“Couldn’t you just be a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man?” – Tony Stark, tempering expectations for 15-year-old Peter Parker.
Spider-Man wants to save the world. He wants to be an Avenger. He wants to soar with the likes of Iron Man and Captain America.
Fortunately for us, the adventures in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” are indeed more of the friendly neighborhood variety.
Three cheers for that.
Tell me you’re not experiencing a few symptoms of Save the Universe Fatigue after a seemingly non-stop parade of huge-budget superhero movies in which various caped and costumed crusaders engage in epic, ultimate-stakes battles with various warped and evil villains — with the fate of EVERYONE FOR ALL TIME in the balance.
Even with a goodly amount of explosions and action and expensive-looking CGI sequences, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a relatively and refreshingly scaled-down adventure, with at least as many scenes set in high school as in the skies. At times it plays like a 21st century version of a John Hughes teen-angst romance/comedy meshed with a superhero saga.
On the heels of the “Spider-Man” trilogy from the 2000s starring Tobey Maguire and the reboot with Andrew Garfield (a fine actor who looked too old for the part), this is yet another early-arc story about the bright and chipper but hardly streetwise Peter Parker/Spidey — although (mercifully) it isn’t an origin story that goes all the way back to that radioactive spider biting young Petey, the tragic death of Uncle Ben, etc. Those pivotal but oh-so-familiar events have already happened when we pick up the story here.
We were introduced to the terrific and well-cast Tom Holland as the teenage Spidey in “Captain America: Civil War,” and the potential Holland displayed in limited screen time in that film flourishes in “Homecoming.” Holland delivers a winning performance as the 15-year-old Peter, a high school sophomore from Queens juggling classwork, his work with the Academic Decathlon team and what he calls his “internship” with Stark Industries — not to mention keeping secrets from the loving but smothering Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, and yes, the film makes a couple of references to Aunt May being quite the looker).
Director Jon Watts and the team of screenwriters do a fine job of juggling parallel (and then eventually intersecting) storylines.
Michael Keaton has already played a Batman and a Birdman, so why not the Vulture? The great Keaton has never been afraid to go big with a performance, but he’s actually a bit muted here (which makes it more interesting) as a chip-on-his-shoulder criminal mastermind who purloined some leftover bits and pieces from Avengers headquarters and converted them into deadly weapons. (He’s also fashioned a fantastic if somewhat clunky winged contraption that enables him to fly, which of course invites a few chuckles as we recall Keaton’s previous endeavors as a flying man.)
Meanwhile, Peter keeps pestering Tony Stark’s right-hand man Happy (Jon Favreau) for another assignment with the Avengers. Tony Stark himself shows up from time to time, either in person or via cutting-edge technology, to oversee Peter’s activities and to tell him to slow his roll.
So Peter spends his days plotting adventures with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon, funny and likable), pining over a smart and sweet senior student named Liz (Laura Harrier) and bungling his way through various efforts to thwart criminal activity in the neighborhood. (A typical misadventure: Peter “captures” a guy trying to break into his own car.)
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is breezy fun. Holland and Batalon are a hoot as classic high school friends — one a little bit nerdy but earnest and handsome and coming into his own, the other a full-on and cheerfully self-aware geek whose idea of great night is building a giant Lego Death Star.
The budding romance between Peter and Liz rings true. Zendaya scores some laughs as a cynical rebel student. Donald Glover steals a scene as a small-time crook who sizes up Spidey and realizes he’s dealing with a neophyte. A handful of familiar characters from the Marvel Universe pop in here and there.
Only occasionally does “Homecoming” stumble. A major late surprise defies credulity, even within this fantastical world. The same could be said of a major sequence in which Happy oversees the transportation of all sorts of invaluable Avengers assets.
The best thing about “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is Spidey is still more of a kid than a man. Even with his budding superpowers, he still has the impatience, the awkwardness, the passion, the uncertainty and sometimes the dangerous ambition of a teenager still trying to figure out this world.
Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios presents a film directed by Jon Watts and written by Watts, Christopher Ford, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. ). Running time: 133 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.