The Perks Of Being A ‘Spider-Man’ (Movie Review)

There’s a sequence in the very enjoyable Spider-Man: Homecoming where Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is in pursuit of a van and taking shortcuts through the backyards of a neighborhood. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so clearly inspired the scene that director Jon Watts (Cop Car) even shows a clip from that film playing on a TV in one of the yards. Fun fact: ska punk band Save Ferris got its name from that 80s John Hughes classic. I only mention this because the fun of this whole sequence feels like the result of the unofficial “Save Spider-Man” project that has come from Sony teaming up with Marvel Studios to produce this movie.

Strange to think Spider-Man even needs to be saved, but after the character and his brand was hit hard by the aggressive marketing of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (the movie was fine), here we are with a follow-up to the enjoyable introduction Holland’s version made in Captain America: Civil War. Producers Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige worked with six credited screenwriters to deliver a new origin story (skipping past the whole spider bite/Uncle Ben murder thing) focused on how Peter becomes the Amazing Spider-Man we all know and love. The key this time was infusing familiar superhero antics with the social awkwardness of being a kid in high school.

We get to watch a young-looking Peter interact with friends who also look young in a setting filled with a fittingly inclusive and diverse set actors and extras. It’s easy to point out, but notable to see a realistic high school setting work as a place for our main characters to operate. That also means we not only get a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man but one who’s appropriate for families as a whole. There’s drama, but it’s not gritty. Action scenes excite, but they also feel lighthearted. He’s called “Spider-Man,” but Peter’s still got growing up to do, and audiences of almost all ages can get behind seeing the old “great power/great responsibility” chestnut back in play.

The story works as far as melding the MCU with Sony’s Spider-Man. Following Civil War, Peter is doing his best to protect Queens, New York City, hoping for another chance to go on a big mission with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the Avengers. As far as high school goes, Peter claims to be in a Stark internship program, which is taking a toll on his involvement in things such as the academic decathlon.

Meanwhile, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) has turned to alien arms dealing, after Stark costs him a huge contractor job cleaning up after the mess Loki made back in Avengers. This job loss and (underplayed grudge) leads to the development of really cool weapons such as mechanical wings and destructive lasers. That may be a lot for this young Spider-Man to take on, but he’ll be doing his best to show what he’s made of by doing whatever a spider can.

With multiple entries and a couple of previous actors having filled the shoes of Spider-Man already, the character may not be in James Bond territory, but audiences have certainly seen plenty of him since Sam Raimi’s 2002 blockbuster. This is why it was so pleasing to see a refreshing look at the character with the added dimension of him being a real teenager. The other films have flirted with Peter’s school life, but Homecoming invites us in full. Holland and Jacob Batalon’s Ned share wonderful scenes together, as the two get to hang out and be a pair of unpopular kids figuring out if Spider-Man can solve their social status issues. Laura Harrier and an impressively deadpan Zendaya fill the roles of the teenage girls in Peter’s life and challenge him in their ways, despite being underserved as characters. And Grand Budapest Hotel breakout Tony Revolori continues to excel as the smug Flash Thompson.

Homecoming’s impressive cast also extends to the adult performers made up of a lot of comedic talent and character actors. Given his likely asking price, Downey Jr.’s role as wise mentor is limited but effective. Jon Favreau picks up some slack, returning as Happy Hogan. Marisa Tomei sells the relationship she has with Peter as Aunt May, despite also being underserved. Donald Glover’s character has one of the film’s best scenes with Peter, as Spider-Man works on his interrogation skills. Those are just some of the main characters, and there are still a bunch of other recognizable faces ranging from Hannibal Buress to Tyne Daly.

Bringing it back around to Keaton, it would be hard to call this an anomaly in the continuing narrative of how weak the MCU villains usually are, but he still does the most with his role. Playing a real “New Yawker” with a sinister edge, there’s good tension to be found in his scenes with others, making him perhaps the scariest Spider-Man villain short of Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin sans ridiculous mask. That’s why it’s a bit of a shame that despite some neat dynamics, the Vulture’s fights against Spider-Man feel more perfunctory by nature, compared to the epic bouts between Spider-Man and Doc Oc.

As an action film, Homecoming largely gets by on the wonder a teenager would have in discovering all he is capable of and the gadgets built into his Spidey suit by Stark. Lots of good comedy comes from Peter learning all the tricks at his disposal, but it comes with consequences that had me questioning how necessary this version of Spider-Man was to Queens as far as being a hero. For all the major setpieces, it’s hard not to think about Spider-Man being the reason a lot of destruction takes place.

That in mind, as a director, Watts is navigating some tricky territory here. His vision to make a John Hughes film with superhero action plays well for the most part. The familiar fun that comes with a lot of the Marvel films in particular suitably aligns with the tone of Homecoming. Given that Spider-Man has such a dynamic style, it also continues to be interesting to watch filmmakers come up with clever portrayals of web-slinging in action. Some of the film feels a bit too tightly shot for its own good, but one sequence involving the Washington Monument gave me Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol vibes as far as vertigo-inducing IMAX scenes (IMAX cameras were not used, but the 3D conversion didn’t hurt).

If we’re going to continuing getting this version of Spider-Man for a while, I’m happy to welcome it. The character has been scaled down to deal with street-level crimes and his school life, which is a nice change of pace. Holland is great carrying this film, with plenty of help from a solid supporting cast. Best of all, the film is consistently fun. With an opening orchestral version of the classic 60s Spider-Man theme setting up the fun, bouncy vibe of the movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into the summer as a winner. He may be returning as an Avenger in 2018’s Infinity War, but I am more looking forward to how senior year works out for Peter.

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