“Spider-Man: Homecoming” brings Marvel down to earth

Charles Liu

Spider-Man is home at last, and Marvel Studios hasn’t wasted an ounce of his potential in this fun-loving superheroic ode to John Hughes comedies. Director Jon Watts wisely skips the radioactive spider and death of Uncle Ben, firmly planting us a year into the web-head’s career.

Consequently, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” feels fresh even though it is the franchise’s second reboot in a decade. The movie finds Peter Parker (Tom Holland) invigorated by his “Stark internship retreat” with the Avengers and eager to join the team of superheroes. He thinks he’s ready to leave behind the bike thieves and lost old ladies of Queens to take on world-endangering threats. There’s only one problem: he’s 15. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) suggests that he “stay on the ground” — to his annoyance.

Holland is the best actor to portray Spider-Man so far. He brings youthful energy and charm to the character, and he’s equally magnetic when Spidey’s lounging with his phone as when he’s beating up thugs. His hilarious enthusiasm in the opening minutes should clue you into what kind of movie “Homecoming” will be. If that doesn’t, then you’ll get with the program when a character comments that Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is “a hot Italian woman.”

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” shows off what high school is like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In chemistry, Peter makes web fluid in a desk drawer. In gym, students watch Captain America fitness videos. But tempering these novel elements are familiar ones: the best friend, Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon); the rival, Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori); the love interest, Liz Allan (Laura Harrier); and the weird one, Michelle (Zendaya). “Homecoming” combines these pieces in a wholesome, endearing package chock-full of humor.

While “Homecoming” is the funniest Spider-Man movie made so far, it doesn’t lack drama. Peter often has to choose between personal desires and his heroic duties. His mysterious disappearances damage his friendships on the Decathlon team, disappoint Liz (don’t fret, Peter, she’s a boring character anyway) and worry May. But Peter’s struggles soon escalate. When his actions nearly cost innocent lives, it becomes clear Peter doesn’t actually understand what real responsibility is, and he has much to learn. In essence, “Homecoming” is an origin story without the origin.

But Peter is forced to wise up fast, because there’s a new bad guy in town: Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton), a salvager turned thief who steals dangerous alien technology from Stark and sells it. His gimmick is a pair of giant metal wings that give him aerial superiority. Keaton’s got menace, but Vulture is less of a villain and more a man who wants to provide for his own family.

The Vulture is a worthy opponent in exciting action sequences that challenge Spidey and his artificial intelligence/“suit lady,” Karen (voiced by Jennifer Connelly, fitting since her husband voiced Iron Man’s Jarvis and now plays Vision). The battles don’t rival those of the Raimi films, but they are still inventive. Spidey comedically plays around with the suit’s gadgetry and often relies on brains instead of brawn. His inexperience and immaturity also come into play — there’s a key scene where Peter is utterly defeated. He’s scared. He begs for help. When he realizes he’s alone and out of options, he panics. Of course, he reliably rises up to save the day, but how he does it? That’s a powerful journey.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” triumphantly captures the spirit of Marvel’s flagship hero. It steps away from the globe-trotting Avenger missions and affirms the importance of heroes who fight the small, everyday battles for the little guys. Peter isn’t the “Amazing” Spider-Man yet, but he learns that “Friendly Neighborhood” suits him just fine.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Running Time: 133 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Score: 4 / 5 stars