“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is everything Marvel fans love and DC fans despise — light, funny, optimistic, and filmed sans the blue-filter, desaturated look that separates Marvel’s bright outlook from DC’s dark cinematic and plot tones. It’s also the stuff that has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe films more than $12 billion worldwide with films that are as successful with critics as with fans.
Yes, it’s definitely formulaic, but it’s also a breath of fresh air.
Tom Holland is perfectly cast as our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The character is a splendid blend of teen naivete and youthful optimism mixed with nerdy social outcast. Holland is engaging in and out of the suit — a character so easy to root for, it should be a crime.
Part of what makes the film work so well is the genuine role that school plays in the life of Peter Parker and his classmates. While Parker/Spidey wants badly to be recognized as a formal part of the Avengers, he’s also just a teenager attending a math and sciences high school — something that’s brought home in several very real ways in the film. So much so that it feels like the school experience plays just as important a role as any main character.
It’s the kind of smart screenwriting that allows director Jon Watts to shine. Watts, whose only two feature film outings as director include 2014’s low-budget horror flick “Clown” and 2015’s indie darling “Cop Car,” might have been a bit of a stretch to direct a $175-million superhero blockbuster. However, Watts handles the film like a seasoned pro.
A screenplay by writing partners Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who penned the 2015 reboot of National Lampoon’s “Vacation” is breezy, full of laughs, and somehow doesn’t bog down despite “Homecoming’s” 133-minute run time.
Like the film’s screenwriters and director, its star Holland is fresh on the scene in the world of mega-million dollar Hollywood blockbusters. First appearing as the teenaged webslinger in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” Holland takes Peter Parker and his alter-ego to places the last actor who donned the Spidey-suit, Andrew Garfield, only hinted at.
Not that Garfield was bad, mind you. His two films (2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and its 2014 follow-up) made money at the box office. But neither really seemed to connect with the fans and critics alike in the way the Sam Raimi-directed “Spider-Man” (starring Tobey Maguire and James Franco) film in 2002 did.
Here, “Homecoming” is a title that means more than just the breezily-mentioned high school dance that our hero has to find a date to accompany him. It’s the cinematic homecoming of a Marvel-originated character that has for years been unable to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While Michael Keaton plays a reasonable enough bad guy, the truth is it could have been almost any recognizable actor to take the role of Vulture. The baddie’s motivations are part of the story, but there’s nothing exceptional to Keaton’s portrayal other than a few lines of convincingly menacing dialogue.
Peter Parker’s high school friend and wanna-be sidekick Ned (newcomer Jacob Batalon) is funny and plays an effective foil for Parker’s socially awkward moments. Marisa Tomei returns as (aunt) May Parker. Tony Revolori (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and comedian Hannibal Buress are perfect additions to the cast, playing a high school bully and less-than-enthusiastic physical education teacher, respectively.
Yet it’s the crossover characters that make this “Homecoming” work. Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man doesn't just get a cameo here — he plays an important role throughout the film. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts makes an appearance, and Jon Favreau returns as the Stark Industries ‘get-it-done’ guy Happy Hogan. It’s those addition that really cements Spider-Man as a part of the MCU.
When Marvel Studios began its revolutionary franchise, with characters and plotlines not just continuing from one film to its sequel, but crossing over into other film anchored by entirely different characters, and then even spinning into multiple television series, it was a big gamble. But with that gamble paying off in a big way — with 16 films since 2008, and another 10 scheduled for release by 2020 — the MCU was able to negotiate an unusual contract between rival studio Sony (which owns the rights to Spider-Man) that allows the character to appear in MCU films.
Now, Holland is reportedly signed to appear as the webslinger in at least four more films.
It’s an interesting development for Marvel, indeed, as the stars of two of its core franchises — Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk — are all approaching the age where they may no longer want to, or be able to, continue playing their respective roles. While Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is only 33, Captain America’s Chris Evans has already talked about ending his time as the Rip Van Winkle of the MCU.
Someone like Holland brings a renewed sense of opportunity to the MCU, just as it is prepared to merge the storylines from the popular “Guardians of the Galaxy” series with that of the Avengers in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.”
It looks like Holland’s Spider-Man will be swinging from skyscrapers for a long time to come, and that’s a good thing.