“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is “Deadpool” for kids.
It’s funny, irreverent and, in many ways, revelatory, all without being as profane or gory as the mutant mercenary hit from 2016.
But like “Deadpool,” this new Spider-film sometimes looks like it was made on the cheap. So much so that you half expect Spidey to break the fourth wall and say, “Well, the $#!+#3@&$ at the studio didn’t spring for well-lit effects, so good luck trying to figure out what the $#!+ is going on in this nighttime scene.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Regardless, this reboot overcomes studio chintziness to become the most enjoyable of the many Spider-films, giving us the best wall-crawler yet while simultaneously shoehorning itself into the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.
“Homecoming” plants Peter Parker (Tom Holland) squarely in his early high school years, where he’s beset by pimples, puberty and the possibility of one day becoming an Avenger.
Now that “Captain America: Civil War” is over, Pete’s mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), wants him to leave the big-time crime-fighting to the shield-slinging, hammer-throwing, gamma-irradiated grown-ups. Remain a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” and Peter can keep the high-tech Spider-suit Stark made for him.
But when Spidey tries to warn Stark and his amazing friends that someone is scavenging alien tech that the Avengers leave behind in their infinite wars against secret empires, the adults don’t appear to listen.
“Homecoming,” directed by Jon Watts (“Clown,” “The Onion News Network”), is the sixth Spider-Man film featuring three different leads in 15 years (seven if you count “Civil War”). That sounds like a ton, but consider there were five Bat-films and four Batmen in the 16 years from Tim Burton’s “Batman” in 1989 to the first of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy — “Batman Begins” — in 2005.
The difference here, though, is tone and scale. Michael Keaton’s caped crusader and Christian Bale’s are different as night (or knight?) and day. Spider-Man, despite two reboots, remains essentially the same.
Seeing Ol’ Webhead alongside Ant-Man, Hawkeye and Black Panther in “Civil War” was thrilling in part because he was doing something different — finally. But in “Homecoming” he’s back to looking for love and attracting the attention of super-powered losers learning all the wrong lessons in life.
The baddie this go-round is Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, played by the aforementioned Keaton. When announced, the casting seemed a little too on-the-nose — a guy from another super-franchise plays a bird-themed outlaw after his critically acclaimed turn in the Oscar-winning “Birdman” … sure, OK.
Outside of his winged “vulture” suit, though, Keaton is fantastic. He seethes with the righteous anger of the working man. Until he vaporizes one of his crewmates, he could just as easily be the hero of the story.
Inside the suit … who knows? The action scenes are a flutter of shadowy motion. Comic book readers are accustomed to filling in the blank spaces when Spidey battles bad guys, but moviegoers like to actually see something happen.
(There is one terrific scene of Spider-Man being dragged through the suburbs by villains on the run, but, alas, it’s also at night and darkly lit.)
What we do see and hear, though, is a terrific cast playing out teen angst in a high-school superhero melodrama. Holland, who just turned 21, is nearer the appropriate age of Peter than Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield were. And he does a much better job than his predecessors of emoting the requisite fear, insecurity and awkwardness of Peter Parker.
Interestingly enough, “Homecoming” takes several jabs at the Avengers characters. Marvel’s heroes are portrayed as reckless, Captain America comes off as a government tool and Iron Man essentially serves as a second antagonist for Spider-Man (in a Batman and Robin sort of way).
Behind-the-scenes studio wrangling makes those swipes at Marvel’s characters weirdly interesting. Ages ago, Marvel Comics sold the film rights to Spider-Man to Sony, which agreed to let Disney/Marvel make “Homecoming” and include Spidey in “Civil War.”
But all the jabs at Marvel characters in “Homecoming” make you wonder if Sony might have pulled some kind of Jedi mind trick on Disney/Marvel — “Sure, you can use Spider-Man if you let us make fun of your movies.” (There are also plenty of references to another House of Mouse property, “Star Wars.”)
Ultimately, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” manages to be surprising, uplifting and heroic — all without letting our hero emerge too triumphant.
That is, of course, the essence of Spider-Man: Even when he wins, he loses. Something this movie gets exactly right.
Opens at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.