The latest Spider-Man film imagines the web-slinging vigilante as the ultimate fanboy, well-versed in Marvel Comics adaptations and Avengers mythology and desperate to be taken seriously by Iron Man.
Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming is an entertaining franchise reboot that follows the original trilogy (2002-2007) and the less successful retreads in 2012 and 2014. With all scripting options having been exhausted, the only place to send Spider-Man to is the studio office where movie executives dream of new ways of extending the life of long-dead but undeniably profitable franchises.
The movie is closest in spirit to the comic strip and the animated television series. Our new hero is a millennial, a fully paid-up member of social media networks and attuned to the new multi-racial reality of America. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has already transformed himself into Spider-Man, but he still has to prove his worth to the Avengers, represented here by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and his factotum Happy (Jon Favreau). Parker is on an internship with Iron Man’s Stark Industries, and only he is witness to the rise of arch-villain Adrian (alter ego Vulture).
To aid further intertextuality and add to the movie’s general meta-ness, Adrian is played by former Batman Michael Keaton.
In the previous Spider-Man films, the masked vigilante was older and more capable of taking on ferocious opponents. But in keeping with the back-to-basics logic of Homecoming, we catch him at the moment on the curve that is somewhere at the bottom. A bigger villain for the adolescent hero is peer pressure, depicted here by the beautiful and brainy Liz (Laura Ruth Harrier) and bully Eugene (Tony Revolori).
For viewers who haven’t seen the previous films and are only dimly aware of the character’s origins, Homecoming works fine as a kinetic action adventure. The movie fulfills its requirement of being shoehorned into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the collective films based on the comic book characters are known, but it has other pleasures – seamless and often stunning visual effects, fast-paced action, smooth writing, nods to the political churn in America, and an easily identifiable and charming hero.
Tom Holland is perfectly cast as the bland-faced teenage superhero who rises up to the occasion but is not afraid to admit to his shortcomings and anxieties. Set in a world in which Captain America videos are used for motivational exercises at school and the Avengers are treated on par with real-life American icons, Holland’s Parker is the most human character in the concocted universe.