Keaton does for the Vulture what Molina did for Doc Ock — ’nuff said.
After accepting an internship from Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) — a cover for being recruited for Team Stark during Captain America: Civil War — Peter “Spider-Man” Parker (Tom Holland) has been benched waiting for his next big chance to do an Avengers thing. Peter endures his sophomore year at a New York high school specializing in science with only Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his negligent “nanny” lifeline, all the while thwarting small friendly neighborhood crimes to stay busy. When Spidey stumbles upon a high-tech-equipped gang knocking over an ATM kiosk, he ends up crossing paths with the Vulture (Michael Keaton) before being warned away by his mentor Tony: let the big boys handle big things. Can Peter balance waiting to become an official Avenger, his crush on fellow student Liz (Laura Harrier) before homecoming, his buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) pushing Pete’s superhero advantage into his social life, and doing nothing about a weapons dealer selling whatever to whomever whenever they like? Minor spoiler: nope.
As the sixth movie that started with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002, there have been three incarnations of arguably the world’s most popular superhero. Tobey Maguire nailed milksop Parker but in an older way… plus we got the origin story we all know. After three films, Andrew Garfield took over the hero role in the not-so-soft reboot The Amazing Spider-Man; Parker seemed older than ever yet more athletic as well, but Sony’s rush to jump-start their franchise into multiple films fell flat (are you paying attention, Universal?) With relative-newcomer Tom Holland’s high-schooler take on the Wallcrawler and superhero veteran Michael Keaton trading his batsuit in for an actual flying rig, can the MCU breathe new life into a beaten-down and bloated spider?
Short answer: hells yes, true believers! There are three things most critics already agree upon responsible for making Homecoming as amazing as it is: Tom Holland is Spider-Man, Michael Keaton is the Vulture, and the story draws continuity from everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the casting is pitch perfect, it’s the latter that makes it all work. Fans be warned: liberties have been taken, and all is not as you remember it as Spidey’s world melds back into Marvel, but it does make sense on how key points are re-worked — and thank the Guardians of the Galaxy it’s not another origin story. Minor changes aside, this is the best Spidey movie to date — yeah, including the one with Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock.
There are a few nits to pick. Going back to the point about liberties taken, let’s look at Tony Revolori’s “Flash” Thompson. No longer the all-American lily-white footballer that bodily threatened Peter Parker, he’s been turned into a bullying rich kid whose daddy probably bought him into the accelerated pro-science high school. It feels weird yet becomes such a footnote that it really isn’t important, but it does make a kind of sense considering the type of school Pete’s in. No one says so in-movie, but a school like that can’t be cheap; Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May must have some money somewhere or Tony is footing the bill because Parker hasn’t resorted to selling J. Jonah Jameson pictures of Spidey for the Daily Bugle just yet. Again, nothing bad, just not what we’re used to. You want bad? How about the inattention of the “elite” teachers at a cutting-edge science high school acting like they’d rather be anywhere else? There is a running theme of clueless adults throughout the film — perhaps too busy with adulting to notice what the kids are getting into — but the principal adults do manage to catch on eventually, including arguably the best “What the..?!” in any Marvel movie to date.
Other than the above, Homecoming is a joy. You’ll swear Tom Holland has been groomed his entire life to play Peter Parker, and he does so effortlessly — if you don’t believe that, check out the string of advertisements starring Spidey Holland hawking everything from cars to computers leading up to the release. If all this wasn’t enough, then there’s Keaton’s Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture, a self-made NYC family man put into a difficult situation with enough imagination to think up a way out of it… even if it’s a bit illegal. Vulture isn’t the greatest or even a favorite villain from the original comics, but the rework and menace brought to the character by Keaton has instantly elevated him to one of the most compelling villains in the MCU yet; you almost want to cheer him on if he wasn’t the bad guy. The balance of doing what’s needed along with a personal code of honor almost outshines Holland’s Spidey and certainly elevates a key factor that’s been missing at Marvel: complex and worthy bad guys with significant screen time.
Stay for the scenes during and immediately after the credits for extra fun; it’ll give you and your friends something to giggle about in line after buying another ticket to watch the movie again.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language, brief suggestive comments, and one huge I-told-you-so.
4 Skull Recommendation Out of Four