The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


 A Fiendlier Neighborhood Spider-Man

Michael Keaton
Michael Keaton
Columbia Pictures
 133 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton 
Spider-Man: Homecoming

The dual nature of Spider-Man or, more precisely, of the various Spider-Man movies that have been made this century, can best be exemplified by the two quotes most closely associated with the web-slinging superhero. The first is the cheerful way he describes himself as “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” The second is the far more somber admonition he received in conjunction with the death of his beloved guardian, Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” As Spider-Man, Peter Parker has been caught between the exhilaration of being a high school student with amazing powers and the repeatedly heavy emotional losses he suffers upon finding out those powers can’t always protect those he loves.


As Peter Parker has suffered, so too has the Spider-Man franchise, finally hitting one too many rough spots in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Sony (owner of the film rights to the Spider-Man character) decided to do some major retooling, most notably by aligning itself with Disney and its Marvel Studios subsidiary. As a result, Spider-Man returned in an extended (and very well received) cameo in Captain America: Civil War, when the character is recruited by Tony Stark, aka Iron-Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) to take part in an epic battle of the superheroes. That appearance, in more ways than one, led to Spidey’s own film, Spider-Man: Homecoming.


For this movie, director Jon Watts and his team of six screenwriters (including himself) ditch the precarious emotional balancing act in earlier films and come down squarely on the side of youthful fun. Tom Holland (who was 19 when the movie was filmed and looks younger) convincingly plays a 15-year-old Peter Parker, a prototypical fanboy nerd who just happens to have super powers. Gone is any mention of Uncle Ben, and Aunt May, who in the comics is portrayed as a doppelganger for Granny in the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons, is now played by the quite vivacious Marisa Tomei. Pete still has a good bit of anguish in his life, but it comes in the form of an unrequited longing for lovely (and older) classmate Liz (Laura Harrier) and the fact that Tony Stark still won’t let him play with the rest of the adult Avengers on critically important missions. But he still has a lot of fun hanging out with his best friend Ned (newcomer Jacob Batalon) putting together a 3,000 piece Lego Death Star.


Holland’s Spider-Man has to make do with trying to master his powers (especially his zipping from building to building using the webs he shoots out) and literally helping old ladies cross the street. But one night, he stumbles on an ATM robbery in progress in which some very ordinary bad guys are toting some quite extraordinary blaster weapons. The weapons were left over from the various battles that the Avengers had engaged in over the years, and a former salvage contractor named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) had stolen and repurposed them before selling them on the black market. Toomes saved the best for himself, a set of mechanical wings that enables him to fly and earn the nickname of the Vulture. Despite getting little help from Stark, Peter and Ned (who by now has discovered Peter’s alternate identity) try to stop the Vulture from pulling off his biggest robbery yet, hijacking a Stark cargo plane stuffed full of alien technology.


What Spider-Man: Homecoming gets right, not just once, but over and over, are its realistic and fully developed characters. Although there is plenty of action in Homecoming, including some fairly good battles between Spidey and his foes, the emphasis is on Peter’s personal life, as he tries to juggle his fledgling “work” as a superhero with preparing for the academic decathlon. In fact, one of the best and most important sequences in the film has to do with Peter’s taking Liz to the high school prom (after he finally works up the courage to ask her out), but having to go through the ordeal of first meeting the parents.


Holland is nearly perfect in the role of Parker. He’s even more believable as a high schooler than Tobey Maguire was. Further, he’s surrounded by other actors who look like high school students as well, not 30-year-olds trying to pass for 18. The best of all is Jacob Batalon who relishes his moment of glory as a sidekick and actually outdoes Holland in wide-eyed geekdom.


Most good superhero movies have a good villain, and Spider-Man: Homecoming has one of the best in Michael Keaton. The Vulture is not a genetic freak or mad scientist bent on world destruction. Instead, the screenplay takes the time to establish Adrian Toomes as a somewhat sympathetic character, a man who takes to crime to look out for his employees who have been victimized by the government and big business, the latter, not surprisingly in the form of Tony Stark. It’s not difficult to see the political implications in what Toomes does. However, the dark side of his nature does show through on various occasions, so much so that a surprise encounter between him and Spider-Man about two-thirds of the way into the movie becomes quite suspenseful, with the audience unsure as to what Toomes might do.


The film adds some other entertaining touches, including a Siri-like computer (voiced by Jennifer Connelly) that helps Spider-Man access a whole bunch of neat features and innovations in the uniform that Tony Stark provides for him. Again, as in so many other sequences in Homecoming, Tom Holland’s childlike glee at being exposed to all the high tech gadgetry. The film doesn’t go overboard on the gimmicks however. In most of the action sequences, Spider-Man pretty much relies on his strength and agility, along with a couple of the staples in his arsenal, like the webs he shoots out.


Geek love can only go so far, and, eventually, most viewers will realize that Spider-Man: Homecoming never quite rises to the level of greatness, instead contenting itself with being slick summer popcorn fare. Even at that, the final showdown between Spider-Man and the Vulture can’t escape the usual Marvel tendency to going overboard. Still, Spider-Man is the cornerstone of the Marvel comic universe, and it’s a good sign for all parties concerned that Marvel Studios has found the right actor and the right tone. Moviegoers will gladly be caught in this hero’s web for years to come.

In this scene, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) tries to save some of his classmates who are trapped inside the Washington Monument.

Read other reviews of Spider-Man: Homecoming:


Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) on IMDb