All images courtesy of Columbia Pictures
It’s been 15 years since the first Spider-Man movie was made. With Tobey Maguire stepping into the tights of Marvel’s popular web crawler, Sony made a significant impact in the world of comic book movies and it outdid itself with Spider-Man 2, which is arguably one of the best superhero movies of all time. Then Spider-Man 3 happened in 2007 and we were all scarred from emo Peter Parker and his cringe-worthy dance number that can never be unseen. Sony realized that it needed to put the franchise on hiatus until 2012 when it was rebooted as The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield taking the title role. At first, it seemed cool, but ultimately the reboot and its 2014 sequel were forgettable. Despite the scoffs and eye rolls, Sony thought it was time to revamp the franchise for the third time, but with a little boost from Marvel Studios. As the saying goes, the third time’s a charm.
In the appropriately titled SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, Tom Holland continues the Spidey legacy of Maguire and Garfield for his first standalone movie. The story picks up about two months after the big superhero showdown that happened in Captain America: Civil War, where Holland was first introduced as the web-slinger. He is now back at home, living a normal life as a high schooler, but has also been hired for an internship with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). And by internship, I mean assuming the role of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, stopping petty crimes, helping nice old ladies with directions, and doing things to help people on the streets of New York. But since Peter has had a taste of being an Avenger, he is chomping at the bit to sling his web at something bigger. He’s bored with all this little stuff and wants to prove to Tony that he can handle something bigger. So when he learns that a man by the name of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) has been flying around in a robotic vulture-like costume, co-opting and hocking alien weapons left behind after “The Incident” (see the first Avengers movie), he thinks this is prime time to prove himself. This obviously leads to some hiccups in his life as a high school sophomore but also some dire consequences that affect his relationship with Tony.
All I have to say is thank God Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t crash and burn — but I didn’t expect it to. However, there was a small part of me that was near the point of web-crawling exhaustion. If I had to relive the moment of Uncle Ben’s death one more time, I would have just thrown my hands up in the air, yelled, “This is nothing but a bunch of regurgitated bullcorn!” and storm out of the theater in a huff. But my Spidey senses were telling me that with Marvel Studios collaborating with Sony for this hobbling the franchise (I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during those negotiations), something magical was bound to happen.
When the announcement of the new reboot was made, it was being sold as a John Hughes-esque teen movie, but Marvel/Sony still held its cards close to the vest in terms of the specifics. Nonetheless, the decision to make the a teen movie embodied the spirit of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Director Jon Watts brought a much-needed fresh new take to the franchise. Watts, who co-wrote the script with Christopher Ford as well as Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers put a heavy emphasis on the fact that Peter Parker is a teenager. The story focused on what he would do with these powers and how, as a idealistic and haphazard adolescent, he would have this careless, overeager attitude about how he approached dangerous situation. The previous franchises touched on this theme of superhero teenage angst, but Homecoming leaned into a millenial perspective of the character and was authentic in its execution.
The inclusion of Tony Stark in the movie also takes the Spidey narrative in a different direction. In the previous franchises, Peter was basically on his own with no superhero mentor. In Homecoming, Tony fosters him and not only serves as his Obi-wan but as a paternal figure. It brings a warmth and an emotional authenticity to the story that hasn’t been seen before and continues the excellent chemistry between Downey Jr. and Holland started in Civil War.
In Civil War we only had a small taste of Holland as Spidey, but with Homecoming he proves that he was born to play Peter Parker. Maguire brought this kind, baby-faced, nerdy earnestness to the role while Garfield (who, for the record, is my least favorite of the three) did very well with Parker’s smart-ass side — and both and the physical wherewithal to give Spider-Man life. Holland is the perfect hybrid of the two and he adds another layer of energetic charisma on top of it. He brings an equal balance of physical prowess, cheeky humor, and emotion to the role, possibly making him the best Spider-Man of the trio.
Keaton as the Vulture (although, they don’t call him that at all in the movie) is absolutely brilliant. Not since Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, has there been a villain so sinister — and he’s not just bad to be bad. He has a legitimate reason for his actions that touches on socio-economic themes. It makes enough sense, that it may cause some people to secretly root for him. Keaton kills the role and — SPOILER ALERT — based on one of two post-credit scenes, we probably haven’t seen the last of him. The Academy Award-nominated actor is one of the rare Marvel Studios super-villains that feels fleshed-out and noteworthy.
The movie is also stocked with excellent and impressively diverse talent gives it that provides a balance of superhero blockbuster and high school teen flick. The breakout of the movie is by far Jacob Batalon as Peter’s partner-in-crime Ned, giving a fine comedic performance and embodying everything that a high school BFF should be. Zendaya pops in and makes the most of her screen time and is an absolute snarky delight as the I-don’t-give-a-f*** mysterious loner Michelle while the beautiful up and coming actress Laura Harrier plays love interest Liz. Tony Revolori steps in as Peter’s rival Flash and Donald Glover also makes an appearance — but not as Miles Morales as many of us would have hoped. Also appearing in the movie are Marisa Tomei back again as the young and attractive Aunt Mae (a quality they riff on more than once) as well as Tyne Daley, Martin Starr, Hannibal Buress, Logan Marshall-Green, Bokeem Woodbine, and a host of actors including some surprise appearances. I’d be remiss not to celebrate the return of Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan — which is always a treat.
With Holland delivering a nearly pitch-perfect performance, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the reboot we deserve. It has the same kind of energy and panache that was felt with Maguire’s Spider-Man. Even with its angsty teen movie approach, the movie still doesn’t lose its superhero edge. It’s exciting, action-packed and, unlike The Amazing Spider-Man revamp, you actually look forward to seeing what the forthcoming installments have in store. With Homecoming, Marvel Studios proves that if done right, rebooting a franchise can be amazing. Now if they can just get their hands on Fantastic Four, all will be right in the world.
Running time: 133 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Film Critic