Sooner or later, Marvel has to screw up. In recent years even their bad movies have been good (depending on who you ask), and that just can't last forever—at some point one of their big budget superhero movies has got to be an Ishtar-level bust.
But not Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Just to remind us how great these movies can be, we open right after the events of The Avengers, when Peter Parker would have been—what—in kindergarten? Michael Keaton is New York businessman Adrian Toomes, who’s just landed the contract to clean up the mess made during the Battle of New York. He’s invested a lot of money into the venture, but to his shock the cleanup is taken over by a government initiative led by Tony Stark. Toomes, looking at financial ruin, is ordered to turn in any alien technology or scrap he’s collected, shutter his operation, and go home.
He does none of those thing. Do you get the feeling we’ll be seeing both Toomes and that alien tech again? Me, too.
We then get a fun look at the events of Captain America: Civil War as seen through the eyes of teenager Peter Parker, who’s having the time of his life as Spider-Man. When the battle ends he’s sent back home, with the assurances that the Avengers will call when he’s needed.
So Peter waits. And waits, putting off his personal life, convinced he’ll be called back into action at any moment. Meanwhile, someone seems to be selling weapons made with alien tech around Peter’s neighborhood. Even more frightening, he has to survive being a high school sophomore.
One of the smart things Spider-Man: Homecoming does is send Peter back to high school, as an overeager fifteen year old who means well, but tends toward rash actions and under-thought decisions. In other words, he’s a typical teenager, except for being a scientific genius and, you know, sneaking into his house by crawling across the ceilings. It’s the typical superhero challenge of keeping two lives separate, done with spirit and a fresh face in young Tom Holland.
Michael Keaton is, of course, great as Toomes, maintaining his intensity but staying away from being too Batman. He acts with a casual normalcy, making the audience like him even as he, like Peter, makes wrong decisions.
The rest of the cast tends to be overshadowed by a handful of small appearances, especially Robert Downy Jr. as father figure Tony Stark, in turn exasperated and proud of his web-slinging protégé. He hands babysitting duties over to his former driver Happy Hogan, and Jon Favreau is fun to watch as his frustration builds. As usual, the adults just don’t quite understand the kids, not even Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, loving but concerned as May always is). Speaking of kids, the rest of the high school students (who I assume are all older than they play) do a serviceable job on that side of Peter’s life.
Overall the movie is just … fun. And spectacular, often at the same time, although Peter's private life shares equal time with the fight scenes. There’s one huge twist that I should have seen coming. It was pretty obvious in retrospect, and it's been done before ... but it puts a lot of what’s going on in a new perspective. The effects and action sequences are exactly as top notch as you’d expect from a Marvel movie, and the plot’s straight forward and not too terribly full of holes. Then there’s the end of credits scene, which contains no huge twists or plot details—but if you have the patience to wait for it, it’s one of the best after-credits scenes I’ve ever … seen.
Entertainment Value: 4 out of 4 M&Ms, the good brown ones. With an extra helping, and some stored away for later.
Oscar Potential: 2 out of 4 M&Ms, although still the brown ones. If there was an Oscar for best action movie, we’d have a nominee here.