“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is really more like a reunion, bringing the character whose movie rights were acquired by Sony back into Marvel’s cinematic fold. The result is a fun, unexpectedly lighter-than-air film, one that plays up its comedic aspects more than almost any of its brethren while benefiting from Tom Holland’s believable boyishness in the title role.
Dating back to its comic-book beginnings, Spider-Man always pressed the notion of Peter Parker being someone to whom a younger audience could relate – a science nerd blessed with super powers thanks to a radioactive spider bite, but whose teenage life is also complicated by his dual identity.
Directed by Jon Watts from a script credited to a posse of writers, “Homecoming” fully embraces that awkward dynamic and coming-of-age narrative – with apologies to rival DC, a sort of “Spider-Man: Year One,” tackling the on-the-job training component of truly becoming a superhero.
“Homecoming” also reduces the customary angst associated with Spidey by dispensing with the character’s origin story and that pesky robber, the one who left Peter’s aunt (Marisa Tomei) a widow and taught him the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” lesson.
Instead, the movie picks up (after a prelude introducing Michael Keaton as its not-terribly-inspired villain, the Vulture) where “Captain America: Civil War” left off. Young Peter had his adventure helping Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) battle Captain America and his allies, but now it’s back to Queens, where he’s desperate to demonstrate has the right stuff to survive close shaves as an Avenger, despite barely being old enough to shave.
“This is my chance to prove myself,” he says, a sentiment repeated at the occasional risk of sounding like a whiny adolescent.
Peter thus stumbles through a series of comical encounters in his friendly neighborhood, where the crimes are decidedly grounded. Most of those moments are played for laughs, a tone heightened by bringing fellow nerd Ned (Jacob Batalon) in on Peter’s secret, which both gives our hero someone to talk to and allows Ned to function as the audience’s surrogate on the “Wow, this is cool” spectrum.
Meanwhile, the ongoing battle to stop the Vulture and his gang – a group powered by alien technology they scavenged after the battle in the first “Avengers” movie – largely takes a back seat to Peter’s angst over the fact that Stark and his aide Happy (Jon Favreau) keep ignoring him – or worse, treating him like a kid.
As if reveling in the Marvel tie-in, the film goes out of its way to keep weaving in small references to that wider universe, albeit in low-key but clever ways. Even Michael Giacchino’s score cheekily opens with a bombastic orchestral reinterpretation of the jaunty song from the animated “Spider-Man” TV show of the 1960s.
Not everything works, like Peter’s interaction with the Siri-like voice in his Stark-issued Spider-Man suit, as he learns to employ its various gizmos. The female characters are also a trifle thin, with Laura Harrier as Peter’s crush, while deriving modest mirth from Zendaya as Peter’s surly classmate and continuing the gag about Tomei being far more attractive than Aunt May in the comics.
For the most part, though, this is a “Spider-Man” that both fans and the uninitiated can embrace, with Holland conveying the same high-school-outsider vulnerability that Tobey Maguire brought to the 2002 film.
Fifteen years, it turns out, has been enough time for a half-dozen Spider-Man movies in three different guises. Yet just as the character’s primary goal here is about proving himself, in terms of Marvel injecting a rejuvenating vitality into its wayward wall-crawler, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” clears that bar and then some.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” opens July 7 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.