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Reclaiming amazing – ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

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Latest reboot captures the joyful spirit of the beloved superhero

I grew up loving comic books, so the cinematic superhero boom has been a generally wonderful experience for me. I had my preferences, of course – Marvel rules, DC drools – but really, I loved them all.

But my deepest, most heartfelt affections were reserved for one man – Spider-Man.

So you can imagine my elation when it became clear that Sony – following the lukewarm reception of their own Andrew Garfield-led wallcrawling movies that were themselves a reboot of Tobey Maguire’s turn of the century trilogy turn – conceded the friendly neighborhood crimefighter to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We first saw Tom Holland as Spider-Man/Peter Parker in “Captain America: Civil War.” After a spirited turn that gave me the closest glimpse of MY Spider-Man that I had ever seen on-screen, I was eagerly anticipating what I would get from a stand-along movie. My expectations were sky-high … and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” did not disappoint.

We’re a few months after the events of “Civil War.” After his taste of the big time, Peter Parker (Holland) has been relegated back to the bench. He’s still fighting crime – on a much smaller scale – and he’s being mentored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., “Captain America: Civil War”), with Stark associate Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, “Term Life”) serving as a liaison.

But mostly, Peter is dealing with the standard struggles that come with being a kinda nerdy high school sophomore. Alongside his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon, “North Woods”), he has to deal with the snarky Michelle (Zendaya, TV’s “K.C. Undercover”), the bullying Flash (Tony Revolori, “Lowriders”) and the lovely out-of-his-league senior Liz (Laura Harrier, “4th Man Out”) – all of whom just happen to be on the Academic Decathlon team with him. Plus, his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, TV’s “Empire”) has some questions about why Peter seems so stressed all the time.

Meanwhile, a former salvage contractor named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, “The Founder”) - who was forced out of the business by a Stark-owned company – has built a minor empire in finding and repurposing alien tech into weapons that are then sold to the city’s criminal element. The flying suit that Toomes has developed makes him a formidable adversary.

When Parker gets wind of the operation, he decides to take Toomes and company on himself. It’s an effort to prove to Stark and the rest that he’s ready for the big time, that he’s ready to be a full-on Avenger. But Spider-Man still has a lot to learn about the intricacies of superheroism – he makes a lot of mistakes along the way. And while some of those mistakes are just growing pains, others put him – and everyone that he cares about – in grave danger.

For those who were worried that they were going to get yet another origin story – rest easy. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” has its origin elements, but this isn’t a rehash of the “radioactive spider bite/Uncle Ben great power-great responsibility/best friend’s dad fight” rigmarole. Instead, the story focuses on who Spider-Man is, rather than how he got here.

And it’s just awesome.

By skipping the minutiae that we all already know, “Homecoming” can instead give us a look at just what this kind of heroism might mean. This iteration is a high school kid trying to figure out how to be a superhero rather than a superhero who just happens to still be in high school. That distinction might sound semantic, but it actually makes a huge difference. This Peter Parker is a kid first, a hero second – and that order is what made the character so compelling in the first place.

This is just the second feature from director Jon Watts, but he clearly gets it. He understands what this movie needed to be. There’s plenty of action; there are some huge CGI set pieces and the required super-goofiness that we expect from the character. The Spider-Man stuff is solid. But we also get the most genuine and effective Peter Parker than any of these movies have given us. That’s what elevates this version over even the admittedly-high bar set by Sam Raimi’s first two Spidey films.

Holland is an outstanding fit here; even at 21, he’s a believable 15-year-old. He has that combination of snark, smarts and puppydog eager-to-please-ness that suits the character beautifully. He’s awkward and goofy and joyful and just a delight to watch. He’s a good Spider-Man, but he’s the BEST Peter Parker – and that’s what I wanted to see.

The rest of the cast is exceptional. Keaton is fantastic. Like, legitimately fantastic. There’s probably a “Birdman” joke to be made, but I’m not going to bother, because the dude lays out a phenomenal performance (keep an eye out for a quiet car conversation that would have been an Oscar clip if this wasn’t a superhero movie). Batalon is a charming nerd, Zendaya has some solid comedic timing and the other youngsters – Harrier, Revolori and the rest – are all wonderful. RDJ kind of phones it in, but in a suitably Tony Stark way. Tomei is good enough that you wish she had a bit more to do. And it’s nice to see Favreau get some more screen time – his Happy is charmingly cantankerous.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is smart and sincere and dorky and fun in all the right ways. It is a Marvel movie that has scaled down the scope while still retaining an epic feel. MCU mainstay or no, this Spider-Man is going to be allowed to walk before he can crawl. And my guess is that we’ll all be the better for it.

[5 out of 5]

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