Marvel finds a new way to tell one of its oldest stories

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Opens July 7
3.5 out of 5

And here it is, the third Spider-Man reboot in 15 years. Walloping websnappers!

Let’s get on with it.

The superhero’s newest incarnation has challenges to deal with besides the villain du jour: franchise fatigue, unflattering comparisons to well-liked earlier versions (the first two Sam Raimi movies, anyway) and navigating the studio agreement that allowed Spidey to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe are all threats to everyone’s favourite web-head.

I’m happy to report Spider-Man: Homecoming excels on most counts. It stands apart from previous entries by zeroing-in on Peter Parker’s school life and slowing down his learning curve. Also, unlike Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s incarnations, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man doesn’t carry a massive chip on his shoulders and that brightens things up nicely. Most importantly, Homecoming isn’t bogged down by dumb requirements to set up sequels or establish ties to the Avengers, despite Tony Stark’s omnipresence in promotional clips.

Homecoming also spares us Spidey’s origin story and Uncle Ben’s untimely demise. Fine by me!

We re-encounter Peter Parker shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Convinced he’s part of the Avengers, Peter spends his days waiting for a call from Iron Man and patrolling the neighbourhood to debatable effect. Peter’s main contact is Happy Hogan (actor/director Jon Favreau, once Marvel’s point man), Stark’s unimpressed head of security and a guy who clearly isn’t fond of babysitting.

Parker’s costumed life begins to change when he confronts a band of robbers with weapons too sophisticated for run-of-the-mill burglars. Spider-Man tries to bring Tony’s attention to the matter, but radio silence forces him to take action.

Spider-Man: Homecoming superbly ret-cons a plot point in the first Avengers movie into a cornerstone of the villainous threat. Michael Keaton as the “entrepreneur” behind the weapons ring is a step above your average Marvel baddie. Few actors can pull off the friendly/menacing thing as well as Keaton, let alone sell a guy in a heavily-armed bird suit as a fleshed-out character with reasonable grievances and some class-struggle appeal.

But Homecoming is at its best when it depicts Peter Parker’s life. A bit of an outcast at school, Parker’s strong sense of duty is as challenged by his desire to belong as it is by the Vulture. Of course there’s a girl involved, but she doesn’t have the narrative weight of Spidey’s love interests from yore. Quite reasonable: Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is 15 and looks… 17 or 18. Still, an improvement over 30-year-old Andrew Garfield on a skateboard.

While infinitely more satisfying than the botched Amazing Spider-Man series (nipped after two underwhelming episodes), Homecoming comes up short during the action scenes. Relatively untested director John Watts (Cop Car) is brilliant at establishing believable relationships but the fighting bits are messy and hard to follow. Doesn’t help that the ferry centerpiece is annoyingly reminiscent of Spidey’s Spider-Man 2 battle with Doctor Octopus atop a city train. Also, Homecoming’s uninspired score by Michael Giacchino is a far cry from Danny Elfman’s elegiac theme from the Maguire/Raimi trilogy.

I’m nitpicking. There are lots of well-thought details and surprises I don’t wish to spoil here (stay away from IMDb or Wikipedia) that demonstrate artistic inspiration trumping commercial interest… for the most part. I’ll be happy to follow this Spidey for the foreseeable future. And I bet you will be, too. ❧