We’re deep enough into the age of comic-book movies that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” in some ways feels like a throwback. Conspicuously kid friendly, the first Spider-Man movie to be produced by Marvel Studios — as a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — not only doesn’t shy from being goofy, but it cheerfully embraces the cartoony. Director Jon Watts’ first shot at Spidey lands close enough to the summer-movie sweet spot that any quibbles feel a bit churlish.
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, first seen in “Captain America: Civil War,” remains beholden to billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), with whom the 15-year-old is serving an “internship.” But Peter finds himself held at arm’s length, not a good place to be for someone of his bouncing-of-the-walls, chomping-at-the-bit energy.
The rubber meets the road when the economically needy salvage crew of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) gets screwed by the government, prompting Toomes to begin stealing Chitauri technology left over from the alien invasion in “The Avengers.” To keep his family and his workers afloat, Toomes turns his business into an arms trade, his secret weapon being a flying suit. Toomes keeps running afoul of Parker, a conflict that comes to a head on the night of the Homecoming Dance.
“Homecoming” gets plenty right. Keaton makes a great Vulture, and the character’s conception here as the working-class villain to Peter’s “working-class hero” proves dramatically effective, especially as goosed by a certain third-act reveal. The characterization of Spider-Man as a snarky teen in science-nerd T-shirts — as unmistakably a kid — also feels fresh. Twenty at the time of filming, Holland looks and sounds considerably more like a teenager than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield (both asssumed the role in their late 20s).
Director Jon Watts makes a credible leap into blockbuster filmmaking following his breakthrough indies “Clown” and “Cop Car.” Though there’s plenty of action excitement throughout, three well-staged major set pieces — each within or adjacent to a recognizable American landmark — effectively crank up tension.
The film’s first act struggles a bit to nail down its tone and pacing, a probable result of at least six screenwriters leaving their prints on the script. Another arguable problem with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” if a guaranteed box-office smash can be said to have one, is that everyone is Iron Man. The crazy amount of technology Stark affords to Parker, a kid from Queens, functions like a plot crutch for much of the film’s first two acts — although it sets up a third-act reversal. Then there’s the Vulture, with his high-tech flying suit and, of course, the tricked-out Iron Man.
The story doesn’t afford much emotional depth, but it does score points by noting Parker’s sacrifices and having Stark teach him the lesson, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” A diverse ensemble adds value: Jacob Batalon as “man in the chair” Ned, Laura Harrier as love interest Liz, Zendaya as hilariously deadpan smart-girl Michelle, and Tony Revolori as bully Flash Thompson. Ultimately, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” can’t shake off the superhero formula or its corporate sheen, but it works nicely within those parameters as an action-packed, beat-the-heat distraction.