Director: Jon Watts
Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton
3 (out of 5) Globes
It won me over with some jokes about larb. Actually, it won me over well before that. Long before Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and the now much youthenized Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) started making goofy jokes over their Thai dinner — their leftfield culinary shout-out is even better than the shawarma ending of the first “Avengers” — it was clear “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was a charmer. It was clear from the very start that this was quick on its feet, fun and funny, yet not smug and self-satisfied a la “Deadpool.” It’s such a blast it took me a long time to realize I didn’t care about anyone or anything that happened.
But let’s not rain on the parade yet. Let’s first focus on all that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” gets right. Let’s focus on how the third Peter Parker in 15 years feels a lot like the Peter Parker of the original comics and cartoons — a gee-whiz everyday kid beyond stoked he has superpowers. He’ll gain baggage later, learn that with great power comes great responsibility, yada yada. But when “Homecoming” opens, Holland’s Peter acts exactly like a boy who watches too many Marvel movies who’s just learned he’s going to fight alongside the real Avengers.
Of course, Peter already did that before “Homecoming.” The hilarious opening restages the royal rumble from “Captain America: Civil War” but entirely from footage an excitable Peter shot while he was filing his cameo/charming intro. Then he’s bummed that they don’t call him back for another round. Peter wants to be a star, but he’s not yet ready for prime time. That he’s gotten a taste makes it worse when he has to return to Queens, go back to being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, bust the perps too small for the Avengers. Of course, he could always tell himself at least he’s not stuck in yet another origin story.
And yet one of the best and most novel things about “Homecoming” is that it is mostly stuck in Queens. It’s the first Marvel Cinematic Universe entry to give us a view from the ground, of people that live in a world with superheroes. In “Homecoming,” Iron Man, et al. are cherished just like they are here in the real world. Criminals wear Halloween store Avengers masks when sticking up banks. High school girls play F/M/K with their names. And the movie’s villain — a contractor played by Michael Keaton — becomes a bad guy because Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) screwed him out of a job to clean up the mess left after the first “Avengers.”
“Homecoming” is the opposite of the emo first Spidey reboot, starring a brooding Andrew Garfield. And yet there’s the rub: Maybe the opposite is not ideal either. The downside to constant, very funny jokes is that it never slows down like the original Tobey Maguire ones did, never pauses for character beats that make us invested beyond being constantly entertained, as Sam Raimi made sure to do. You might not notice that absence right away, but you may notice it as “Homecoming” wears on. And though you may like Holland’s Spidey — and he is charming and lovable — you don’t really care for him.
“Homecoming” doesn’t’ slip up the way most Marvel intros do. “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange” and the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” started off like renegade comic book movies, but they gradually conformed to the Marvel house style (boring villains, endless climaxes, etc.). “Homecoming” simply starts to lose its grip. The storytelling starts to become sloppier; the characters start to feel shallow, underdeveloped. Poor Laura Harrier, stuck playing a nothing love interest, complete with a cheesy intro scored to “there’s the girl that I like” music.
And poor Michael Keaton. His baddie starts off strong: He has a good reason to go bad, and he even flies around on metallic wings without it feeling like a cheap in-joke about “Batman” and “Birdman.” But the film can’t decide if he’s an interesting flawed villain or a one-note villain who’s at least memorable, like Kevin Bacon in “Cop Car,” the nifty indie that got director Jon Watts this gig. (Keaton’s as menacing here as Bacon was there.) Watts is a whiz at comedy — he has great timing and a strong visual sense — but he can’t handle action. He even has the nerve to give us zero new scenes of Tony Stark hitting on Aunt May.
But not so fast: Let’s not forget how strong it started, how it gave us the finest and fleetest first act-and-change the current Marvel regime has yet produced. This is a summer blockbuster that finds room for larb jokes. Cherish that.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge