Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is readying himself to race toward some crosstown nefariousness. As fanfare crescendos on the soundtrack, he shoots his webbing to swing into action, only for it to fall feebly to earth. Cut to a long shot of Spidey sprinting through an empty golf course, dodging nighttime irrigation. Sometimes, there aren't any tall trees or buildings around when you need them. Sometimes, things aren't so super, even for heroes.
Following five previous films, Homecoming returns Spider-Man to his comic book roots and finally integrates him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it's not an origin story pivoting on radioactive arachnids. Peter Parker isn't yet a freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle. Instead, he's Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original ordinary fifteen-year-old, recently thrust into an Avengers civil war only to be deposited back in the Queens apartment he shares with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his teen angst.
Aside from his pining for quiz-bowl teammate Liz (Laura Harrier), Peter's high school worries take a backseat as he waits in vain for a call from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) about the next big superhero adventure. All dressed up with no one to save, an aimless Spider-Man gives directions to old folks and erroneously apprehends people for riding their own bicycles.
The Avengers' impact is writ large in Peter's world. His classmates list which superheroes they would "F-Marry-Kill" as if they were the latest pop stars or athletes. Boys daydream about dates with Black Widow. Captain America (Chris Evans) stars in cheesy made-for-school videos meant to motivate the kids in gym and detention. Bank robbers don Halloween masks of Cap, Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man. And Peter is a nerdy nebbish who gets attention only when his pal, Ned (Jacob Batalon), blurts out that Peter has met Spider-Man.
"I just want to be myself," he proclaims. "Peter, nobody wants that," Ned replies.
Danger eventually finds Peter in the form of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a New York City salvage operator who loses a government contract for the cleanup of alien-invasion wreckage to Stark's Department of Damage Control. Desperate to provide for his family, Toomes pilfers enough Chitauri weaponry to become a black-market alien arms dealer, and then expands his illicit operation by repurposing the tech in a vulture-like exoskeleton. Refreshingly, Toomes isn't another supervillain out for world domination. He's an average Joe who's been co-opted and corrupted, becoming Spider-Man's foil even though he's more culturally aligned with him than with the billionaire Stark.
Beyond its PG-13 version of Deadpool-style snark, the most refreshing thing about Spider-Man: Homecoming is its acute self-awareness, from the inspired casting of Holland to the post-credits kicker. Peter Parker doesn't have all the right moves just because he slips on a Stark-supplied onesie; he can't even master its high-tech capabilities, which include an A.I. assistant (voiced by Jennifer Connelly) that hews eerily close to Scarlett Johansson's disembodied OS in Her. His adolescent awkwardness and buoyant banter are more exhilarating than the action scenes, just as Spider-Man should be. This film isn't about Peter Parker learning to grow up. It's about him learning to be a kid again.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Untangled Web"