When it comes to the Spider-Man film franchise I guess the sixth time’s a charm. Since 2002, everyone’s favorite neighborhood crime fighter has gone through multiple makeovers. Audiences have weathered director Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s take on the conflicted teen for three films, and more recently they’ve endured a lackluster version envisioned by (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield. Both versions were successful in some aspects but also failed in many others. Peter Parker/Spider-Man, as a cinematic character, is the victim of much trial and error, the results of which fall short of whom this young man really is.

Sony Pictures finally realized this, and in an effort to rejuvenate interest (based on diminishing box office returns) partnered up with Marvel Studios to once again retool. With Marvel’s intimate knowledge of their characters (not to mention their multiple home runs with their MCU and their other famous superhero characters), Spider-Man: Homecoming is the perfect realization of the genius web-slinging smart aleck. Directed by Cop Car’s Jon Watts, and starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Bokeem Woodbine, Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr., Homecoming brings the Spider-Man story back to when the character was most interesting – his high school days. We’re blessed in that we don’t have to witness yet again another origin story and instead are treated to seeing Peter (Holland) and his everyday struggles with juggling his superhero persona and his normal life.

There are a lot of writers credited with devising the final story (Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers and Watts), but what they created is a John Hughes film with a conflicted superhero as its main protagonist. It’s very much a coming of age story since Peter is still looking to discover his true calling, mistaking heroism for normalcy and naively missing the big picture. At the same time it sheds light on the idea that some crime is a necessary evil.

That brings us to our villain, the Vulture, played magnificently by Michael Keaton. Marvel, for years, has had a villain problem – past baddies have often been insignificant, unmemorable and just plain typical. Adrian Toomes (i.e., the Vulture) though, is a former salvager who’s forced into crime in order to take care of his family and his employees. His conflict is relatable and not unlike Peter’s dilemma. Peter wants (more than anything) to take care of his Aunt May (Tomei), and he, like Adrian, will do whatever it takes to secure that. The only glaring difference between the two is that Peter fights crime while Adrian practices it. The duality is subtle but evident, and because Keaton tackles his roles with such high energy and passion we finally have a worthy villain whose actions are understandable while his motivations make for solid drama and intensity.

With Homecoming, there is a freshness that surrounds it and has been missing since Spider-Man 2. Viewers follow Peter as he has developed a routine - school, then crime-fighting, then back home to hang with May. He hangs out with his best friend, Ned (Batalon), and pines after the popular girl Liz (Laura Harrier). And although Spidey fought with and against the Avengers, knowing that makes it that much more endearing as we watch Peter struggle to simply talk to his high school crush. It’s a fantastic balance of what I like to call “Hughes-ian” tropes with superhero film traditions. All of it is fantastic to watch and take in.

In continuing with performances, Tom Holland is a revelation. When Sony decided to drop Andrew Garfield there was a highly-publicized search for a new Peter Parker. Holland was a relative unknown when he was cast, but thanks to his innocent, humorous and precocious take on the character, he’s displayed everything that fans of Spider-Man have come to know and love. Whereas Tobey Maguire was a good Spidey (but a bad Peter Parker) and Andrew Garfield was the opposite, Holland has found balance and plays both with confidence and youthful energy.

For all intents and purposes, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a summer blockbuster to watch. With disappointing box office numbers befalling some major film franchises, franchise fatigue was a worry leading up to this film’s release. It won’t suffer that because this one’s so good. With a running time of 133 minutes, its pacing is brisk and fluid, thanks to a successful balance of drama, action and humor.

The film’s only drawback (and it’s a minor one) is there’s too much Tony Stark. RDJ is still great as the inventor billionaire, but Stark hogs the screen and takes away from the main storyline. It’s forgivable because Tony is essentially taking over as Uncle Ben, but since that character is assumed passed away, a father-son dynamic is unnecessary (at least in this feature) and thus less Iron Man would’ve sufficed.

And wait, Spidey lacks spider-senses? What’s up with that?

Regardless, Homecoming is an amazing treat. I look forward to future adventures with this Peter Parker as he grows and matures and has to deal with more conflicts the teen Parker doesn’t know exist. Welcome home, Spidey, we finally get to see the real you.

4.5 stars out of 5


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