Before we begin, I would like to report that Michael Keaton has ditched his old DC stomping grounds to sail the high seas in the SS Marvel, once again donning wings, this time as a desperate father who leaves his day job as a construction clean-up foreman to become a bird man who collects alien tech so he can sell custom-made weapons to spite the heroes who all but took his livelihood.
This semi-meta description lays the foundation for what Spider-Man: Homecoming, the newest entry to the unstoppable Marvel Universe, does so well. Sony made a wise decision when they chose to share custody of one of the most famous Marvel Comic characters, allowing him to become part of one of the most lucrative and beloved film franchises in history. As a non-origin origin story, the two producing titans offer up a fun, inventive story with a set of brand new characters that hold their own against the ones we know and love.
We’re all aware of Spider-Man’s origin story: Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is bitten by a radioactive spider, gifting him with the abilities of a spider (with maybe a little cockroach thrown in for good measure), which he uses to fight crime and avenge the death of his uncle Ben. After two big screen iterations, we don’t need to see that again, and since this film takes place after the events of Captain-America: Civil War, the producers have made the wise decision to leave that backstory on the cutting-room floor, choosing only to mention it briefly in passing. (In fact, I don’t believe Uncle Ben was ever even mentioned, which begs the question — does he even exist in this universe?)
Instead of making the film the origins of a hero, they turn it into a coming-of-age origin story of a high-spirited kid finding his place in the world, both as a mature teen and a responsible superhero. The film begins on a high note, showcasing clips of a video diary from Peter’s trip to fight alongside Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) against Captain America (Chris Evans). Peter’s reactions of joy, excitement and awe of this event continues throughout the film, keeping you emotionally invested in Peter’s journey — the more fun he has finding his way, the more fun we have watching him evolve into what he will eventually become.
Of course, jumping into a major Avengers battle as part of your first major conflict would make anyone jones for the opportunity to do it again. Being the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man just doesn’t cut it when there’s so much action to be had out there. This drive for more is eventually what leads him into trouble, stumbling upon a gang of thugs robbing ATMs with some very high-tech (and alien) weaponry. He does what he can to report the weaponry to Tony Stark (or his Avengers liaison, Happy (Jon Favreau), who finds Peter a little too annoying for his own good), but when he continues to get the brush off, Peter takes matters into his own hands.
It’s ironic then, that almost every incident Peter must rescue people from is an incident of his own making. Because he’s still young and inexperienced, his attempts at locating the mastermind behind these dangerous weapons puts everyone around him in more danger than they probably would have been had he left things alone. Peter, thus, is basically going around cleaning up his own messes, which is exactly what father figure Tony Stark (who saw the same situation happen to him after inadvertently creating Ultron) was trying to keep Peter from falling into. It’s also why Tony sets so many parameters on Peter’s suit — he sees the young enthusiasm and knows it will take time and patience for Peter to become mature enough to handle the complexities of being a superhero on the same level of the Avengers.
There’s so much to like about this new iteration of Spider-Man beyond its core. From the little we see of her, I can’t wait to see what Marvel über-president Kevin Feige has in store for Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May, and Zendaya delivers a ton of charisma in the laid-back, subtle role of Michelle, one of Peter’s non-conformist decathlon teammates. She may not have a lot of screen time, but she uses every second to display the perfect amount of gravitas that you don’t ever want to cut away from her. But it’s newcomer Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend, Ned, who brings the spirit and love of Spider-Man to life. This duo puts the whole film in perspective and glues the conflicting sides of Peter Parker together. Because Ned learns about Peter’s secret early on, he spends the majority of the film hounding his friend about his abilities, the Avengers and trying to worm his way onto the team by being Peter’s “guy in the chair,” all of which show the immature high-school side of the film while balancing the growth of Peter’s abilities.
The weakest character — and aspect of the film — is Liz (Laura Harrier), Peter’s would-be love interest. The chemistry between Holland and Harrier was nearly non-existent, and I’m not quite sure the series of writers knew what to do with her beyond being the typical damsel-in-distress whom Peter continually disappoints. Then again, she does play a role in the final act twist, which does make her important… but not really. Though the twist was an interesting one, the revelations that come of it could have been handled differently. It’s a good thing Liz wasn’t a major part of the film, otherwise it could have dragged the film down.
Luckily, Michael Keaton makes up for this small misstep. I can’t say he adds any real depth to the character of Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture, and he’s nowhere near the same level of villain as someone like Loki, but his presence on screen is as electric as ever. He walks with a confidence that he and only he matters, but gives us a reason to both like and fear him, earning respect and a place as more than a typical paint-by-numbers Marvel villain.
Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming does almost everything right. It delivers on the same level of warmth, action, surreal, comedic and emotional level as every other Marvel Universe film before it, but adds a little something of its own, leading to a terrific end-credit scene that is a little bit meta but holds true to the films spirit while connecting it to the film in a fun, creative way. What else could you ask for in a film, much less a superhero film? Not much. Spider-Man: Homecoming is, by all intents and purposes, as good as it gets and though the year is only half over, has made a strong argument for being the best film of the year.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include War for the Planet of the Apes and Wish Upon. If you would like to see a review for tone of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.