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Film review: 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'

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We didn't really need another Spider-Man movie. With three different live-action iterations of the web-slinging hero appearing across six different films over the span of the last 15 years, it was hard to work up enthusiasm for another. But if we had to get a new Spidey film, I'm at least glad we've gotten one as good as "Spider-Man: Homecoming."

Fresh characterizations and an appealing cast set this new film apart. While the "Homecoming" of the title is definitely a nod to Spidey being welcomed back under the Marvel Studios umbrella, it's also a reference to how the film devotes as much time to exploring typical teenage concerns -- complete with a plotline about Peter Parker fretting over asking his crush to the school dance -- as it does to his heroic exploits. It's a superhero film as coming-of-age teen comedy, and the results work remarkably well.

It may not reach the heights of Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 2" (still the gold standard of Spider-Man films), nor is there anything as instantly iconic as the upside-down kiss in Raimi's first film (though it does get a clever reference here), but "Homecoming" is a metric ton of fun.

Foregoing the origin story allows director Jon Watts (and the film's five other credited writers) to hit the ground running. As the film begins, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, who despite being 21, makes a completely convincing 15-year-old) is still buzzing from the events of "Captain America: Civil War." After getting a taste of the big leagues, fighting alongside (and against) the Avengers, taking on petty street-level crime as the "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" just doesn't hold the same thrill.

So he waits by the phone for the call from Tony Stark's assistant, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), who's been tasked with keeping tabs on the overeager teen. But that call never seems to come. In the meantime he carries on with business as usual, trying to be a typical teen at the Queens math and sciences institution he attends, while hiding his superpowered identity from the world, including his dear Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

It helps that the high school scenes are an unending delight, and the young cast that fills them are wonderful. Scene-stealing newcomer Jacob Batalon is a lot of fun as Peter's best friend, Ned. Peter's classmate Liz (Laura Harrier) is the source of his long-simmering crush, and there's also Michelle (Zendaya, delightful) as a sardonic fellow member of the school's Academic Decathlon team. Tony Revolori makes for a nice twist on the Flash Thompson character, playing him as more smarmy douchebag than stereotypical jock bully. One of the best parts of the film is the way it places its characters in a realistically diverse, multicultural world without ever calling attention to itself.

That focus on smaller, more personal stakes extends to the film's villain, Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture (played be a fantastic Michael Keaton). "Birdman" jokes aside, Keaton's character gets real motivation for his actions: he's not bent on world domination, just looking for a way to provide for his family. He's made to be a little sympathetic, getting more screen time than most villains -- in fact he's the first character we're introduced to as the film opens -- and that makes all the difference in the world. Vulture bucks the trend of weak Marvel screen villains to become one of the MCU's very best.

In some previous entries in the MCU, the ties to the rest of the universe can feel forced, but Watts makes them feel natural. From working in the Battle of New York from "The Avengers" to show how the presence of super-powered individuals has had rippling effects on this world, to the appearance by Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark as distant mentor/father figure for Peter, it succeeds in building up the film's reality.

Tom Holland gives Peter an eager puppy dog enthusiasm that borders on naiveté. In his desperation to prove himself, he's prone to rash decisions and poor judgement (like any other teenager). Peter's still a kid, which adds a sense of danger that previous incarnations didn't have. There's a moment late in the film where we get a reminder of how young and inexperienced Peter is, when we see him get truly terrified for his life, and it's heartrending. From the early cockiness to that climactic moment, Holland plays it all impeccably.

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" gives us the best live-action depiction we've gotten of Peter Parker thus far, and I actually found myself looking forward to seeing where the next few films take the character. My Spidey-Sense tingles at the possibilities.

Visit rochestercitynewspaper.com on Friday for additional film coverage, including a review of "Lost in Paris."

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