Movie Review - Spider-Man: Homecoming

Even as the appeal of Spider-Man movies was thought to be fading after five live-action films about the teen webslinger -- including a dynamic trilogy by director Sam Raimi and a mediocre revival with Mark Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man series -- the iconic comic-book character seems to still be a hot commodity for Hollywood, as this summer brought us Spider-Man: Homecoming. Finally tossing us a Spider-Man flick set within the realm of the blockbusting franchise that includes the likes of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, while Homecoming might play off the back of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has already established, it also sold a pretty compelling high-school dramedy that balanced John Hughes-esque satire with grounded superhero excitement.

After tangling with the Avengers in the most unlikeliest of ways in Captain America: Civil War, high school sophomore Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to his day-to-day routine as a teenager in New York City. After receiving a minor upgrade for his superhero alter-ego, Spider-Man, from the illustrious billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter now feels compelled to escalate his crime-fighting repertoire from petty street thugs and bicycle thieves to dastardly weapons dealers and beyond. After stumbling into the affairs of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a salvager-turned-arms trafficker with a vendetta against Stark, Peter's life as high school superhero is tossed into a spiral as he grabbles deadly new threats he's never faced before. 

While it might easily be considered a glorified placeholder as we inch ever-so-closer to next year's Avengers: Infinity War, I will say that I appreciated a lot from Spider-Man: Homecoming. Even if the film felt at one point like a simple gimmick to draw more cash into the hands of Disney and Marvel Studios, after striking a deal with Sony Pictures to share the rights of Spider-Man, as a fan I can't help but be giddy with excitement after seeing the movie. Even while the iconic webslinger of Peter Parker's Spider-Man has been played out countless times now on the big screen -- some to great acclaim and others to...lesser acclaim -- Homecoming managed to somehow draw me back in with not only its spry cast of characters, but more importantly, its promise of a down-to-earth Spider-Man movie that didn't need a cornucopia of villains or an elaborate origin story to deliver what it wanted to deliver.

One of the most appealing elements of Homecoming that reeled me into the new reboot had to be its more-balanced focus on the high school exploits of Peter Parker. While Sam Raimi's original trilogy might have sent us through a sliver of Parker's adventures in school, packed with cafeteria hijinks and one awesome Spider-Sense scene, it wasn't until Mark Webb's Amazing Spider-Man movies that we truly saw the character in his typical high school environment. That was short-lived, however, as the sequel quickly saw Parker graduate and leave behind homework and bullies for stalking his love interest in Gwen Stacey. With Homecoming, however, we're instantly treated to the reminiscent hallways of a John Hughes comedy. While the film does have its fun referencing the likes of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and such, it also managed to deliver a protagonist that feels at home in his overbearing high school setting. Much like the comics, we could quickly sympathize and relate to Parker, as his trials and tribulations in high school -- as well as his best friends and worst enemies -- seemed familiar on some level to our own.

Seeing Parker battle internally with his secret identity, all while tackling crushes on girls, bullies, and quiz bowl, all went into making Homecoming feel like an authentic Spider-Man film set in high school. While many of the past film iterations worked to send him out into the world and work force all too prematurely, Homecoming relished in its at-times cliche but all-together refreshing setting. Embracing some of its high school tropes rather than always trying to subvert them, the film succeeded in delivering a compelling account of a contemporary high school experience, through the eyes of an authentic teenage superhero.

Much like any John Hughes-esque film, the cast is probably one of the most vital elements to the story. For Homecoming, while I did need some time to warm up to the lot of them, the colorful cast of the film quickly blew me away. Everyone from Tom Holland's vibrant Peter Parker to Michael Keaton's dastardly Vulture had a unique impact on me, one that sent me frantically listing all the characters I want to see return in the future. With Holland delivering a genuine, awkward-yet-snarky performance as Pete, the 20-year-old managed to trampoline off his appearance in Captain America: Civil War into the shoes of Spider-Man. While Tobey Maguire might remain my favorite on-screen Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Holland easily swings in as a close second as nearly every scene allowed the audience to witness the many facets of potential the young actor has for the character. Able to convey the look and mannerisms of a kid, while having the maturity of a serious actor, Holland delivered a humorous and realistic portrayal of Peter Parker that I can't wait to see explored further.

The rest of the cast worked phenomenally to fill the world surrounding Peter Parker, from his classmates in Jacob Batalon's Ned to Zendaya's Michelle to his newest foes in Keaton's Adrian Toomes. While the inclusion of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark might have delivered us a reasonable father-son dynamic between him and Holland, I felt much more interested in the film delving into its other promising characters. While Holland might have led the show for the most part with his nerdy charisma, the supporting characters in Peter's quippy wingman Ned and his other classmates played well into the John Hughes-esque feel of the movie.

One of my favorite performances in the film, however, was surprisingly Michael Keaton's antagonist in Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture. With the film managing to rev up the flocked geezer we know of from the comics to a more modern iteration of the character, Keaton brought his best, even when the character slipped into familiar villain territory. While his connection to Tony Stark and the events of the first Avengers film might have seemed partly arbitrary and a tad bit convenient, I did find myself throughly interested in his motivations. While Keaton's villain might never elevate to anything profound, his devilish performance was able to package the once-corny Spider-Man foe as a more monstrous and haunted enemy than he was before.

Overall, in the brief moments I could tear my eyes away from Marisa Tomei's Aunt May, I found Spider-Man: Homecoming to be one of the most refreshing Spider-Man films of recent memory. While it might not trump the first two films in Sam Raimi's series, Homecoming delivered not only an enjoyable Peter Parker I could actually sympathize with, but also a clever and well-constructed standalone superhero story. While Spider-Man may be a commodity that Hollywood has dug into many times over now, Homecoming showed that with the right direction, a compelling leading man, and a story that doesn't work to balance too much at once, the character and his adventures can still surprise us.

I gave Spider-Man: Homecoming an 8 out of 10 for its fun, meta tone that balanced everything from the high school tropes of Degrassi and The Breakfast Club to the coming-of-age tales of Almost Famous and the Harry Potter films, all while delivering a superb superhero adventure. Even if it might get bogged down at times by its simple premise and convenient plot points, its colorful cast of characters brought life to the film in a way that the past installments have struggled.     

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