With “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” fans finally have a movie centered on a Peter Parker (Tom Holland) who feels like the awkward teenage hero they grew to love in the comics.
All it took was a trilogy of Tobey Maguire movies, the first of which remains highly watchable but in no way feels like it’s about a high school student. An unnecessary origin-story reboot starring Andrew Garfield, who was darn near 30 at the time and looked every bit of it. And a second Garfield movie that was so bad it convinced Sony to throw up its hands, admit it had no idea what to do with its most valuable property and allowed the character to become a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It was worth all of that — even the emo Peter Parker scenes from “Spider-Man 3” — for a movie that finally, FINALLY gets the character right.
After a brief yet clever recap of the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter’s back to being a high school student. Once a proud member of the academic decathlon team, he just waits for school to let out each day so he can be Spidey again — even if it just means catching bicycle thieves and giving directions to little old ladies.
Peter’s itching to do more. He puts his life on hold in case he gets the call for another mission. But his mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), just wants Peter to take things slow and small, asking him, “Can’t you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”
He certainly could have — and likely would have — if it weren’t for Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Toomes landed the salvage contract during the cleanup after the Chitauri invasion in “The Avengers,” overextending himself to buy the necessary equipment and putting his home and all of his savings at risk. Then the Department of Damage Control, a government agency aligned with Stark, swooped in, kicked Toomes and his team out of the rubble and seized control of all the alien technology. All of it, that is, except for one truckload that Toomes had yet to turn over. Cut to eight years later, and Toomes — who, as The Vulture, uses a winged suit to steal some of that otherworldly tech — and his team are making and selling super weapons.
For long stretches, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is an above-average young-adult movie with some super powers thrown in. Peter’s awkward, in love with an older woman — high school senior Liz (Laura Harrier) — and he and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), mostly fail at fitting in. But when Toomes and his weapons start terrorizing Peter’s beloved Queens, he simply can’t help but stand up and fight.
For the past several years, superhero movies have had a serious villain problem. Aside from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, I can barely remember the bad guys from the last couple of dozen. But in Keaton’s formidable hands, The Vulture is an exception. He has no powers. He isn’t from another planet. He’s just a blue-collar guy who saw himself getting screwed over by a billionaire and is simply trying to provide for his family. There’s real acting with real depth here. The Vulture isn’t exactly Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight,” but he’s substantial nonetheless.
And as good as it is watching Downey’s Stark interact with Peter, it’s even better seeing a beefed-up role for Jon Favreau as Happy, Stark’s head of security, who’s tasked with baby-sitting Peter.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” required a total of six — count ’em, six — screenwriters, ranging from director Jon Watts and his “Cop Car” writing partner, Christopher Ford, to the “Lego Batman Movie” duo of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers to the team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who brought you “Horrible Bosses” and that awful “Vacation” redo. With all those very different voices, it’s a wonder any of this works. But it does, especially in the smaller moments.
The only time “Spider-Man: Homecoming” really errs is during the climactic battle between Spidey and The Vulture. The filmmakers should have heeded Stark’s advice and kept things simple. Because, after being grounded for so long, much like “Wonder Woman,” the ending gets a little too big for its britches.
The rest of the movie, though, really swings.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.