By Jim Slotek
Superhero movies didn’t exist until my 20s, and didn’t eat the multi-plex until my 40s. But I believe I’ve seen more of them than romantic comedies and the combined oeuvre of Adam-Sandler and friends.
My enthusiasm for all those things is barely measurable at this point. About the only way the otherwise-much-anticipated Spider-Man Homecoming could get my attention would be for John Hughes to rise from the dead and recast Spidey’s world as a sardonically funny high-school hell.
And wouldn’t you know, that’s kind of what they did, necromancy aside (the actual director is The Onion News Channel alum Jon Watts). Played by a spindly, believably-15 Tom Holland (who’s really 21, but I don’t believe he shaves), Peter Parker is finally the high school student he was always supposed to be – with detentions, suspensions, school trips, unobtainable (but maybe not) crushes, unwise confidences with best friends, and the conflict of having a “hot” Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) who’s free with concerned advice about Peter’s changing body.
The latter brings us to why this is such an important movie for comic book fans (who worship “the canon” with the dedication of a rabbinical student immersed in the Talmud).
Thanks to peace-in-our-time by teams of intellectual-property lawyers, Spider-Man Homecoming is the first Spider-Man movie (a Sony property) to interact with the Disney-owned Marvel Universe. And in the comic books, Spider-Man has always been a true free-agent, interacting at some point with nearly every character in Marvel’s stable, like the company’s own Kevin Bacon.
And Spidey’s “boy-crush” on The Avengers is the propellant for the plot, which could be described as a prom story with property destruction. Under the auspices of an “internship program” with Stark Industries, Peter is receiving super-hero mentoring from Tony Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr.) - albeit full of tough love and discouraging words (he encourages him to be a “friendly, neighbourhood Spider-man” helping old ladies cross the street).
But he also gets a tricked-out high-tech Spidey suit in the deal – one with a mind of its own a la Iron Man’s. Peter is like a newly-licensed teen experimenting with a sports car, yet another source of laughs.
This is a finely-cast movie, right down to Michael Keaton as a criminally-focused but nuanced Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture – a construction boss once entrusted with repairing the damage of The Avengers’ battle with… okay, I can’t remember, it seems forever ago. But they were aliens. And the insanely-disgruntled Toomes discovers he can backward-engineer a lot of the alien technology – including the ones that can make him fly.
But the real core of Spider-Man Homecoming is the “gang” - Peter’s desk-potato best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his frenemy Flash (The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori), love-object Liz (Laura Harrier) and unsmiling, yet-lovable misfit Michelle (Disney Channel star Zendaya).
Does Peter make the grade? Does he face-plant trying? (Spoiler, yes). Does he redeem himself? Does he get the girl?
All of this ultimately matters more than who staggers out of the de rigueur fireball of mass destruction with which every Marvel movie must end.
Deadpool proved that a super-hero movie could be about characters (mostly because it didn’t have the budget to dazzle us with bullshit). Spider-Man: Homecoming proves this is still true, even when it does.
Spider-Man Homecoming. Directed by Jon Watts. Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr. Opens wide Friday, July 7.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.