Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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'Spider-Man: Homecoming' is a 'Deadpool' for the entire family

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Spider-Man: Homecoming does the improbable, successfully rebooting a reboot of a trilogy that did the job well enough only a decade ago. It's a movie that could be unnecessary but isn't.

In fact, Spider-Man: Homecoming turns the web slinger into the funniest superhero not named Deadpool, an eagerly awkward wannabe Avenger. This Spider-Man is actually a teenage boy as usual, but finally with an actor who can pass for one. Tom Holland is the third try, and he's a charmer.

Holland's introduction in Captain America: Civil War promised a Spider-Man looking and acting his awkward age that Homecoming delivers. This is a superhero movie John Hughes or Amy Heckerling might have made, embedded in quirky high school dynamics. Comparing Jon Watts' movie to other Marvel flicks isn't enough; at times this is a Breakfast Club of champions.

Homecoming makes its light intentions clear at the outset, briskly recapping the climactic events of Civil War when Spidey in his homemade uniform helped out. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) saw reckless potential that day, keeping the kid in mind for future assignments, sprucing up his costume. Stark's assistant Happy Hogan (scene larcenist Jon Favreau) is assigned to keep Peter out of trouble.

Being a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, foiling bicycle thefts and giving directions, gets boring. Peter wants real action but first he's firmly established as an unlikely superhero, a wallflower brainiac no cooler than his only friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), two guys Michael Cera could push around. Ned's discovery of Peter's alter ego becomes a key element of Homecoming's comedy.

Meanwhile, arch villainy evolves in Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a salvage contractor who loses a lucrative contract to Stark Industries, cleaning up alien debris leftover from Civil War. Toomes keeps a load of glowing junk for himself, discovers its variously destructive qualities and begins building super weapons.

Toomes' prized creation is a winged flying suit, hence his nickname, "Vulture," which is a little too close to Birdman for Keaton to play without distracting. Vulture's grand scheme isn't particularly complex or world-ending, so Keaton doesn't have much to do until a nifty twist places Toomes somewhere least expected. Stakes are raised, not quite lofty enough until one of two post-credits scenes.

Watts stages action with energy if not originality. Spider-Man: Homecoming brings the expected web-swinging thrills and two exemplary set pieces, a domino-crisis atop the Washington Monument and an assault splitting the Staten Island Ferry in two. Those sequences have a gee-whiz feel befitting their young hero, who still can't believe what he can do.

Employing six screenwriters explains why Spider-Man: Homecoming feels a tad disjointed, a few too many ideas being juggled. There's a consistency in Peter's character, though, and everyone this high school outsider deals with. Ned's contribution to the Hughesian vibe can't be underestimated, nor Laura Harrier as Peter's crush, Marisa Tomei as the sexiest Aunt May ever and Zendaya as a detention ghost, a new wave Ally Sheedy.

To the relief of Spider-Man fans, Homecoming doesn't become an Avengers movie under a favorite superhero's name. Cameos by Chris Evans as Captain America bring out Marvel's class clown while Downey adds just enough Stark snark and Iron Man heroics. But if a Spider-Man this much fun needs a kindred mentor in his next movie, let Deadpool contribute to his deliquency.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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