“Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing” is a re­fresh­ing re­boot

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By Michael O’Sul­li­van

In “Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing,” Tom Hol­land’s 15-year-old web­slinger, Peter Parker, is more math­lete than ath­lete, a geeky high school sopho­more whose bean­pole physique is as likely to be sheathed in the iconic, form­fit­ting red-and-blue body­suit of comic-book lore as a baggy Tshirt on which two car­toon mol­e­cules are shown con­vers­ing with each other. (“I lost an elec­tron,” says one. “Are you pos­i­tive?” replies the other.)

Although not quite pim­ple­faced or pen­cil-necked, this uber-dweeb an­chors an au­then-

tic, re­fresh­ingly nerdy and high­spir­ited re­boot of the well-worn Mar­vel fran­chise, one in which the ob­ses­sions of a cer­tain branch of male ado­les­cence — girls, grades and geek­ing out on “Star Wars” Lego sets — com­pete for the at­ten­tion of its hero with the un­der­ground arms deal­ing by a su­pervil­lain named Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, look­ing more like his tor­tured, mid­dle-aged “Bird­man” char­ac­ter than his ear­lier out­ings as Bat­man).

It’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” meets “The Dark Knight.”

In a breath of fresh air, “Home­com­ing” opens with a pro­logue that, de­spite the movie’s ori­gin­story con­tours, has noth­ing to do with get­ting bit­ten by a ra­dioac­tive spi­der, or the cat­alyz­ing death of Peter’s Un­cle Ben. (Thank you, screen­writ­ers — all six of you.) Peter’s guardian Aunt May is still in the pic­ture, but, as played by a frisky Marisa Tomei, she’s a far cry from ver­sions of the dowa­ger aunt de­liv­ered by Rose­mary Har­ris and Sally Field in pre­vi­ous ver­sions of the “Spi­der-Man” story.

Set in the af­ter­math of the Bat­tle of New York — aka The In­ci­dent — de­picted in 2012’s “The Avengers,” the open­ing of “Home­com­ing” in­tro­duces us to Keaton’s Toomes: an en­gi­neer who gets fired from his job re­build­ing the dev­as­tated city, but not be­fore he man­ages to furtively sal­vage some ex­trater­res- trial weapons tech­nol­ogy left ly­ing around in the wake of the alien at­tack.

Fast-for­ward to the present day, when Toomes is now a peddler and de­signer of il­le­gal high-tech guns, flit­ting above the night­time un­der­world of New York in a vul­ture­like fly­ing ap­pa­ra­tus that looks like it was code­signed by Leonardo da Vinci and Doc­tor Oc­to­pus. In short or­der, Peter, who had his first small taste of su­per­heroics fight­ing along­side Tony Stark’s Team Iron Man in last year’s “Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War” — and who has grown bored with re­cov­er­ing stolen bi­cy­cles in his Queens neigh­bor­hood — gets wind of Toomes’s black-mar­ket busi­ness, and he tries to put a stop to it.

Peter is both aided and ham­pered in this ad­ven­ture by a fancy suit de­signed by Tony (Robert Downey Jr.), who cau­tions his young pro­tege against get­ting too deep into crime-fight­ing be­fore he’s sea­soned. As part of what Peter uniron­i­cally refers to as his “in­tern­ship” with Stark In­dus­tries, Tony has dis­abled some of the most pow­er­ful fea­tures of the Spidey cos­tume, set­ting it to what the suit’s Jarvis­like voice as­sis­tant calls “train­ing-wheels mode.”

The film, for much of the first two acts, takes it­self just about that un­se­ri­ously, main­tain­ing a jokey, self-aware tone that is nicely evoca­tive of the orig­i­nal comics. That tone is epit­o­mized by Martin Starr’s wryly dead­pan turn as the fac­ulty ad­viser to Peter and his fel­low par­tic­i­pants in the aca­demic de­cathlon that takes them on a field trip to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where one of the film’s thrilling ac­tion set pieces — in­volv­ing a rescue from an el­e­va­tor in­side the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment — takes place.

An­other amus­ing run­ning gag fea­tures corny video PSAs that Peter and his class­mates are forced to lis­ten to, fea­tur­ing in­spi­ra­tional mes­sages from Cap­tain Amer­ica (Chris Evans). “I’m pretty sure this guy is a war crim­i­nal now,” cracks the school’s coach and de­ten­tion mon­i­tor (Han­ni­bal Buress), of­fer­ing a sly al­lu­sion to the much­crit­i­cized col­lat­eral vi­o­lence of some of Mar­vel’s re­cent films.

As youth-ori­ented and lightly larky as “Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing” may be, the fo­cus of the film — whose ti­tle refers to the school dance around which much of the nar­ra­tive takes place — can’t stay small for­ever. Like its pro­tag­o­nist, who seems to be itch­ing for a growth spurt of his own, the movie ul­ti­mately gets a lit­tle big for its breeches, in a may­hem-and-ef­fects-soaked cli­max that suf­fers from many of the ex­cesses of other Mar­vel movies.

That is to be ex­pected, and yet it does not dim the bright and breezy story that pre­cedes it. Mar­vel fans know this by now, but stay for the cred­its — and I do mean all of them — for a postlude that will de­flate any lin­ger­ing feel­ings of un­due pomp and cir­cum­stance.

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