Even in a cinematic world overrun with sequels, reboots and superheroes, Spider-Man stands out as one character particularly at risk of over-exposure. After all, the new film “Spider-Man: Homecoming” marks the start of the third series of Spidey films in just 15 years.
Following the Tobey Maguire trilogy, which yielded two genre classics before falling apart with the overstuffed third film, and two mediocre “Amazing Spider-Man” films, “Homecoming” brings a fresh sense of youthful energy and fun to the mix. It draws much of its charm from ace casting, with Tom Holland bringing a lovably geeky teen awkwardness to Spidey’s alter ego Peter Parker, and Michael Keaton serving up his unique mix of manic energy and working-class heart in the role of villain Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture.
The film opens on Adrian, an average-guy contractor hoping to make a fortune off of salvaging alien-weaponry shrapnel found amid the rubble from the Battle of New York in the first “Avengers” movie. He plans to sell the pieces off for scientific development, a job that could set his family and workers up for life — until federal agents seize the site.
With a small stash of the shrapnel hidden from the feds, Adrian vows to fight back by making money ruthlessly off what he has left. Jumping to eight years later, he and his henchmen have developed a slew of nasty laser-based weapons with which they commit robberies and sell on the black market. Adrian also has created a wing-laden flight suit for himself that has earned him the Vulture nickname, and years of crime have given the once-simple working-class guy a dangerous edge.
Meanwhile, Peter is back in high school sophomore mode after his Avenger escapades in “Captain America: Civil War,” dreading his days in class and acting as a goofball vigilante by night while living with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). He constantly begs Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), and his assistant Happy (Jon Favreau) to re-enlist him in heroics, but they don’t quite take him seriously despite having given him a souped-up new Spidey suit.
When Spider-Man makes the news battling a team of burglars using Adrian’s souped-up weaponry to rob ATMs, he suddenly draws both Tony’s and Adrian’s attention. At the same time, he has to contend with the fact his funny ultra-nerd friend Ned (Jacob Batalon, in a breakout role) has discovered he’s Spider-Man and figure out how to woo Liz (Laura Harrier), the beautiful senior girl of his dreams, amid homecoming season.
“Homecoming” uses humor and occasional moments of teenage angst to set a tone that tells the story expertly from Peter’s youthful frame of mind. While there are a couple of spectacular action sequences set at the Washington Monument and aboard the Staten Island Ferry, the film also scores points with an inventive chase through suburbia and the personality clashes found amid his high school social scene.
The scenes focusing on Peter’s struggles as an outcast are a great homage to the spirit of John Hughes’ teen movie classics, with the suburban chase scene even paralleling the climactic run home at the end of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” While that tone takes away some of the intensity found in other superhero films like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” it makes for a refreshing change of pace and marks “Homecoming” as a superhero film that families can enjoy along with the fanboys.
That sense of vulnerability goes a long way toward making up for Holland’s initially annoying performance, in which his high-pitched voice and constantly snarky comments make a couple of the early fight scenes more goofy than exciting. Just like Peter, he rises to the occasion as the film goes on, particularly in a tense man-to-man showdown with Adrian that arrives with a stunning plot twist.
Keaton makes Adrian one of the best villains yet in the Marvel universe by creating a three-dimensional persona as a man who wants to provide for his family and friends, but was simply pushed too far. With Tony largely used as Peter’s mentor, Downey fits his role like a glove but takes a back seat to much of the action.
With six writers sharing the credit, “Homecoming” could have been a disastrous hodgepodge. Yet that team, and director Jon Watts (whose only previous film was the 2015 indie flick “Cop Car”), have pulled off a Marvel of a movie that has as many laughs as thrills and accomplishes the unlikely task of making the endlessly rehashed Spider-Man feel fresh again. Grade: A
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm
Length: 113 minutes
Directed by: Edgar Wright
This whiz-bang heist flick features the best car chases in many years, while writer-director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) brings his inventive mix of laughs and violence to full boil using an ace cast that fills their roles out colorfully. The soundtrack is propulsive, non-stop fun and makes this the most original and entertaining movie of the summer so far. Grade: A
BEATRIZ AT DINNER
Stars: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow
Length: 83 minutes
Directed by: Miguel Arteta
A working-class holistic healer from Altadena (Salma Hayek) winds up invited to a wealthy Newport Beach client’s dinner party for a egomaniacal billionaire (John Lithgow), leading to an evening of escalating verbal clashes exposing the economic and philosophical divide between the sides. Hayek is solid, but this incredibly slow yet short film is way too heavy-handed. Grade: D
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke
Length: 115 minutes
Directed by: Aisling Walsh
The moving real-life tale of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, who overcame crippling rheumatoid arthritis by becoming a beloved painter of outdoor scenes in her rural Nova Scotia hometown while also contending with a difficult but loving relationship with a loner named Everett. A quiet drama amid the bombastic blockbusters of summer, “Maudie” is riveting due to its terrific performances and heart. Grade: A
Stars: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella
Length: 110 minutes
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Tom Cruise’s latest attempt to find a blockbuster outside the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is a muddled mess, as he plays a rogue soldier stealing exotic antiquities who inadvertently unearths and unleashes an evil, mummified Egyptian princess. Cruise almost makes it work until the last half hour, when the movie completely falls apart. It should have stayed buried. Grade: D
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Length: 141 minutes
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
The first superhero movie centered on a female superhero brings a fresh perspective to the genre, with director Patty Jenkins adding an impressive level of thought, heart and humor to the terrific action and visuals as Wonder Woman teams with a British spy to stop a nefarious German plan and an evil force amid World War I. Fun and expertly made on every level, it’s a must see. Grade: A