"SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” — 3½ stars — Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Zendaya; PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments); in general release
The title says it all: “Spider-Man: Homecoming” officially welcomes everyone’s favorite teenage web-slinger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, deftly completing the connection started with Spider-Man’s supporting appearance in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War.”
But diehard comic book fans won’t be the only ones pleased with “Homecoming.” Director Jon Watts’ film is a fun and exciting action piece, perfect for the summer season, and it turns up its heat right when you think it’s going to run out of gas.
Unlike the two previous big screen Spider-Man incarnations, “Homecoming” pretty much skips over Peter Parker’s origin story. By now, moviegoers are well aware of the whole “orphan teen bitten by a magic spider” thing. Instead we pick things up with a hilarious video diary Parker (Tom Holland) apparently made during his first big gig: helping Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) take on Captain America (Chris Evans) during last year’s internal Avenger-versus-Avenger skirmish.
With such a big debut, Parker’s return to relative normalcy in Queens is almost too much to take. Every night he takes off under the guise of a Tony Stark internship to lurk around the neighborhood in his brand new high-tech Spider suit, but nothing much happens until a confrontation at a local bank reveals a black market for alien-powered weapons.
Thanks to a quick opening prologue, we know an embittered contractor named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) has been hoarding and honing the alien technology ever since the aftermath of the Avengers’ battle in New York. He’s even built himself a nasty-looking wing suit, which comes in handy once Spider-Man starts getting too close to his operation.
Parker tries to give Stark the heads-up about the weapons, but his impatience gets the better of him, and Spider-Man has to go through a few hard lessons on a job he’s not quite ready for. Blended with the pratfalls of his day-to-day teen life, dealing with his nosy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his high school crush Liz (Laura Harrier) and his still-in-the-dark guardian Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), “Homecoming” puts together a fun perspective on the comic book genre that feels fresh, even if technically we’ve already seen it a couple of times.
There are plenty of great action set pieces, fun effects and clever jokes (it’s great to hear the Ramones — Queens natives themselves — on the soundtrack), but “Homecoming’s” biggest asset is Holland, who sees his new and exciting world through the same kind of wide eyes his audience would. Not only is he relatable, but his youthful enthusiasm is a nice counter to 21st-century snark and cynicism. In a way, Holland feels like a younger version of the foil Captain America provides for Iron Man.
For all of its strengths, “Homecoming’s” biggest success may be how it manages to avoid stumbling into the same third-act trap that catches so many comic book movies: where the hero, origin story in place, inevitably faces off against a generic opponent in a sequence that carries lots of flash but little narrative weight. Thanks in part to Keaton, plus a surprising story twist or two, “Homecoming” finishes strong, and should leave fans excited for the next installment (speaking of which, be sure to stick around for a pair of worthy bonus scenes).
For a franchise that has now been launched three times in 15 years, for a total of six films (seven if you count “Civil War”), “Spider-Man: Homecoming” defies the odds. And in a summer so weighted down by franchise fatigue, Watts’ effort almost feels as miraculous as a magic spider bite.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments; running time: 133 minutes.