Give it up for Marvel imposing its will on Sony for the THIRD Spider-Man incarnation in living memory. They don’t repeat the origin story this time, change-up the age of the title character and give him the ADHD energy that the unseen radio-active spider bite made worse, not better.
In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” he’s manic, 15 and breathless, battling his hormones and digging an older teenage girl, one seemingly out of his league.
Uncle Ben isn’t in the picture, and Aunt May has morphed into Aunt MILF (Marisa Tomei).
They summon Michael Keaton’s menace in conjuring up Marvel’s best bad guy in years — even if they give him just one scene to get that across.
But in back-engineering this “friendly neighborhood” character into the Avengers/Marvel universe where our latest Spidey (Tom Holland) made his antic entrance, unheralded director Jon Watts and six credited screenwriters substitute hyperactivity for depth, inside jokes and “universe” interconnectedness for coherence.
The chatterbox character and the film are earnest but lightweight, making for a movie that lacks gravitas, romance, fear or zing. For young Mr. Holland’s opus, “at least he’s not Andrew Garfield” isn’t enough.
Robert Downey Jr. collects another “Iron Man” check as young Peter Parker’s mentor, Mr. “The kid’s got a future.” Sparkling, snarky Tony Stark has too much on his plate to ride herd on the novice super-hero, leaving him to the annoyed “head of security” Happy (Jon Favreau). Happy and Iron Man don’t listen when the wonder boy tries to tell them about stolen alien tech and the embittered, short-cut taking small businessman, Toomes (Keaton) who is making black market weapons out of it.
Aunt May doesn’t know Peter’s secret, but his plump nerd-pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) finds out. It’s a pity Peter can’t parlay his secret identity into scoring time with high school senior Liz (Laura Harrier).
Peter’s hands are tied by Tony Stark’s “Don’t do anything I would do, and don’t do anything I WOULDN’T do.” And all he wants to do is catch bad guys, break a big case and impress his way into The Avengers.
There are, of course, multiple levels of Marvel fandom, but only two will suffice for talking about “Homecoming.” There are those who squeal with glee at every tie-in character who makes a cameo, every new costume introduction — and those who silently roll their eyes and mutter, “Yeah, and?” Guess which camp I’m in? And being in that latter group, I want something with more human qualities than the pandering piffle aimed at those who like the extended soap opera that the studio is ever-engineering.
Marvel has mastered the effects — there’s a doozy involving watercraft — the art of setting up the next picture, loading up the next freight car on the gravy train, and at capturing the right, light-and-jokey with dark moments tone.
But they’ve utterly lost the plot when it comes to plot. And gravitas. It’s as if they packed ten movies’ worth in “Logan,” because whatever energy “Homecoming” delivers in some (not all) its many scenes, it has no weight — zero. It’s cute, never more than that.
Give Michael Keaton one great scene to make his natural menace felt, and then make that moment all talk and no “violence has consequences.” Introduce a high school bully, and make him a non-threatening shrimp (Tony Revolori), a mean girl in boy form.
Jaunty montages set to vintage pop and punk (“Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones) make the effects-driven action beats play, even if they’re beyond repetitious at this point.
Marvel can take a bow for making the film’s multi-culturalism stand front and center, from inter-racial friendships and romances, to multi-racial gangs and the Japanese American school principal (Kenneth Choi) whose WWII Nisei-uniformed dad’s photo figures prominently on his desk, bookending the gym teacher (Hannibal Burress) whose detention hall is postered with James Baldwin and Frederick Douglas images. That’s another, “Yeah, OK, and?”
But pretending this is anything other than pleasant, time-killing filler for the next Marvel marvel is laughable. Changing up the story removes some of the onus of comparison to the first Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi “Spider-Man.” Not when it comes to romance, suspense, guts and heart, however.
Even the not-late/not-lamented Andrew Garfield’s Spidey brought some of that to the table.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Laura Harrier, Chris Evans, Zendaya
Credits:Directed by Jon Watts script by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Jon Watts, Chris McKenna, Erik Summers . A Marvel/Sony Columbia release.
Running time: 2:22