Spider-Man: Homecoming largely takes place two months after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to new York eager to work with the Avengers again, but he hasn’t received much contact from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) at all. Then, he stumbles into some bank robbers using incongruously powerful tech. He soon discovers that there is someone out there developing weapons from alien technology and selling them to criminals. Wanting to prove himself worthy of being an Avenger, Peter goes against Stark’s direct orders and investigates the matter on his own as Spider-Man.What follows is an interesting, ground-level view of the Marvel Universe, all seen through the eyes of a young superhero who doesn’t have it all together. The film gets a lot of mileage out of the basic idea that Spider-Man just isn’t that good at being a superhero yet. He’s an awkward teenager just coming into his own, not entirely confident in his own abilities, and acting with the kind of rash judgment that comes with being young and impulsive. And there’s a great being told in here about overachieving young people in a hurry to grow up, the promise of something greater keeping them from appreciating what’s right in front of them.And for as long as the film stays within this very specific context, it sings. Its depiction of Peter Parker’s high school life buzzes with youthful energy. His interactions with his classmates are brimming with personality. Its scenes of New York City life shine with its specificity of tone. But the film is also part of a larger context. It is a blockbuster superhero film that is also part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And so Peter ends up having to take threats on a scale that’s hard to square up with the themes. And he keeps having to interact with Tony Stark and Happy Hogan, who end up looking foolish in the context of the story that the film tells.The bigger the world gets in the movie, the less it makes sense. The more it hews to standard superhero formula, the less appealing it becomes. The villain, for example, is much more compelling when he isn’t being so villainous. His hard-bitten, working guy charm kind of falls apart when he seems to be so blasé about hurting other people. It feels like there should be more conflict there, but the film seems all too willing to reduce the character to schematic, convenient forms. And Tony Stark, who has for the most part been a rich, complex character, is basically turned into a plot device. All the big stuff in this film just feels like an obligation.There’s more pep in a stolen conversation between Peter and his crush at a hotel hallway than in the fairly generic big action sequences. And the threat of Michael Keaton gets across much better when he isn’t in a costume. Thankfully, there is certainly enough of the smaller stuff to really offset the clumsiness of the bigger sequences. And through it all, the cast just makes thing work. Tom Holland is so youthful and earnest as Peter Parker that it’s hard not to root for him. Michael Keaton isn’t given nearly enough to work with, but he just chews up every scene. It almost doesn’t matter what he’s saying. He just makes you want to listen.Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t quite able to square its scale with its ultimate themes. It really works best when it stays on the ground, when it lets Spider-Man really struggle with his limitations, both in the costume and out of it. It feels like the film is going off course every time the action gets big, or every time it flaunts it connection to a greater universe of superheros. Having said that, those are just occasional detours into weakness. For the most part, the film is able to hold on to the charms of its awkward teenage hero, building stakes in the minor dramas of high school life that easily rival the world-ending crises of all other superhero films.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.