by Jon Watts (dir), Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (screen story)
Review by Drew Bittner
Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios Movie
Date: 30 June 2017 /
Fan anticipation has built to a peak and the word is now out. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a hit.
Following up on a smash appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland now takes Peter Parker back to Queens, back to the grounded life of a high school student with a fantastic secret, and back to ... waiting for the phone to ring.
Fast forward to Peter Parker taking a cellphone movie of his trip to Germany. He gets his new costume, fights Cap's team, and goes back home, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tells him to "stay close to the ground" and check in with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Peter is excited, thinking he's now an Avenger.
Two months later, he's checking his phone for any reply from Happy, leaving him messages about his outings, and struggling to keep up his spirits. Although he tells his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) that he's doing an internship with Tony Stark, he feels forgotten. But when four guys pull an ATM heist using weird weaponry, Spider-Man is there to stop them ... until things go wrong and they escape. Peter is worried about the tech they were using and he alerts Happy, who's too busy closing Avengers Tower and moving its equipment to upstate New York to listen.
Heading home, Peter accidentally reveals his secret identity to Ned, who geeks out over how cool his buddy is. Peter begs him not to tell his aunt, which is about the most he can expect. However, Ned cannot stop asking Peter questions, even in gym class (where the kids have to watch an awful, "inspiring" Captain America video).
When the kids hear Peter met Spider-Man, Peter and Ned are invited to a party by Peter's crush, Liz (Laura Harrier). It takes some doing, but Peter is persuaded to go and even wear his Spider-Man costume so he can "drop by". But as he's getting ready for his big entrance, he sees weird lights in the distance and decides to investigate.
He finds two of Toomes' men--one of whom he recognizes from the ATM heist--showing advanced weaponry to Aaron Davis (Donald Glover). Trying to stop them leads to a running fight through the streets of a suburb, ending with the arrival of the Vulture (Toomes' winged alter-ego), who grabs Peter and ends up dropping him in a lake. He's rescued by Iron Man, who tells him to chill out and not go after these guys.
Peter can't do that, and if it takes signing up for an academic contest in Washington DC (after quitting the team earlier and disappointing Liz) and risking Stark's wrath, well, a spider's gotta do what a spider's gotta do to find these guys.
Except it won't end there. The Vulture is a smart, dangerous enemy; now that his back is to the wall, he's willing to try a Hail Mary ... one that Spider-Man absolutely must prevent, even if he can only count on himself.
Okay, so you're probably wondering how this stacks up. First impression is that this easily reaches the level of Spider-Man 2, widely considered the best (to date) of the Spider-Man movies. Holland has the right blend of easy charm, uneasy teen anxiety, and all the wonders, exhilaration, and terror of being both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Like the best of these movies, the focus is on Peter; Spider-Man is just what Peter puts on to do a job, whether that's stopping a bicycle thief or saving his classmates from a crippled elevator in the Washington Monument. He absolutely nails the role, in ways that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield never quite managed. IMHO, he's the best we've seen in this role yet.
Keaton rarely has the chance to play the villain, but his Adrian Toomes is note perfect. Even though he's a hard guy who makes some debatable choices, he wants what's best for his family and his men. He also has an incredible speech for Peter about the ethics of selling weapons to bad people--because isn't that what Tony Stark got rich doing? Keaton's character defies easy categorization and veers from being predictable more than once, which makes him a fascinating opponent for Peter, and a dangerous one too. He might possibly be the most interesting villain Marvel has yet produced. (Sorry, Loki.)
Robert Downey Jr. deserves serious praise for his work here. Tony Stark started off recruiting Spider-Man to help with taking down Cap. He admits that this was an impulsive decision that might not have been best for Peter. Giving him a suit with capabilities Peter realizes only belatedly, Stark is a distant and remote mentor whom Peter comes to see as a surrogate father. He wants Stark's approval and his attention, and his frustration grows when he feels ignored, but Stark is trying his best, and his own frustration escalates when he sees Peter making potentially catastrophic mistakes. The two have a complex relationship and Downey shows a new side of Tony Stark: the man who wants to do better than his own father but isn't sure how. It's a great performance, with lots more humor and "old school Tony" than we've seen in a while.
Laura Harrier, as popular girl Liz, is both smart and beautiful, giving Peter more than one chance to be part of her world. She makes it easy to see why Peter is smitten with her, showing emotional depths in fleeting moments on screen. (And if you donít think that's an acting challenge ... it is.) Similarly, Zendaya makes the most of snarky contrarian Michelle, who's also bright and beautiful but tends to hide behind sarcasm and being a rebel. Fans will want to listen to the last decathlon team meeting to hear a major reveal, with big implications for this character going forward.
Side note: It's really notable that the two girls who stand out most in Peter's high school world are biracial, extremely smart, and not in the slightest coasting on their beauty. The diversity of the student body is also striking for how well it reflects real life in 2017. Perhaps what's most amazing is that this is just how things are.
This story plays as the second half of an origin story. Peter already had the powers and experienced the gosh-wow of discovering them, and now he's figuring out who Spider-Man is and what he wants to do. We don't hear the familiar refrain "With great power ..." or see Uncle Ben's untimely death, but both echo through Holland's performance, as well as short moments with Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Although he starts this movie as a kid playing at being Spider-Man, making rookie mistakes (even potentially catastrophic ones), he grows up an awful lot in this movie.
Sharp-eyed fans will note how many minor Spider-Man villains are part of the story, with Easter eggs and unexpected cameos abounding. While some might think this is oversaturation on the part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my take is that this is just grounding Spider-Man in this world. It's necessary, to make that transition from his stand-alone movies to being part of a bigger universe. Now that this groundwork has been done, future installments can focus on expanding Peter's world as the friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man ... after he helps save the universe in Avengers: Infinity War, that is.
Stay for the mid-credits and post-credits scenes. Both are surprising, one is unexpectedly hilarious.
This is the all-new Spider-Man. Sony and Marvel have a hit.
NOTE: A version of this review was previously published on Idobi Radio