Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Spider-Man: Homecoming
If you see a Spider-Man hiding in a cool, dark place, let him be. He's more afraid of you than you are of him.

Some superhero movies have subtitles referring to the dramatic events or villains featured therein: “Apocalypse,” “The Age of Ultron,” “Civil War,” “The Last Stand.” Then there’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which refers to a dance at Peter Parker’s high school. Yes, the new incarnation of the web-slinger is a scrawny 15-year-old who’s at least as concerned about the perils of adolescence as he is about using his great power with great responsibility. He has to save the world — but there’s a Spanish quiz today!

Taking Peter back to high school is one of several things “Homecoming” does to distract us from the fact that this is the sixth Spider-Man movie and third Spider-Man actor since 2002. (If the new Peter Parker is 15, he was born the year Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” came out.) But the main trick employed to keep us from feeling exhausted by the repetition is to make “Homecoming” exhilarating, hilarious, fast-paced, and grounded in reality. It’s the funniest chapter yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directed by Jon Watts (“Cop Car” — see it) with an eye for humorous details and recognizable teen angst. Imagine if John Hughes had made a Spider-Man movie, using a script punched up by “SNL” writers (the good ones, though).

Of course, the title “Homecoming” is also a nod to the character’s long-awaited adoption into the Disney-owned Marvel Cinematic Universe after being held captive by Sony all these years — and you’d be surprised how many seemingly ordinary moviegoers that matters to. Now, at last, he can interact with the other Marvel heroes (except for the X-Men, who belong to 20th Century Fox, but never mind), adding a much-needed teenager’s perspective to the affairs of Norse gods, irradiated green monsters, and patriotic Nazi-punchers.

Played with adorable eagerness by baby-faced Tom Holland (who was 20 when it was filmed), this Spider-Man memorably made his debut in “Captain America: Civil War,” helping Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) sort out some intra-Avengers squabbles. “Homecoming” is set two months after that, with Peter back in Queens, N.Y., waiting for Mr. Stark to call again. Keeping his secret from his worried Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Peter spends his non-school hours doing whatever heroics he can in his neighborhood, which sometimes just means giving people street directions. “The Spider-Man,” as he’s called, is a YouTube celebrity, loosely identified with the Avengers and included with them when Peter’s female classmates play “Eff, Marry, Kill.” But he wants to be an official Avenger, pestering Tony Stark’s right-hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) for an invitation.

Meanwhile, Peter wants to impress Liz (Laura Harrier), a pretty senior at his school, and to do well at the academic decathlon, and to continue perfecting his web-fluid formula (which he works on in science class when the teacher isn’t looking). Soon he has a new goal, too: keeping his nerdy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who has discovered his Spider secret, from revealing it to the world. Ned proves crucial to the film, grounding it, acting the way we suppose we would if we found out our friend was a superhero. Between that and the authentic-feeling Queens locations, this might be the Marvel film that seems most like real life. It conveys what has always been the selling point for Spider-Man: he’s just a regular kid, with the powers of a superhero but the brain of a teenager. He often plunges headlong into a conflict with no actual plan for resolving it, motivated by good intentions but lacking the maturity and experience of his fellow superheroes. It’s highly endearing.

[Continue reading at Crooked Marquee]

 

B+ (2 hrs., 13 min.; PG-13, action violence, one or two mildly suggestive references.)