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Dustin Putman

Spider-Man: Homecoming  (2017)
2 Stars
Directed by Jon Watts.
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Angourie Rice, Gwyneth Paltrow, Abraham Attah, Hannibal Buress, Kenneth Choi, Selenis Levya, Martin Starr, Garcelle Beauvais, Michael Chernus, Michael Mando, Logan Marshall-Green, J.J. Totah, Tiffany Espensen, Isabella Amara, Michael Barbieri, Amy Hill, Stan Lee, Chris Evans; voice of Jennifer Connelly.
2017 – 133 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, some language and brief suggestive comments).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 29, 2017.
The third iteration of Marvel's crime-fighting, web-slinging superhero and the first officially fitting into its Cinematic Universe, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" arrives with one major hurdle to overcome: convincing jerked-around viewers that there is a purpose behind Sony mounting a second reboot of this beloved character within a five-year span. If the original Sam Raimi trilogy (2002's "Spider-Man," 2004's "Spider-Man 2," and 2007's "Spider-Man 3") starring Tobey Maguire was just about perfect as far as comic book adaptations go, blending fun, grandeur and an emotionally weighty throughline, then 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" and 2014's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" took time to escape feeling like unnecessary repeats but ultimately proved winning and involving as far as romantically tinged action-adventures go. And then, all because the second picture was considered a marginal underperformer and received some highly unwarranted negative reviews, the plan for an organic continuation of the Andrew Garfield era was abruptly scrapped. As a protagonist, Peter Parker is a somewhat tragic figure with a hopeful disposition, a young man with a huge heart but the weight of the world on his shoulders. Whatever gravitas he had in the previous versions of this tale is but an afterthought in "Spider-Man: Homecoming," by far the most lightweight and thematically inconsequential of any and all past "Spider-Man" features.

Realizing their film would feel like a perpetually skipping record were they to attempt to retell the very same origin story previously covered twice before, writer-director Jon Watts (2016's "Clown") and his parade of co-scribes—Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley (2015's "Vacation") and Christopher Ford (2015's "Cop Car") and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (2017's "The LEGO Batman Movie")—pick up in medias res with a 15-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) who's already taking NYC by storm in his incognito head-to-toe red spandex costume. Having adopted extraordinary capabilities following a radioactive spider bite, Peter was called upon two months earlier to assist Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his Avengers team on a world-saving mission in Berlin. Now that he's gotten a taste fighting alongside these seasoned heavy-hitters of the superhero world, he patiently (but sometimes impatiently) awaits the call for their next mission.

In the meantime, it's back to his normal teenage life, attending Midtown School of Science and Technology by day and acting as everyone's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man during his off hours. Rarely anything exciting seems to happen on Peter's patrols until an attempt to thwart a group of thieves robbing an ATM leads to the discovery of a powerful and debilitating weapon in their possession. His investigation into just what this device is leads him into the clutches of Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton), a nefarious weapons manufacturer hell-bent on sticking it to the man following the unwarranted dissolution of his salvaging company.

Initially introduced in a small scene-stealing role in 2016's "Captain America: Civil War," this particular version of Peter is written as far less complicated and conflicted, the tragic death of his father-figure uncle barely given the footnote treatment. Also less complicated and conflicted: "Spider-Man: Homecoming" as a whole. This is a well-worn, immensely slight rendering, a cotton-candy confection lacking the substantive danger, stakes and consequence of past incarnations. Director Jon Watts' aim is to emulate teen comedies in the John Hughes tradition—and for ample measure, he tosses in a handful of '80s pop hits on the soundtrack and a running-through-backyards montage which cuts to a similar scene from 1986's classic "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"—but merely checking off these boxes is not the same as genuinely capturing the spirit and heart of this subgenre. And while we are on the subject, subtitling your film "Homecoming" and then spending roughly 30 seconds at said dance is so anticlimactic it plays like a joke without a punchline.

If there is one unequivocal accolade worth noting, it is Tom Holland (2015's "In the Heart of the Sea") as Peter Parker. The character hasn't nearly the depth Maguire and Garfield were given, but this is the fault of a screenplay not willing to dig beneath the surface. Holland demonstrates agile physicality and comic timing, giving Peter an accessible exuberance and the sense that he's still got a lot to learn. His close relationship with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is on the undernourished side—and why, pray tell, must the wonderful Marisa Tomei (2015's "Love the Coopers") be thanklessly relegated to dropping Peter off places and standing by bookshelves?—while his burgeoning kinda-sorta romance with receptive classmate Liz (Laura Harrier) isn't exactly a hard-hitter, either.

As resident heavy of the piece Adrian Toomes, Michael Keaton is far more effectively daunting out of costume than he is when moonlighting in a mechanical-winged outfit not half as cool as the one he donned in 2014's "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)." Adrian's motives are, well, somewhat clear (he is tired of the privileged elite picking on and hindering the prosperity of the little guy trying to get ahead), but his mode of villainy is strictly standard-issue and so very familiar it even recycles a key plot point from "Spider-Man" and "The Amazing Spider-Man." Also on hand: Robert Downey Jr. (2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), showing up for a handful of scenes as Tony Stark while posing as Peter's tough-love but ultimately affectionate mentor, and Zendaya, providing standout deadpan delivery as classmate Michelle.

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" has its own intermittent respective charms, and there is a certain cleverness in its self-referential approach to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of which Peter is shocked to find himself a part. What the film squanders is the majestic, stomach-dropping sensation of soaring through the sky which ought to typify this hero and his special brand of abilities. Despite being tonally more fleet-footed, the proceedings strike as less fun than rudimentary. Meanwhile, the palpable intensity of a car-set, dialogue-centric exchange between Peter and Adrian is ultimately unmatched by the more basic action set-pieces surrounding it. Two sequences in particular—the first fateful run-in between Spider-Man and Vulture, and a later battle on the outside of an airplane—are ruined by erratic camerawork and frantic editing. Others, such as a would-be ferry disaster in New York Harbor, are tiresomely unimaginative. Led by Tom Holland in the title role, there is enough that is likable here to suggest a more ambitious, hopefully better sequel is on the horizon. Does "Spider-Man: Homecoming" make a convincing case, however, for why the franchise had to once again start over from scratch only three years removed from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2?" Not. At. All.
© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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