There’s a scene in the first season of the amazing Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” when drama queen Titus Andromedan auditions for the Broadway show “Spider-Man 2: Too Many Spider-Mans.” The piece is a passionate ballad and includes the lyrics, “Spider-Man is at it again / this time we’re 50 percent more Spider-Mans.” The song rang through my head as I stood in line for tickets for the third reboot of the iconic superhero and sixth Spider-Man movie in the 21st century. In theory I should have been excited for the latest Marvel-produced “Spider-Man,” but I was beginning to wonder if there are just too many Spider-Mans.
I was a big fan of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” flicks. Yes, the third one was a hot mess, with a script so full of holes it could have been used as a sex doll for paper cut fetishists. There was a great cohesion between director and source material. Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies were fun, cartoony, and did a good job of blending the sensibilities of comic books with the fluid storytelling of the motion picture. The attempted followup “Amazing Spider-Man” movies were anything but. Somehow Sony managed to fire blanks from their web-shooters and had to ask Marvel to help Spider-Man get his groove back.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is an admirable attempt at bringing Spider-Man to the big screen. There’s a lot that it gets right, so let’s start there. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is a typical high-school sophomore, except for super powers bestowed upon him by a radioactive spider. At the start of the film, he’s just gotten back from helping Tony Stark and the Avengers take on Captain America and a handful of renegade heroes chronicled in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War.” Peter has superhero stars in his eyes, so regular life seems kind of boring. He has an awesome new Tony Stark-manufactured super suit, and he’s giddy with excitement over what comes next.
Peter’s high-school activities begin to suffer. He’s so busy trying to impress Tony Stark as Spider-Man and manages to disappoint his teachers and peers on the academic decathlon team. Peter focuses on a group of criminals selling high-tech weapons around Queens—a low-rent, under-the-radar operation led by the menacing Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture (Michael Keaton). Peter believes bringing in the Vulture will help take him to the next level as a hero. Unfortunately, he’s still learning how to be an adult and a superhero. Thus, he is prone to making rookie mistakes.
There’s a lot of heart in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Tom Holland does a great job presenting a genuinely conflicted character torn between two worlds he awkwardly stumbles through. I struggled with just how much awkwardness there was in the movie. So many scenes show Spider-Man stumbling, falling, failing, and flailing. The movie strives to walk a tight web of tension and comedy but never really nails either with any effectiveness. The movie has a solid first act to set up Peter’s world. He is a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, struggling to find his rhythm in the skyscraper-less borough of Queens. I understand the need to show us Peter’s journey as an awkward kid into a true hero, but so much of it felt forced.
They could have called this “Spider-Man: DERP!” The sheer number of scenes involving a bumbling, fumbling Spider-Man is funny at first, but eventually the constant Kramer-esque physical comedy starts to grate through a painful second act that threatens to derail the film. There’s also some really pedestrian action sequences. Even the relatively terrible “Amazing Spider-Man” had some dynamic action. Fortunately, the movie awkwardly stumbles into an excellent third act to save the film from utter mediocrity.
Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man, though his strained attempts at humor sometimes fall flat and feel forced. The story is a relatively low-stakes affair; thankfully, it doesn’t involve blue lasers opening portals in the sky and a textbook end-of-the-world scenario.
It would be nice to see more comic-book movies approach the material with a limited scale. At its core, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a character piece. There are some well-developed characters, mostly Peter’s peers like the Daria-esque Michelle (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalan) as the well-intentioned, socially awkward sidekick.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a perfectly serviceable superhero movie with occasional moments of excellence, stewing in a simmering pot of mediocrity that has crippled the genre for the past few years.