The best and certainly the funniest big screen adaptation since 2004’s highly regarded “Spider-Man 2,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe embraces the web-crawler wonderfully in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
Taking Peter Parker back to his high school days, the smart casting of the slight, geeky Tom Holland, teased effectively in “Captain America: Civil War,” fully pays off in this stand-alone entry. And by integrating elements from other MCU films, like “The Avengers,” “Homecoming” neatly fits into the overall comic franchise.
Directed by Jon Watts (see “Cop Car”), this reboot bypasses the well-heeled Spider-Man origin narrative and pulls out much of the angst that marked earlier verisions of the character. Parker still lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) but with little to no mention of the long departed Uncle Ben. And Pete continues to struggle to balance his duties as Spidey with girls, grades, and responsibility. It’s undeniable that this movie is the most fun we’ve had of any Spider-Man film to date. But former Batman Michael Keaton manages to darken the tone nicely as the frightening and dangerous, winged villain known as the Vulture.
Making a welcomed appearance is Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), who acts as Parker’s snarky mentor. Stark takes a keen almost fatherly interest in the young Spider-Man, even building him a marvelous spider suit that enhances Parker’s super powers. Some comic purests will bemoan that the Stark suit makes the web-crawler more like Iron Man and less like the awkward, wise-cracking Spider-Man. But while I’m a bit of a Spider-Man comic aficionado, having collected print issues since I was a child, the addition of a super suit actually enhances the character, at least, in the cinematic universe.
Changes to Spider-Man’s powers have always been pursued since Spidey hit the big screen. And while the suit is an upgrade, this version does make good use of the more traditional web shooters. Therefore, we get all the incarnations of webs, including a few new permutations based on Stark’s designs. The question is whether this new Spidey will be embraced by comic fans. For me, the changes are wonderful and fully bring Spider-Man into the modern age. I do wonder, however, if the suit could take a Venom-like turn in the inevitable future installments.
Ultimately, it is the goofy tone of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” that makes this more playful approach to the classic comic book a real winner. Comedic elements borrowed from other Marvel cinematic entries are so prevalent that one wonders whether this is the Spider-Man parody film. And without the brutal villainy of the Vulture, the film’s edge would go the way of “Ant-Man.”
But jokes have always been what the character was all about. These jokes, many of them juvenile expressions to release tension, were central to the comic’s coming of age theme. Long before Deadpool profanely jawed his way through a battle with a super-villain, Parker was there just cracking wise sans all the extreme profanity. And by making Spidey just 15 years-old, the innocence shines through wonderfully.
As Pete exercises his powers still barely unlocking their potential, he embraces what it means to be the friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. As he helps stop a bicycle theft or gives a lady directions on the sidewalk, we see him as the immature kid fans originally fell in love with. An ungainly, cheeky swing from rooftop to rooftop has rarely been more endearing.