In Spider-Man: The Homecoming, Marvel pushes the reset button for Spider-Man, adding Tom Holland as the new kid from Queens, the superhero who can weave webs that snare bad guys.
Although not an origins story, Spider-Man: The Homecoming has the feel of one, mostly because Holland's Peter Parker spends much of the movie trying to figure out the parameters that govern the behavior of a super hero. He's aided in this endeavor by Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark -- a.k.a. Iron Man -- who occasionally drops in to mentor young Parker in the fine art of super-heroism.
The movie treats Spider-Man as a typically insecure teenager -- albeit one who aspires to join the Avengers, a group that needs no introductions. If it does, you can stop reading now.
This Spider-Man movie is one of the entries in the Marvel Comics universe that didn't find a home at Disney. A Sony release, The Homecoming makes an amiable addition to a series that was rebooted once before.
So is Holland a better Spider-Man than screen Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire?
Let's say Holland falls somewhere in the middle. Overdoing Spidey's youthful exuberance and naivety, Holland sometimes teetered on the edge of getting on my nerves.
Fortunately, director Jon Watts allows other characters to carry some of the movie's weight. A schoolmate, nicely played by Jacob Batalon, thinks Parker should use his burgeoning superhero status to win over female classmates who might otherwise view him as a nerd.
An underused Marisa Tomei joins the cast as Parker's Aunt May. Tomei has one of the movie's best moments in a final scene.
Think of the undeveloped potential in Tomei's character. A widowed aunt takes care of a teenage boy in a cramped and probably over-priced Queens apartment. This particular widow still has her looks and easily could be living an entirely different life. She might even feel ripples of resentment about having to spend so much time coping with a high-school kid.
OK. I know. That's another movie.
Parker's high school woes include his fumbling attempts to endear himself to the girl of his dreams (Laura Harrier). The Homecoming spends enough time in high school to earn a well-deserved teen-movie diploma.
A nicely timed piece of comic business arrives when Tony Stark's personal assistant (Jon Favreau) tries to talk to Parker in a high school bathroom.
Of course, you'll find the usual number of action set pieces, the strongest of which takes place when Parker's Academic Decathlon team visits the Washington Monument. A battle on the Staten Island Ferry isn't bad, either.
Otherwise, the screenplay -- credited to six writers -- proves an episodic affair with a minimal through line. While working on a scavenging operation, contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) purloins a powerful substance left on Earth by extra-terrestrials. The discovery becomes the basis for an illicit weapons business run by Toomes, who also has a comic-book identity. He's The Vulture.
At times, Toomes dons large, ominous-looking metal wings that allow him to defy gravity and fly about.
Ably played by Keaton, Vulture is a working-class guy whose life turns evil when the government robs him of a salvage contract he fairly won. Thus scorned, Toomes decides to take revenge on society's elites. He feels entitled to be a villain, and Keaton knows how to make him convincingly mean.
Spidey also has been given an internal conflict: Will he become a nationally renowned celebrity superhero or will he remain a hometown Queens boy, a neighborhood version of a superhero? The question gives the movie a bit of unexpected edge. Does Spidey have the self-assurance to shun the limelight?
A surprising twist adds flavor to the final act, which makes room for the multiple climaxes that Marvel movies can't seem to live without.
Given our justifiable fatigue with comic-book movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming fares better than we have any right to expect. It may not always soar, but it doesn't crash-and-burn either. Be thankful.