Homecoming’ successfully brings Spider-Man fully into Marvel’s movie universe

Iron Man and Spider-Man zoom through NYC.
Photo: Sony Pictures / Courtesy

Three and a half stars

Spider-Man: Homecoming Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon. Directed by Jon Watts. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.

In an alternate world, Spider-Man might have been the superhero to kick off the insanely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe and set the stage for Hollywood’s current obsession with interconnected movie series. Instead, Marvel’s most popular superhero has been cut off from the larger Marvel world, thanks to a tangled set of licensing agreements that give the movie rights to Sony more or less in perpetuity. So Spider-Man: Homecoming is a feat of corporate deal-making as much as an artistic endeavor, and it succeeds more as the former than the latter. But given that Marvel’s corporate success is a direct result of its approach to moviemaking, the two are inextricably intertwined.

Homecoming makes a pretty big deal out of its connections to other Marvel movies, with substantial supporting roles for Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Jon Favreau as his assistant, Happy Hogan; cameos from other Marvel characters; and a plot that is dependent on preceding Marvel continuity. After making a scene-stealing appearance in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is back to his humdrum life in Queens, nabbing bicycle thieves and dealing with the ups and downs of high school. He longs for bigger adventures with the Avengers, but Tony mostly ignores him.

When Peter stumbles across a criminal organization making and selling weapons out of leftover technology from various superhero/supervillain battles, he springs into action, despite warnings from Tony and Happy to leave things to more seasoned crime-fighters. Peter’s youth and relative inexperience set him apart from other Marvel heroes, and the filmmakers mostly keep him grounded, although his Stark-designed suit has so many technological bells and whistles that it threatens to turn him into a junior version of Iron Man.

Holland is great at conveying Peter’s wide-eyed wonder and thrill at having superpowers and getting to make a difference in the world, and Michael Keaton makes for one of Marvel’s best onscreen villains as Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, a working-class schlub whose villainy is a result of systemic mistreatment by larger-than-life figures like Tony Stark. He gives Peter a speech about his motivations toward the end of the movie that almost makes you root for Spider-Man to join forces with him.

That doesn’t happen, of course, and most of Homecoming proceeds according to reliable Marvel formula, with solid but generic direction from Jon Watts (Cop Car). There are a few impressive set pieces (most notably one set at the Washington Monument), some seeds planted for future movies and some entertaining bits of humor (and at least there isn’t a world-ending threat at the climax). Spider-Man has definitively joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for better or worse.

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