Where Watts excels, however, is in the fundamentals, as he nails the teenage drama with perceptible angst. The web-slinger is realized here better than ever before in a rendition that finally allows Parker to be a kid. Future sequels have been said to honor this approach by keeping him in high school, and if they exhibit such capable design as this entry, I think there’s room in our theaters for more Spider-Man.