Marvel Delivers a Well-Adjusted Spider-Teen

The latest reboot succeeds by swapping Peter Parker’s angst with daffy levity.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Funny without being tongue-in-cheek and epic without being ponderous, Spider-Man: Homecoming is what a summer movie should be. This latest installment in the Marvel comics blockbuster-verse is as bouncy as its web-spinning hero. Instead of numbly moving the plot forward for the sake of the Marvel corporate plan (I mean “storytelling initiative”), it seamlessly tucks itself into the ongoing Marvel thing without feeling obligatory. This is the way you do it.

We’ve seen a lot of Spider-Man in recent years, including Sam Raimi’s trilogy with Tobey Maguire and two installments with Andrew Garfield. Our current incarnation, played by Tom Holland, debuted last year in Captain America: Civil War, where teenager Peter Parker went under the mentorship of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in Iron Man’s superhero-mentoring program—the most engaging part of that film. Teen angst loomed large in previous tellings of Peter’s story, but Homecoming makes the radical suggestion that high-school years might also be fun—even if you’re struggling with the newfound powers of being Spider-Man.

Robert Downey, Jr. is back as Stark, and while his loyal manservant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) handles most of the exposition here, the scenes between Stark and Peter give the movie a backbone that’s both amusing and sneakily heartfelt. Peter wants to fit in with the other Avengers (the high points of Civil War are hilariously recapped in the opening reel via Peter’s video diary), but Stark urges caution—in actuality, the Spider-Man suit is programmed with a “Training Wheels Protocol” that limits Peter’s powers, an embarrassing discovery for our hero. Peter tries to solve crimes, but instead ends up putting on his red-and-blue Latex and giving directions to tourists lost in Queens. Along with this, Homecoming also morphs into a kind of Peter Parker’s Day Off, a lively teen picture with parties and school dances. The kids in Peter’s universe are wonderfully distinct and nicely cast: jovial best bud Ned (Jacob Batalan), crush Liz (Laura Harrier), blowhard rival Flash (Tony Revolori, the bellhop from The Grand Budapest Hotel), and gloriously sardonic moper Michelle (Zendaya). The high spirits are infectious and the script (credited to six writers!) crammed with quick one-liners.

There is a villain, needless to say. Again, the film makes a shrewd choice by casting Michael Keaton—currently in the midst of a hearty career revival—as a disgruntled businessman in the salvage trade. He gets his hands on some alien goo and builds a set of mechanical wings, obsessed with bringing down Stark. Keaton’s dexterity as an actor makes you feel for the guy, and there’s a third-act plot twist that lets his character inhabit an even richer vein of menace. We’ve also got Marisa Tomei as Peter’s guardian, Aunt May (she delivers the film’s exquisite final line), and Chris Evans doing his Captain America character in a series of high-school public-service announcements. As for Holland, an English actor recently seen in The Lost City of Z, he conveys the chipper enthusiasm needed for the role, and his generic looks are suitable for an every-teen.

Homecoming is directed by Jon Watts (Cop Car), who clearly knows how to set up a joke and pull off a slab of spectacle (attacks on the Washington Monument and a Staten Island Ferry enable Spider-Man’s mandatory bigger-than-life heroics). The idea of letting Peter’s video diary set the movie’s tone is not just a clever touch; the rest of Homecoming actually feels as though it might have been directed by a teenager, albeit an extremely clever one. Not only that, this is the first time watching a Marvel movie that I’ve felt the business of folding characters into a pre-existing universe actually clicks. Homecoming doesn’t give you the underscoring of gravity conveyed by the best pulp pictures—this movie has high spirits, not grand ambitions—but the bigger workings of the Marvel machinery provide the pleasant buzz of something larger afoot. If we have to create movies as blockbusters, let them be like this one: fast, daffy, and swathed in red and blue. Spider-Man: Homecoming, Rated PG-13. Opens Fri., July 7 at various theaters.

film@seattleweekly.com

More in Film

Trailer Park Blues

Megan Griffiths’s Sadie taps into the dark side of teenage angst through Sophia Mitri Schloss’s strong lead performance.

Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) are beacons of light in <em>Rafiki</em>. Image courtesy Film Movement
Getting It Twisted

What to watch for at this year’s edition of Twist: A Queer Film Festival.

Ryan Gosling blasts off as Neil Armstrong in First Man. Photo by Daniel McFadden
Sea of Tranquility

In Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man,’ Ryan Gosling delivers a fascinating blank slate portrayal of astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as star-crossed lovers. Photo by Neal Preston
Not the Brightest Star in the Sky

Lady Gaga shines in the otherwise underwhelming ‘A Star Is Born.’

First-time actor Ben Dickey (with guitar) stars as the titular country songwriter Blaze Foley. Courtesy IFC Films
Down in a ‘Blaze’ of Glory

Writer/director Ethan Hawke aptly portrays Blaze Foley’s never-made-it musical legend.

Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, and Jack Black get their kiddie horror on in The House 
With a Clock in Its Walls. Photo courtesy Storyteller Distribution Co.
Tick, Tick… Boo!

Jack Black and Cate Blanchett can’t prevent the spooky kids’ movie The House with a Clock in Its Walls from feeling a bit insincere.

If you see the poster art for Mandy and are surprised it’s wild, it’s your own damn fault.
Totally Uncaging the Cage

Nicolas Cage taps into his manical best for the acid-trip fantasy revenge film, ‘Mandy.’

Robert Redford says goodbye with The Old Man & the Gun. Photo by Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox
Fall Movie Preview 2018

From Oscar hopefuls to broad comedies, here’s what the season’s film slate has to offer.

John Cho logs on to find his missing daughter in Searching. Photo by Sebastian Baron
Social (Media) Thriller

While not escapist fare, Searching ‘s story of a father searching for his daughter online does feel authentically of the internet.

Regina Hall (center) leads the Double Whammies crew in Support the Girls. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures
Character Meets Cleavage in ‘Support the Girls’

Don’t be fooled by Hooters-esque facade. The Regina Hall-led film is a warm, funny, and communal.

Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, and director Marc Turtletaub put together the pieces on the set of Puzzle. 
Photo by Linda Kallerus/Sony Pictures Classics
Can ‘Puzzle’ Fit in the New Oscars Landscape?

The understated indie boasts a fabulous performance by Kelly Macdonald, but does that matter in the Best Popular Film era?

Teens bond at a gay conversion camp in The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Photo courtesy Beachside Films
The Conversion Immersion of ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’

A strong young ensemble helps director Desiree Akhavan artfully takedown conversion therapy.