It’s oddly easy to forget how important Spider-Man is to the current superhero movie bonanza. 2002’s Spider-Man was the first movie with a $100-million opening weekend — a green light for the continuing superhero invasion. There’s a reason Spider-Man is now in his third incarnation: People really like their friendly neighborhood superhero.
Spider-Man: Homecoming takes that hero back to his New York City roots. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) swept into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with an endearing appearance in Captain America: Civil War as newbie Spider-Man, a schoolkid figuring out how to use an amazing power — but also as Tony Stark’s secret weapon, brought in to make a splash and then go home again.
But what’s home look like when you just fought alongside the Avengers? And what’s the world look like after the Avengers have been fighting in it for a few years?
Homecoming very much belongs to this third-time’s-the-charm Spider-Man, but around the edges, it offers a new look at how ordinary people live in the wake of the Avengers. I don’t just mean the men picking through the rubble left by the Chitauri invasion; I mean the kids growing up with Captain America speaking to them from TV screens in school.
Superheroes have stepped out of the pages of comic books and into classrooms, television, governmental contracts. What does that do to the next generation? We already wanted to grow up to be X-Men or Supergirl or Wonder Woman. But what if they were real?
This Spider-Man can’t quite shake the quote that hung over the Tobey Maguire movies: “With great power comes great responsibility.” But Homecoming turns its awareness of this Marvel mantra into an opportunity to tell a story about growth, the mistakes you have to make to learn, and one of the other most important lessons a young person in tights has to learn: that there are many ways to be heroic.
Spidey’s still a kid, with a voice that cracks sometimes. Holland gives him boundless energy, inventiveness, a good heart — and the script, importantly, gives him room to mess up. Which he does, a lot, and if it’s easy to imagine Spider-Man zipping through the backyards he crashed into, mending fences and straightening gutters, some of his mistakes are not so simple to clean up.
Holland is perfect, as is Michael Keaton, playing a delightfully overt nod to Batman and Birdman; an underused Zendaya as Peter Parker’s classmate Michelle, who gets some of the best lines; Jacob Batalon as Peter’s bestie Ned; and Marisa Tomei as an Aunt May, who feels like a person with her own life.
This New York City actually looks like NYC, with corner bodegas and subways and genuine diversity from sidewalks to classrooms. It pays intriguing lip service to some common questions about the after-effects of Avengers battles: Who cleans up their messes? What havoc does all that alien rubble wreak on the world?
Homecoming can’t get too deep into the darker side of heroic activity — it’s Spider-Man’s movie, after all, his coming-of-age, his acceptance of the hero he is right now and the place that needs him. But it sets the stage for some promising stories to come, both about this young hero and the strange world he calls home. (Broadway Metro, Regal Valley River, Cinemark 17)