'Spiderman: Homecoming' spins a terrific reset of the franchise


One of the things that makes Spider-Man: Homecoming fun and worthwhile is the direction Marvel took eponymous character. Or, rather, the direction they didn't take in what is, technically, a reboot for a flailing franchise. Instead of going back to the beginning and rehashing the origin story, this movie is about the growing pains the character suffers after discovering his powers but not quite learning how to control them either. Homecoming is proof that watching a hero fail repeatedly can be more interesting than watching them succeed.

Shifting focus away from a retreaded origin story makes a lot of sense. Practically speaking, the Spider-Man origin story is well-covered territory in comics, cartoons and movie theaters (this marks the fifth Spidey flick in the last 15 years). Marvel - taking over the creative work from Sony - banked on the character being known enough to make a reboot redundant, and the result is a movie focused less on how Peter Parker (now played by Tom Holland) became Spider-Man and more on the aforementioned trials and errors he endures to become a hero. Unlike in previous iterations in which the follies are glossed over, this mid-teen Spider-Man spends most of the movie crashing into walls and rooftops and succeeding because of his wits but in spite of his inherent clumsiness. Even his big battle with Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton) is won by Spidey's ability to find moderate competence. This isn't necessarily new ground for a superhero movie, but it is a refreshing break from the strict formula Marvel and D. C. have followed in recent years.

Homecoming is a refreshing, light summer flick of a movie. A fair portion of the story takes place in and around Parker's high school and involve the foibles of his best friend (Jacob Batalon), crush (Laura Harrier), rival (Tony Revolori) and constant observer Michelle (Zendaya). The setting is smart for a movie about Spider-Man, as his high school misadventures are often overshadowed by dangerous opponents and the fact that previous actors to receive radioactive spider bites are far too old for high school (Holland at least looks the part). Homecoming follows the same path as the better Marvel movies by blending the superhero genre with something else, in this case the classic John Hughes movie. What that provides is a balance for the life of a superhero against the inherent drama of being a teenager, with the obligations of homework, detention, and constant supervision by his protective Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) getting in the way of the superhero responsibilities.

In a universe populated by gods and aliens and green monsters rocking purple pants, everything in Homecoming is surprisingly human. The closest thing to a super-powered being this movie has is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), whose powers are based on his relentless drive and inability to just stop tinkering with the things around him. He's also sort of a villain in this movie because of his incessant meddling, or at least the impetus for the start of the Vulture's career as a villain. One of the common traits for these Marvel movies is the consequences of heroism, or at least what happens when Tony Stark messes up and the effect his failures have on the world around him. Stark's business pursuits nearly cost Toomes his livelihood, directing a person who is at heart a working class fellow to turn to crime to support his family. His grand plan does not entail destroying the world or taking over the universe; he just wants his family to live in a nice house and to keep his friends employed, at least until the life of crime inevitably corrupts his sense of morality. One scene in particular reveals how conflicted Toomes is as a person, understanding the good his enemy has done but still willing to kill if it means keeping his family safe. That combination, along with a great performance by Keaton, makes him the perfect starter villain for an inexperienced Spider-Man.

Homecoming's main downers are a few false notes it hits in the third act. They're rooted in the one cliche it couldn't avoid; the hero's moments of self doubt that require deep existential pondering. It would have been more interesting if the movie was willing to step around that trap, but as it is, Homecoming remains refreshingly enjoyable and an excellent restart for Spider-Man.

Rating: Four out of Five Stars

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Target audience: Viewers who continue to follow everything happening in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Take the whole family? This is a tamer PG-13 movie, so bringing the kids along to watch it won't be too rough on them.

Theater or Netflix? It's big enough effects wise to justify a theater experience.

Is there an end credit scene? There sure is, and it is my favorite MCU one thus far. It's worth sticking around for because it plays off a recurring joke and hits the tone of the movie itself. Nothing groundbreaking is revealed, although it serves as a pretty great capper to a very good movie.

Watch this as well: This movie falls just a few steps short of besting Spider-Man 2, one of the great superhero movies. The first Spider-Man movie with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst is worth a watch, as are a few of the cartoons that have come out. I'm partial to the Spider-Man animated series from mid 1990s; that, plus X-Men, made for a pretty solid Saturday morning.

Rating: PG-13

Run time: 133 minutes

Genre: Action

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