“Spider-Man: Homecoming” and I start off on the wrong foot. Spider-Man has never been my super powered do-gooder of choice. I find his incessant need to be the class clown—even though nobody is watching, except us, of course—more irritating than endearing. Likewise, Marvel Studios has become proficient at giving their films a unique identity that goes beyond “superhero flick.” This time around, it’s a teenage melodrama in which the choice between attending the school dance and saving the world is somehow a tough one. Again, not my genre of choice.
Reservations aside, the film has a built-in audience and will surely please them to no end. Tom Holland’s incarnation of Spider-Man is lively and genuine, though I still prefer Tobey McGuire’s gawkier approach. This being the third incarnation of Spider-Man in a relatively short span of time, “Homecoming” doesn’t bore us with the backstory. We already know about the radioactive spider and the doomed Uncle Ben, so those things are only mentioned in passing. Instead, we get right into the new stuff, which really isn’t so new. Peter Parker is still an unpopular high school student who must balance homework with incarcerating a rogues’ gallery of creature-themed lawbreakers. But this time, it’s not Dr. Octopus or The Lizard; it’s The Vulture.
The Vulture, Adrian Toomes to his friends, is one of Marvel Studios’ best villains yet. He doesn’t cackle to the sound of thunder or stroke his pointy beard while daydreaming of starving puppies—or even munch on roadkill, despite his name. He’s not evil for evil’s sake. He’s a working class Joe who feels ignored in modern America, tired of living under the thumb of fat cats like Tony Stark, Iron Man to his super friends. The part is expertly filled with Michael Keaton, who brings a folksy, plaid-laden charm to punching a minor in spandex.
Fundamentally, the “shared universe” concept is creatively stifling, but Marvel has implemented it smartly, subtly and, in some cases, to great comedic effect. I’m talking of an educational videotape starring Captain America, where he implores the youth of America to avoid junk food and respect their teacher—Cap points to his right, while the teacher is standing to the left of the TV. The same could be said of its John Hughes not-so-secret identity, which isn’t just a skin, but seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story, giving tropes such as the awkward meeting of the girlfriend’s father an unexpected, comic book spin.
Sure, it’s got a more deliberated antagonist than usual and it practices some crafty genre splicing, but that’s not enough for me to shake the feeling that I’ve seen “Spider-Man: Homecoming” before. Unlike some better examples of superhero filmmaking of late—I’m talking movies like “Logan” and “Deadpool”—this film feels decidedly safe, not in regards to its kid-friendly content, but its unwillingness to break from the pack and do anything even remotely memorable. You’ll have fun at “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” you just might not remember why.
3 out of 5 stars