In the upbeat, uptempo new Spider-Man, an associate who learns of Peter Parker’s secret arachnoid powers asks him if he can now lay eggs.
That’s a fair question. After all, if Spider-Man does whatever a spider can, eggs are in play.
Also, the franchise has been known to lay a few, as it rotates through actors who outgrow Peter’s age bracket. From time to time you need new radioactive blood. Nobody wants to see Spidey pulling a Logan, getting old and depressed and tired, drooling in a hammock made of spider thread.
So Spider-Man: Homecoming is our third reboot, and now it’s Tom Holland’s turn (after his brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War) to reestablish Parker as adolescent. Holland does just that — his Parker is at once confident and confused, awkward and ardent. Peter stumbles when he tries to ask a girl (Laura Harrier) to a dance, and no wonder — she’s the beautiful and brilliant captain of the debate team. He also makes a series of rookie mistakes (a funny sequence) moonlighting in his own New York neighborhood as a budding superhero.
Mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has given him a new Spider-Man suit, but he’s left it in “training-wheels mode” so that Peter can’t do too much damage. Peter chafes at all of this and decides to prove his mettle by single-handedly investigating the source of mysterious contraband showing up in his neighborhood. He traces it back to a bad guy known as the Vulture (Michael Keaton), whose own origin story is cleverly done.
Keaton is Adrian Toomes, a contractor hired to salvage material from rubble created by a recent Avengers battle — a contract he loses when a secretive agency intervenes to redirect the work (and the valuable salvaged material) to Stark Enterprises.
Toomes has gone into debt to staff up, and now stands to lose everything. When a white-collar agency dweeb scolds him for his profligate borrowing, Toomes cold-cocks him — almost as enjoyable as Bane braining the arrogant stockbroker in The Dark Knight Rises.
Toomes has a legitimate gripe — Iron Man destroys buildings, then Stark Enterprises gets a sweetheart contract to clean up the mess. Thus is Toomes/Vulture a cut above the usual villain by conception, and also by design — his villain get-up is a winged contraption of nuts and bolts and welds, befitting his blue-collar roots. And Keaton (his eyebrows have always been his best weapon), completing the rare career arc from DC hero to Marvel villain, has fun with the role.
Director Jon Watts does a good job defining Peter’s spheres — high school, home (ageless Marisa Tomei is his caretaker aunt), nocturnal crime-fighting — and hop-scotching coherently among them.
Holland is 21, but his high school cronies (Harrier, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya) are believably teen-like. And the movie’s celebration of debate-team brain power is sincere and laudable.
The movie is as bubbly and eager as Peter himself, but a little more efficient. It designs its actions sequences around character and story and — a rare thing in comic-book blockbusters — lets the actors act during the climactic action piece.
Compared to a full-on Avengers movie, Homecoming is smaller in scope. The new franchise is meant to be “adjacent” to the Marvel and Avengers universe, and Peter would probably prefer you don’t use the word universe at all. He prefers neighborhood.
Directed by John Watts. With Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, and Laura Harrier. Distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Running time: 2 hrs. 13 mins.
Parent's Guide: PG-13 (superhero violence).
Playing at: Area theaters.