A Funny, Flawed, Dependent 'Homecoming' For Spider-Man

Directed by: Jon Watts; Runtime: 133 minutes
Grade: B

Some might see the momentum behind Spider-Man: Homecoming as hype, but it's closer to pressure on this unique partnership between Sony and Marvel Studios to, in the mindset of the incredible dedicated fans of the webslinger, finally get the character completely and utterly right. Even the title tries to draw attention to the significance of Spider-Man being brought back into the Marvel universe fold, creating an opening for Peter Parker to utilize the studio's creative insights and to interact with other characters in their roster. In terms of the tried-and-true summer blockbuster framework, Homecoming fittingly utilizes the tools now at its disposal, never shying away from youthful humor and spunkiness as it twists together a coming-of-age story for Peter Parker, where he endures the growing pains of balancing high-school and his new duties as a superhero. It's the interaction with the shared universe that keeps this Spider-Man from soaring, relying too heavily on the enormity of him being in the proximity of Marvel -- to Iron Man, in particular -- for the friendly neighborhood hero to blossom on his own.

Homecoming take place in a staggered pattern throughout the timeline created by Marvel and, specifically, its Avengers movies, but Spider-Man's there to help keep the record somewhat straight through it all. After home-video footage cutely tracks from the moment Peter Parker (Tom Holland) receives his specifically-tailored suit from his mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) -- y'know, Iron Man -- to the aftermath of when he gets involved with the events of Captain America: Civil War, the story proper picks up as the young hero gets dropped off at his doorstep in the Bronx with superhuman powers, a high-tech costume, and his limiting life of being a studious and picked-on kid in high school. While monitored by Tony Stark and his assistant, Happy (Jon Favreau), Peter Parker must now figure out how to maintain his city's safety while waiting for the next big "assignment" from the adult heroes. In the meantime, as his student and social life suffers, the local sale of weaponized alien technology falls on his radar, sending the high-schooler on a chase to find the dealer, Toomes (Michael Keaton), while also trying to meet his everyday school obligations.

From the offset, even though this the third version of the character in fifteen years to swing onto the big-screen, it was made clear that Spider-Man: Homecoming wasn't going to be yet another telling of the origin story of Peter Parker, another depiction of his mutant spider-bite and of Uncle Ben's death that drove him to heroism. Homecoming assumes that these things have happened, briefly and smartly referenced in throwaway one-liners, which still gifts this familiar back-story to the young Peter Parker while allowing him to be several years younger than previous iterations; he's fifteen, so a freshman. It's more of a second chapter, but there are hints of this still being an origin point of sorts for this Spider-Man, as this marks the beginning of Peter Parker's experiences in concealing his identity from his fellow students -- as well as Aunt May, played splendidly by Marisa Tomei -- and keeping his life afloat after becoming a real hero. There's carefulness and precision involved with getting Spider-Man into this age bracket without completely sacrificing what happened in the prior movies.

Homecoming devotes its energy toward realizing this younger Peter Parker because it concentrates on this being a coming-of-age story in the vein of a John Hughes movie, only covered in a superhero outfit, something that another of 2017's blockbusters, Power Rangers, also attempted. Lots of elements need to stick for this to work, and all of ‘em don't land smoothly here, whether it's in trying too hard for that Hughes factor (the film even plays a clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) or missing the mark with support characters. Tom Holland effortlessly generates sympathy and makes the audience root for his Peter Parker, an enthusiastic kid who's spread too thin and underestimated at every turn, and his struggle to keep his identity secret while dealing with being the butt of endless ridicule works well. The high-school forces that create and impact his struggles aren't as convincing, though, from his kooky "sidekick" Ned (Jacob Batalon) to a flimsy nuisance of a bully in Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) and a quirky, yet overt rebellious outcast in "Michelle" (Zendaya) who's only there to take others down a peg ... and even attends detention without doing anything wrong, just like Ally Sheedy. Unlike other versions of the character, Holland's Peter Parker doesn't seem that fazed by social ostracization.

That might have to do with this Spider-Man essentially being the product -- and neglected protégé -- of Tony Stark, whose presence in Homecoming cannot be ignored or tolerated as if he were just a cameo. Some fans might find this direct integration of Iron Man and Marvel's cinematic universe to be a rewarding, fleshed-out achievement of the Marvel-Sony relationship, and of Spider-Man's ability to interact with the characters of the wildly-popular saga of movies already on the books. Unfortunately, a lot of the script's intentions rely on Peter Parker's doting enthusiasm for becoming an Avenger, not so much for being a "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man", and, more importantly, to him utilizing the high-tech gadgets interwoven in the suit crafted for him by Stark. Parker doesn't use his signature "spider sense" anywhere in the film, but why would he need to when his suit can locate threats for him? From electrified webbing and surveillance drones to an onboard AI assistant, all these toys given to Spider-Man detract from this iteration of the character coming into his own in a standalone movie because, well, he's never given a chance to really stand alone. Spider-Man has essentially become Iron Man Lite.

Luckily, Homecoming also taps into Marvel's lore in creation of the danger that Spider-Man works toward shutting down, spearheaded by a gristly, menacing, yet partly sympathetic villain in Michael Keaton's turn as winged arms dealer Toomes, aka Vulture. The action hinges on heists and fights that exploit the alien technology left around by the earth-saving battles undertaken by the Avengers, which gives a broader scale to the context of the threat while also keeping it somewhat confined to Spidey's neck of the woods. Bountiful computer-generated effects render Spider-Man's slinging between rooftops, zipping throughout a ferry boat, and brisk scaling up a large monument, producing thrilling superhero set-pieces held together by the personal and emotional stakes involved with Peter Parker's desire to prove himself to the broader hero community. Those who've seen other Spider-Man outings won't be knocked over with how original these feats of strength and resistance appear, constantly anchored by Stark Technology's gadgetry alongside Spider-Man's innate abilities, but they're exciting all the same and draw out the character's impish charisma while saving the day.

Up to a point, Spider-Man: Homecoming comes across as a tolerably more upbeat and youthful spin on what's already been done in the other Spidey cinematic ventures, landing on a middle-of-the-road impression where every step forward with Parker's high-school troubles takes a step back once Iron Man pops up. That is, until the film collides with the thematic twists and turns hinted at with the wording of its title, both altering the emotional stakes surrounding Peter and vindicating all the dependence that the script places on him being mesmerized by and reliant on his versatile suit. This adds an extra kick to the inevitable outlandish superhero blockbuster finale, and while the means in which certain revelations that take place might be hokey (perhaps not so much by comic-book standards), the expressive depth added to the bombast of the final act justifies how it happens. In a sense, Spider-Man: Homecoming guides the hero through the "with great power comes great responsibility" speech telegraphed by the School of Hard Knocks, landing on a gripping yet not entirely spectacular upshot of Marvel and Sony's collaboration.

Film review also appeared over at DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]


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