Leaving aside what might otherwise be a richly nuanced discussion of why we need another Spider-man reboot so soon, it is with delight and relief that I report its success. Tom Holland takes on the red spandex and the ironic wisecracks as Peter Parker, the brilliant high-school kid whose bite from a radioactive spider has rendered him nimble, strong, and apparently impervious to the more unpleasant physiological effects of hanging upside for extended periods of time. As with his predecessors, Holland is a disarming blend of teenage impetuosity, angst, and awkwardness, and one that is still absorbing with unaffected glee the whiz-bang niftiness of his superpowers.
Before we get to Peter, though, we are introduced to the man who will be his nemesis, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). He’s not yet the feared Vulture, but rather an honest working man tasked with cleaning up the mess left by the Avengers during their battle with Earth-invading aliens. It’s all going well until the government steps in, takes the job away from him, and sends him into bankruptcy. Well, it would have, but he decided on the spot to put his family’s welfare and that of his work crew ahead of stickling integrity. Thus, he failed to return all the alien and exotic debris he had already removed, and with that, he goes into business creating super-weapons for a grateful criminal class, and a pair of rip-saw equipped wings with which he swoops on his enemies. One of whom will shortly be Peter Parker.
Quick cut to the end of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, but from Peter’s point of view, as in a video diary where we see him narrate in full gobsmacked fashion what it’s like to find himself in the thick of the Avengers, and even more gobsmacked to have de-shielded Captain America. A few months later, though, Peter is back in school at Midtown School of Science and Technology. There the fifteen-year-old regularly geeks out with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and crushes on senior Liz (Laura Harrier), who is also the captain of his academic decathalon team. He’s also waiting for the call from Happy (Jon Favreau), that will team him up with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the other Avengers who haven’t gone rogue. Meanwhile he uses the excuse of being Stark’s intern to spend afternoons and early evenings fighting crime in his neighborhood, as well as giving directions to lost citizens, and doing a backflip on request for his adoring public, one of whom is Liz.
It is, of course, inevitable that Spidey and Vulture will cross paths, and so they do when Peter runs across some thugs stealing an ATM with armament more suited to destroying a small fortress of solitude. When Happy doesn’t take Peter’s report seriously, despite the evident carnage, Peter takes it upon himself to track down where these weapons are coming from, even though it means missing a Spanish quiz, and landing in detention.
This is a solid action flick with a snarky edge, a dynamic plot, and a full understanding of the terrors of not being the most popular kid in high school. Having Holland in the title role keeps this from being mere fluff, though fluffy it is. He is an actor with a great capacity for projecting emotion without resorting to ham. In THE IMPOSSIBLE, he was stunning as a kid separate from his parents in Thailand after the Christmas tsunami. He was just as affecting as Charlie Hunnam’s resentful son in THE LOST CITY OF Z. Here he has a role that is much lighter, but he gives it the same attention to detail in creating a character that has layers. Yes, Peter does exactly what Tony Stark tells him not to do, but it’s a nicely calibrated blend of that impetuosity I mentioned before, and hero worship. The script subtly plays with the father-son relationship between these two, Peter wanting to prove himself in general because that’s what kids do at that age, and in particular to Stark, whose approval he craves with all the intensity of a fatherless child. Much of the film is played for laughs, but this subtext is dead serious, and it makes the film all the more satisfying for it.
As does Keaton as a little guy pushed too far and succumbing to the dark side for the sake of those he loves. At one point Vulture waxes philosophical, and it’s a page right from the Marxist playbook, which is not just unexpected, it makes for an unexpected jolt of empathy. Not too much, but some. This is a guy who slices the Staten Island Ferry in half, because, why not slice the Staten Island Ferry in half if you have the CGI budget? Plus, it gives Spidey a novel new way to sling his webs as he tries to rescue craft, crew, and passengers. Spidey’s new suit, courtesy of Stark, has some terrific enhancements, including Karen, the on-board computer who also an excellent relationship counselor. It’s not the most expensive FX in a flick that takes on the Washington Monument and an invisible plane, but it’s the most puckish.
Cameos from the Avengers abound. Stark drops in from time to time. Happy is much put-upon by his being tasked as the liaison between Peter and Stark. And Captain America, despite probably being a war criminal at this point, pops up in the hokiest of public service spots aimed at Peter and his classmates. We also have a new Aunt Mae, too, and this one is the smoking hot Maria Tomei, who is warm and bubbly with little more to do here than look concerned or to offer maternal comfort when Peter’s life crashes around him.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, we are assured, will return, and with a Peter this young, the Holland incarnation promises long and rewarding for everyone concerned. As with all Marvel film, there are vignettes after the credits, and in this case, while the credits are rolling, too. Stay for both.