The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't really a Spider-Man movie. It's a Peter Parker movie, and that turns out to be an incredibly good thing. Spidey has been in desperate need of a cinematic makeover. The last two films spotlighting the character – The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – lived in the shadow of Sam Raimi's original trilogy. It was clear that the people making them were, to some degree, figuring things out as they went along in an attempt to keep the franchise going. Now that Marvel Studios is in control, we once again get an assured, entertaining picture that realizes the value of the person inside the suit. Lo and behold, this is the best one since 2004's Spider-Man 2.

Set a short time after the events of Captain America: Civil War (which brought Spidey officially into the Marvel Cinematic Universe), the story finds Peter (Tom Holland) hyper-excited over his new role as a superhero, and frustrated that mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is keeping a tight rein on him. Peter is only allowed to apprehend petty criminals. Meanwhile, he struggles to prevent his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) from discovering his secret identity. Trouble finds him when a blue collar worker named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) adopts the moniker of the Vulture and begins peddling high-tech weapons.

Homecoming is a much more comical film than we normally find in the MCU. The first hour focuses almost exclusively on Peter as he struggles with adolescent issues. He and fellow outcast friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) deal with a bully and the pressures of high school. Ned wants him to exploit his Spidey skills to make them cool – an idea that would surely displease Stark. Peter has a crush on a fellow student, Liz (Laura Harrier), but can't quite articulate that to her. A weird girl, Michelle (Zendaya), is always hanging around him. There's a John Hughes-ish vibe to these scenes, which are simultaneously truthful and funny because of how identifiable Peter's awkwardness is.

Since the film takes such care to make Peter Parker a fully-formed character, the later scenes where he puts on the suit and has adventures carry much more weight. Perhaps the best scene finds him saving his classmates during an ill-fated trip to the Washington Monument. (This sequence alone justifies seeing Homecoming in 3D.) It's an interesting twist, having him be the savior of his peers, without being able to take any credit for it.

The latter half centers more on Peter's battle with the Vulture. There's a terrific action scene set aboard the Staten Island Ferry, as well as a climactic showdown between the two characters. Even though the humor recedes a bit here (as it should), emphasis remains on the sacrifices Peter has to make in order to fulfill his heroic duties. Preventing Toomes from executing his plans requires Peter to occasionally miss out on normal teenage activities. At every turn, director Jon Watts (Cop Car) and his five credited co-writers make sure to tell a very human story.

Tom Holland is nothing short of great as Peter Parker. He perfectly captures adolescent insecurity, while also giving us glimpses into the character's desire to prove himself to himself, as well as to Stark. This is truly a star-making performance. Downey remains solid as Stark in a supporting role, and Batalon provides stellar comic relief as Ned.

Then there's Michael Keaton, who makes the villain just as human as the hero. It's refreshing that Toomes isn't a generic psychopath. He's a normal guy with a specific reason why he dabbles in the criminal world. Where the plot takes that idea will catch you by surprise. If anything, there could have been even more expansion of his motivations. Suffice to say, he's a fascinating mirror for Peter. One uses his powers for altruistic reasons, the other more selfishly.

Spider-Man: Homecoming gets the web-slinger back on track. The movie is funny and exciting, capturing many of the qualities that have made Marvel's pictures consistently entertaining, yet also allowing Watts to bring a fresh style to the proceedings. (Ferris Bueller references and A Flock of Seagulls' “Space Age Love Song” on the soundtrack? Yes, please!) This is a satisfying Peter Parker tale all the way around.

( 1/2 out of four)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. The running time is 2 hours and 13 minutes.

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