2017, PG-13, 133 min. Directed by Jon Watts. Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 7, 2017
Tom Holland’s borderline goofball introduction in Captain America: Civil War boded well for this third big-screen incarnation of Marvel’s most popular and relatable teen superhero. Swinging into a melee way over his head – but under Ant-Man’s, go figure – you could finally feel the gosh-wow giddiness of a 15-year-old just barely getting the hang of his powers while still being a kid. (“I stole Captain America’s shield,” he crows in Homecoming.
Not to downplay Sam Raimi’s first two forays into the mighty Marvel extended universe way back in 2002 and 2004, which were great fun (best not to mention his third outing), and while we’re reshuffling the deck, let’s just all pretend 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man never happened – but director Watts returns your friendly neighborhood web-slinger to his often laugh-out-loud juvenile roots. As bug-bitten Peter Parker, Holland brings just the right amount of teenage uncertainty and ill-advised derring-do to the role. This Spider-Man is less the fully formed Avenger that he will surely one day become and more of a wise-cracking, accident-prone youth who frequently overestimates his own abilities while trying to prove himself to mentor Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Downey Jr., coolly flip as always). Holland is the most realistic Parker/Spider-Man of them all, and he’s signed on for multiple Marvel outings, so audiences will finally get the chance to see the boy become a man in relatively real time.
As villain du jour, Michael Keaton brings a gravelly, working-man panache to the role of high-flying baddie the Vulture. The weakest link in the film – possibly due to the six screenwriters involved here – is that the Vulture’s backstory is all but glossed over. A demolition and scrap metal engineer who oversees a crew cleaning up after the Avengers' alien-debris-laden messes, he’s a working stiff cut off from his day job when S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up, and thus retires to a life of crime selling deadly Ultron tech to the highest bidder. Keaton sinks his teeth into the role as much as he can – those eyebrows and ultra-intense gaze continue to serve him well – but you end up wishing you knew more about this particularly fascinating evildoer-cum-family guy.
There’s plenty of nifty action set-pieces on display here – including a decidedly unamazing but hilarious gag involving Spidey and a kid’s tree house – but for the first time, the most popular of all of Marvel’s 1960s-era characters genuinely focuses less on the amazing and more on the boy behind the mask, and that’s a welcome change of pace. ‘Nuff said.