I didn’t have much hopes for Spider-Man: Homecoming. This is the sixth film and the second reboot of the series in 15 years, and I felt like it was time to give the character a rest. I wasn’t expecting this to be my favorite movie of the six, but so it is. A big part of that is that Peter Parker is a high-school kid, and this movie gets high school in ways that Sam Raimi and Marc Webb didn’t. The movie follows Peter Parker (Tom Holland) so that we get inside this teenager’s head, where participating in the academic decathlon looms as large as taking down Toomes (Michael Keaton), a former salvage worker turned mid-level villain making weapons out of alien technology he stole while cleaning up after The Avengers’ climactic battle. For Peter, the bad guy is just another thing to deal with along with dating that pretty girl in school (Laura Harrier), dealing with an obnoxious fellow decathlete (Tony Revolori) — a nerd bully instead of the usual jock bully is a nice change of pace — and putting up with a disaffected girl (Zendaya) who pops up with awesomely sarcastic quips about their shared high-school loserdom. Peter’s friendship with a Star Wars geek named Ned (Jacob Batalon) who discovers his secret identity early on gives us a valuable perspective on the superhero gig, too: Out of nowhere, Ned asks, “Can you lay eggs?”
The previous movies had Peter learning weighty lessons about grown-up responsibility, but here our hero is more concerned with just learning his own abilities and those of the superhero costume designed for him by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). We do get a weighty lessons when Tony watches Peter needlessly endanger hundreds of people trying to thwart Toomes’ arms deal. Still, Jon Watts, who’s the director and one of six credited screenwriters, keeps the tone of this thing light by restaging the big brawl from Captain America: Civil War from Peter’s starstruck point of view and including a running gag with the Captain (Chris Evans) appearing in Peter’s life only as a distant pop-culture celebrity.
The supporting cast here is subtly loaded: Martin Starr, Hannibal Buress, and Tunde Adebimpe as schoolteachers, Bokeem Woodbine and Logan Marshall-Green as Toomes’ henchmen, Donald Glover as a small-time criminal, Tyne Daly as an officious government bureaucrat, Jennifer Connelly as the voice of the Spider-Man suit’s computer. They all complement Holland, who has a down-to-earth quality that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield lacked. Maybe that’s his surroundings working on him – despite a predictable third-act revelatory twist, Spider-Man: Homecoming benefits from its small scale and its focus on Peter’s day-to-day teenage existence. The Marvel movies could use more of this.
Spider-Man: Homecoming, Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, and Robert Downey Jr. Directed by Jon Watts. Written by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers, based on Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s comic book. Rated PG-13.