“Spider-Man: Homecoming” Movie Review

     The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to hum along, producing one successful entry after another while utilizing an endless array of colorful and formerly obscure characters who continue to amaze.  With that success comes the inevitable playbook mentality in which these films seem to begin and end the same way, relying on the same cookie cutter formats and carbon copy villains.  To a certain extent, that’s exactly how director Jon Watts’ “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is constructed as well, but there are also many other significant obstacles to overcome in order for Spider-Man to be integrated into the already well known MCU storylines.  For starters, “Homecoming” is the sixth “Spider-Man” film in the last 15 years and features the third actor to play the lead role during that time frame.  Unlike Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America in their first films, moviegoers of a relatively young age will have previously consumed Spider-Man in large quantities and may have a personal favorite already established in one of the other actors who have played Peter Parker, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield respectively.  This makes Watts’ job significantly more difficult than the directors of previous MCU films and is actually more akin to the difficulties faced by DC filmmakers contending with classic Batman and Superman films and their loyal fanbases.

     An army of six credited screenwriters, including Watts, tackle the story, attempting to fill in the blanks left after Spider-Man was introduced in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”.  Sometimes it’s difficult to forget the past, and the fact that the Sam Raimi directed trilogy has yet to fade, makes the inclusion of the character into the MCU tough to digest.  Not helping matters was the effectiveness of Maguire, the plethora of iconic images from all three films, plus 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” is considered amongst the greatest superhero films of all time.  Even Marc Webb’s 2012 reimagining of the origin story, “The Amazing Spider-Man”, managed to dig even deeper into the mystique, approaching the web slinger’s history with a more dialogue driven indie feel than its blockbuster predecessors did.  And though the sequel, 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, seemed to favor eye candy over story and substance, there was really no reason for the series not to continue, but then Sony and Marvel had an idea.

     Historically speaking, studios who have held the rights of various Marvel characters have made films exclusively under their own banner with both “Spider-Man” (Sony) and the “X-Men” (20th Century Fox) films being prime examples.  But with the obvious success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe being produced by the Disney owned Marvel Studios, an unprecedented move occurred in 2015 in which Sony agreed to allow Spider-Man’s inclusion in “Civil War” and the two iconic studios would then team up for a series of stand alone Spider-Man films that would take place within the MCU.  Now given the already successful and recent films to proceed it, is “Spider-Man: Homecoming” a film fans want or even need?  Though the film does follow the aforementioned Marvel formula, “Homecoming” plays as a genuine crowd pleaser, chalk full of imaginative action set pieces, comedic dialogue, clever plot twists, and a winning performance by our new Peter Parker, UK actor Tom Holland.

     Smartly moving past the origin story and having the events take place shortly after “Civil War”, “Homecoming” tells the story of Peter Parker’s plight as he deals with the angst of being a teenager while also finding himself on the cusp of becoming a new member of the Avengers.  Like the previous entries, Peter is an academically smart, but socially awkward high school student, continually the subject of taunts from some of his classmates and unsure where he fits in within the various circles.  He and his buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) still play with and build “Star Wars” toys (nothing wrong with that by the way) and spend their days looking into the latest tech.  And speaking of tech, there seems to be an abundance of the alien variety floating around the city after the various battles that took place in the last several MCU films.  One of the companies initially tasked with the clean up is run by a man named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who has ulterior motives as to what exactly he is doing with some of the otherworldly finds he and his people have in their possession.  Some may find the fact Keaton’s character becomes the Vulture to be ironic and hilarious given his role in 2014’s Best Picture winner “Birdman” in which he plays an actor who previously played a bird like superhero in a washed up film franchise. But here he is as serious as ever, playing a villain who though limited in screen time, still manages to be just enough of a factor to give Spider-Man a proper adversary.  

     Currently tasked by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to partake in the more “friendly neighborhood” type superhero activities, Peter wants to sling his web against more notable competition.  After he interrupts a group of would be bank robbers who possess mysterious and powerful weapons, Peter looks to find out who is truly behind the production of these destructive devices and in the process, may be up against more than he can handle.  Watts, whose previous work was in TV and the indie film scene, handles the film’s thrilling action scenes with the skill and timing of a seasoned pro, creating a number of astounding visuals that will continue to raise the bar future films in the series will have to somehow out do.  Add to that several notable and often comedic turns by a supporting cast that includes Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Donald Glover, and Bokeem Woodbine, and you have all of the ingredients for not only another solid entry in the series, but also a quality film that stacks up nicely when compared to the other MCU character’s solo efforts.

     Now there is no doubt “Homecoming” suffers a bit from what has become the Marvel superhero playbook I spoke about earlier.  Peter’s day to day interactions with friends and family are basically the same as we’ve seen before in the previous five “Spider-Man” entries, and the character development of the villain is textbook Marvel, and for that matter DC as well.  These films always lead to an all or nothing showdown at the end with the villain now at the height of his power in an attempt to create suspense as to whether or not our hero will come out victorious.  But I think we all know the answer to that question.  For all its positive attributes, “Homecoming” is a notch below both the first two films in Raimi’s trilogy, as well as Webb’s 2012 reboot, but that’s not to say Watts and Marvel haven’t accomplished exactly what they set out to do.  Fans of the MCU now know exactly where Spider-Man fits in with the other characters and have a solid foundation for the future where we will next see him in 2018’s “The Avengers: Infinity War”, plus at least one more solo outing in 2019.  A well oiled machine indeed.