After only a tiny taste of Spider-Man’s latest incarnation in Captain America: Civil War, one thing was clear; we all wanted more. Like that first deep gulp of cool air hitting your lungs in autumn, Tom Holland whooshed into our hearts and lungs, infusing palpably fresh oxygen, and stealing scenes from Iron-Man and Captain America alike. Oh, and it looks like that won’t be stopping anytime soon.
As much as Tony Stark (a calmer, now with less mugging Robert Downey Jr.) plays up his fatherly role in Homecoming, it’s not like the Avengers are old fogies or passé by any means, but roundabout Age of Ultron, explosions and effects were outdoing the characters, leaving them (and us) a little worn. More and more it was feeling like our heroes were expected to defeat bigger and crazier enemies in ways that were more about the extravaganza(!) than the characters we’d come to see. For all our collective superhero dreams of individual and team powers, it is the Avengers’ humanity, more than their abilities, that allow us to feel connected to them. It is the imperative to do what he feels is morally right that makes Captain America so appealing; Tony Stark’s stepping back from his own ego at a particular moment; Black Widow’s intense method of direct psychological connection with her team and enemies; it is Peter Parker’s utterly full-hearted, teenaged surges of adrenaline and feelings that makes this Spider-Man so spectacularly right.
Having scored what Parker — to his friends and family — calls an internship with Stark Enterprises (covering for his recruitment and training period), like any high schooler, Peter’s anxious to break free from the daily class grind. Conversely, the audience is happy to immerse into Spidey’s school and friends, a would-be Breakfast Club for the next 2000+ generation, though the music perfectly hearkens that movie (The Ramones, A Flock of Seagulls, The English Beat — yes, please). In Parker’s pal, Ned (Jacob Batalon), neither Peter nor Marvel could have scored a more perfect bestie, the hilarious, computer genius friend on whom Parker can always rely … though not necessarily to keep his secrets. With the introduction of his diverse Brat Pack Nerd Herd (Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Tony Revolori, Abraham Attah, Tiffany Espensen) turned academic Decathlon team, and a couple of rounds with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) aka the “hot Italian”, we’re afforded an entertaining view of the other side of Spider-Man’s world, a fun(ny) respite in between action scenes. Though his school life and Peter discovering and experimenting with his powers and new (Jennifer Connelly voiced) suit are a blast for the audience, a boy is still in a hurry (aren’t they all?) to prove he’s a man — an Avenger — but it’s that boyish exuberance and even his constant and amusing mistakes that make this Spidey so effortlessly endearing.
Meanwhile … back in bad guy land …
Following the Avengers’ battle with the Chitauri in New York, Adrian Toomes — the perfectly cast, Michael Keaton — and his crew (Michael Chernus, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green), are contracted to clean up the huge mess left behind, which includes scraps of alien technology he’s been foraging for newfangled weaponry to sell on the black market. Vulture’s evolution and unveiling are well-executed, and Keaton hits exactly the right villainous note; keeping what could easily have become hammy or farcical on that tightrope line of nuanced perfection. After Spidey has a couple of run-ins with the Shocker(s) and realizes the criminals’ weaponry isn’t the usual steel, he makes it his personal (unsanctioned by Stark) mission to track down the source, necessitating a rescue and reprimand or two … until finally, Daddy-Man takes away his toys. As is always the way with those tenacious teens, Peter just can’t entirely let go of his dreams — or his innate Spidey sense — and with the flick of an old-school wristweb or two, Parker presses on until he gets his man(bird). In between, we suffer only a couple fools (without getting too spoilerish, one’s a blonde-ish irritation; the other a world weary and dreary performance by misnomered director), and by the end of those forever rolling credits, there’s one final delightfully amusing, not-at-all-disappointing surprise.
While there are cameos galore and standout performances, like Zendaya’s MJ and Batalon’s Ned, it is Tom Holland’s naturally infectious charm and sincerity that carry the entirety of this film. Like Chris Evans’ Cap, it’s obvious Holland was born for this role, and in Homecoming, we experience a new Marvel standard to set atop the charts, towering over many of its predecessors. In other words, get your ass to a theater RIGHT NOW.