Modern marvel

“And I’m in high school, so you know this backpack weighs 50 pounds.”

“And I’m in high school, so you know this backpack weighs 50 pounds.”

Spidey took an unfortunate detour with Andrew Garfield, director Marc Webb and the underwhelming, dreary The Amazing Spider-Man films. (I’m still pissed about those cranes!) That GIF of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker crying sloppily pretty much reflects my sentiment about the last couple of Spider-Man films.

Things get back on track in a fun way with Spider-Man: Homecoming, a complete overhaul of the Peter Parker character thanks to the effervescent casting of young actor Tom Holland. Holland is a fine actor and an impressive athlete. He does most of his own acrobatic stunts.

Of course, a Marvel movie needs a good villain, and Homecoming gets one in Vulture, played with snarling glee by Michael Keaton. Director Jon Watts and an admittedly ridiculous number of writers give Vulture an interesting origin.

He’s Adrian Toones, a construction salvage worker who had a city contract to clean up the mess in New York City after the events of The Avengers. Some government types take over and kick him off the gig, leaving him pissed and with a bunch of high-tech alien junk in his possession. Toones constructs some weapons, including an elaborate winged suit, with the alien technology and, voila, Vulture.

Parker is a younger incarnation this time out, dealing with typical high school traumas that seem a little trivial after the events of Captain America: Civil War, where he sort of saved the day. He’s gone from stealing Captain America’s shield to worrying about girls, and he’s just a little bored.

Enter Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) who has given Parker his Spidey suit with some conditions, like that he can only be a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” concentrating on local problems rather than the really big, worldly ones. Those are jobs for the Avengers, and Spidey isn’t on that level just yet.

The film is basically one half kick-ass Marvel movie—Watts is no slouch with an action sequence—and one half enjoyable and frothy high school comedy that would make John Hughes proud (including a soundtrack with everything from the Ramones to the English Beat). It achieves the difficult accomplishment of being a worthy Marvel Universe installment while being a great standalone adventure in its own right.

The presence of Mr. Reliable, Downey, Jr., holds everything together nicely and assures fans that this is very much another chapter in the continuing Avengers arc. He and Holland have great scenes together, and Iron Man makes more than one prominent appearance. Keaton holds up his part of the job with an expert’s efficiency, relishing a chance to be bad. Remember that moment in 1989’s Batman when he taunted the Joker (“Let’s get nuts!”)?

Marisa Tomei is the new Aunt May, and she’s a great Aunt May. There’s no J. Jonah Jameson this time around. Parker’s adventures as a news photographer will have to wait for the future. There’s too much going on in this one for that subplot to be included.

Hats off to producers for taking a risk with the relatively unknown Watts, whose other feature films include the horror film Clown and the very good Kevin Bacon thriller, Cop Car. Watts demonstrated that he could balance adolescent actors, humor and dread in an expert manner with Cop Car. What he didn’t demonstrate was his ability to coordinate massive special effects with a gargantuan budget. Whatever handicap he had entering the production is surely conquered at this point. He’s a big movie director to be reckoned with.

There’s a moment in Spider-Man: Homecoming that involves some heavy lifting, one that displays the magical powers of the character alongside Holland’s amazing representation of Spidey. In that moment, the character is genuinely reborn. This isn’t your typical approach to a superhero origin story—it’s a let-her-rip, no-nonsense declaration that the right web-slinging incarnation has arrived, and he’s ready to party.