Marvel cranking out new Spider-Man franchises is, at this point, the equivalent of sitting down with a fresh notebook, resolving to start journaling, but continuously tearing out the first page, never quite pleased with how it turns out.
At some point, you have to make satisfactory changes and settle or move on. You'd think, with Homecoming being the third Spider-Man reboot in 15 years, the studio could finally accomplish this. But it's still struggling to find the right balance between superhero flick and high-school rom-com, and winds up excelling at neither.
In this franchise's world, superheroes and aliens are commonplace, and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has been aware of his Spidey senses for some time. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) enlists his help for a quick mission, and while Peter believes he's ready to join the Avengers full-time, Stark disagrees. Peter returns to high school and his role as, essentially, Queens' nerdiest and most helpful Boy Scout, while he waits for Stark to call him again. Peter soon finds himself on an ill-advised crusade to stop a winged villain (Michael Keaton) from selling alien technology-infused weapons to criminals.
For much of the film, all of this is more or less a backdrop to Peter's most formidable adversary: high school. Prior to its release, Marvel openly admitted the late John Hughes had an influence on Homecoming, and promised a plot focused on how being a teenager sucks, regardless of whether or not you have supernatural powers. But this depiction of Peter's humdrum high school life, while certainly a different vision than its predecessors, buckles under the weight of all its cliches.
The school itself, an institution for teens excelling in science, is unusual. But there's nothing new about Peter's peers, who are standard Breakfast Club-style archetypes: the nerdy, Lego-loving best friend (Jacob Batalon), the popular and untouchably gorgeous crush (Laura Harrier), the Sylvia Plath T-shirt-wearing outcast (Zendaya). There's also a good, old-fashioned bully thrown into the mix because, why not?
Homecoming certainly feels more like a superhero flick than a high school one, but it wastes too much time establishing plot points for the latter that never really pay off. The film thrives, not when it's recycling old Hannah Montana story arcs (i.e., Peter being pressured to invite his "friend" Spider-Man to his crush's party), but when it's exploring the web-slinger's identity crisis.
Holland, plucked from a pool of pretty indistinguishable, mostly white contenders like Ansel Elgort and Timothee Chalamet for the title role, was the right choice. The 21-year-old English actor makes an endearingly awkward Peter Parker, and he's a bundle of restless, earnest energy that's easy to root for.
A new lead, cameos from other Avengers and an emphasized high school setting aren't the only changes this particular reboot has made. It's somewhere between an origin and all-out superhero story, a refreshing and rarely probed middle ground. (Also, Aunt May is hot now, and subject to creepy and ubiquitous objectification.) But this isn't enough to justify a franchise re-launch just five years after the last one; its obligatory bad-guy storyline is flimsy and predictable, as are all the plot's tangents besides Peter's inner Save the World vs. Show Up For a Spanish Quiz turmoil.
Homecoming is a decent lead-in to the next Avengers film, but it's not as cheeky and original as it believes itself to be. For the most part, this is nothing we haven't seen before in the previous attempts at a Spider-Man franchise, other superhero films, and a handful of Disney Channel Original Movies. — Kirby Davis