This Spider-Man should stick.For the second time, Sony Pictures has rebooted the beloved Marvel Comics character on the big screen since holding the movie rights to him dating to 2002’s “Spider-Man.”
After that enjoyable movie and its two sequels, all starring Tobey Maguire as the Web Slinger, Sony pulled the plug. The studio then gave us a new take with 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which starred Andrew Garfield as the Wall Crawler. That movie and its 2014 sequel were solid, but reaction was mixed.
Instead of diving deeper into the relatively complex mythology being developed in the “Amazing” series, Sony killed it and in 2015 struck a deal with Disney-owned Marvel Studios. Thanks to the new paperwork, Spider-Man could appear in future Marvel Studios-produced films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — home to the “Iron Man,” “Avengers” and “The Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and others — and MCU characters could appear in Sony’s “Spider-Man” films, which also would get the proven-to-be-extremely profitable Marvel Studios’ touch.
And thus a young Spider-Man, portrayed by Tom Holland (“In the Heart of the Sea”), made his debut last year in Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: Civil War” and now has his own movie, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man along for some of the ride.
And, oh by the way, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is excellent. Like, really, really good.
Good call on that Disney partnership, Sony.
Directed by the little-known Jon Watts, “Homecoming” is, almost immediately and through to the end, exciting, funny and emotionally compelling. It is an extremely well-paced blend of what longtime fans love about the character — the awkward-and-geeky high schooler version of Spidey’s alter-ego, Peter Parker, balancing school and home life with being a superhero — with high-tech gadgetry not normally associated with the character.
That high-tech gadgetry comes courtesy of Stark — mainly in the form of a multimillion-dollar version of Spider-Man’s familiar suit, complete with a spider drone — who acts as a mentor and father figure to Peter.
While Peter has super powers — thanks, of course, to a bite from a radioactive spider — and a fancy suit, he doesn’t have much of anything important to do. He wants to be an Avenger and is dying to get in an important clash with some villains, but Stark says he’s not ready and encourages him to be “a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
However, Spidey more than once encounters thugs possessing or selling high-tech and downright otherworldly weapons and thinks this issue demands his attention. (Stark disagrees.) Spidey traces the weapons to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who was running a legitimate salvaging company before being robbed of work following the Battle of New York thanks to a deal between the government and Stark’s corporation. Tired of being pushed around, Adrian collected alien tech and worked to fuse it with human tech, to big profits but potentially deadly ends. Adrian wears a high-powered flight suit with massive wings and is becoming supervillain The Vulture, although he may not ever be called that name in the movie.
Meanwhile for Peter, there’s still high school, where he has a fellow geek, Ned (Jacob Batalon), for a best friend and a big crush on a cooler older girl, Liz (Laura Harrier). She, like Peter, is on the academic decathlon team and appreciates his smarts.
Problem is, even though a big national competition is Washington, D.C., is fast approaching for the team, Peter is close to quitting — as he already done with other extracurricular activities — because his “Stark internship” is taking up so much of his time. (That’s his codename for swinging from building to building and thwarting minor crimes in his free time.)
Also hanging around is Michelle (an enjoyable Zendaya, a familiar Disney Channel face), who’s also smart and a bit of an outcast in the most delightful of ways.
When, in a wonderful scene, Ned discovers Peter’s secret identity, he is beyond excited and thinks it is the answer to their social problems. But even though Peter overhears Liz saying she has a crush on Spider-Man, he insists he can’t show off his powers during a party at her house.
“I’m just gonna be myself,” he says.
“Peter, nobody wants that,” Ned replies.
Through the course of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Peter’s personal and crime-fighting lives will come together in a highly satisfying way.
Considering the movie is credited to six writers, including Watts, it’s impressive the script feels so cohesive. Not surprising, given how many jokes land, is that at least a few of their writers have comedy backgrounds. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, for instance, both were involved with writing the script for the funny 2011 dark-comedy hit “Horrible Bosses.”
Watts, too, has a comedy background, having worked on episodes of “Onion News Network.” His big-screen credits include a 2015 thriller starring Kevin Bacon, “Cop Car,” and 2014 horror film “Clown,” two films you may not have heard of but that did receive some critical praise. Still, it’s hard to imagine he would be so steady steering this high-stakes and big-budget juggernaut.
While it never feels rushed, “Homecoming” never drags. And though it hits all the familiar superhero-movie beats, it somehow manages to feel fresh. It helps that a couple of small twists are hard to see coming, even if one seems obvious in retrospect.
Watts is even reasonably strong in the action department, although the movie’s requisite climactic sequence, involving Spider-Man and Vulture fighting on and around a soaring plane, is a bit messy and confusing.
Holland builds on what he started in “Civil War,” giving us an endearing Peter, one with whom we can relate. The character is just the right amount of unsure of himself to be pretty darned charming.
Batalon, who debuted in little-seen 2016 film “North Woods,” is a blast as the sidekick, even if the overweight, computer-savvy character flies a bit close to stereotype.
And Keaton continues his hot streak following “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” “Spotlight” and “The Founder” with a nuanced turn as a villain. He won’t get an Oscar nod for this work, but he’s good.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is more than good. And given this is the third time around for the character, that’s downright amazing.
In theaters: July 7.
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.
Runtime: 2 hours, 13 minutes.Stars (of four): 3.5.