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MOVIES: Spider-Man: Homecoming - Review

After officially joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is embarking on his first solo adventure under the MCU banner in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Set shortly after the events of Civil War, the film finds Peter Parker (Tom Holland) eager to become a full-fledged member of The Avengers, but it's hard to impress Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) with his crimefighting prowess when most of his afternoons are spent thwarting bicycle thieves and providing directions to elderly women.

Amid the webslinging, Peter is also shouldering the difficulties of being a fifteen-year-old high school student, absorbing near-constant ridicule from Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) and harboring a crush on Academic Decathlon teammate Liz (Laura Harrier), all while fostering a reputation as the biggest brain at Midtown School of Science and Technology. Peter's nervous and awkward around just about everyone, with the exception of his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and one of Homecoming's biggest strengths is that it actually spends time with Peter and his classmates.

It's fascinating to watch someone who recently joined forces with The Avengers struggle to navigate the complexities of high school social structure. The costume may imbue Peter with confidence as he's zipping around Queens, but it's of little use when attending his first party or trying to speak to Liz with anything other than terror in his voice. For the first time in a Spider-Man film we get a true sense of the excitement and confusion that a teenager must feel when gifted with extraordinary abilities that he's unable to share with the rest of the world, and this makes Peter an even more endearing and relatable character.

Spider-Man's brief appearance in Civil War has been held up as the most accurate depiction yet of the wise-cracking motormouth that longtime comic readers have loved for decades, but Homecoming director Jon Watts takes this concept and runs with it. Of particular note are a series of hilarious conversations with his suit's artificial intelligence as he tries to master the various upgrades supplied by Stark while simultaneously staking out a potential weapons heist, but nearly every action sequence in the film is punctuated by Peter's running commentary, a mixture of uncertainty and exuberance that elicits a steady stream of laughs. This is the Spider-Man I've always wanted to see on the big screen, and Holland delivers in a big way.

Speaking of heists, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Michael Keaton's portrayal of Adrian Toomes, better known to comic fans as The Vulture. Homecoming reimagines him as a blue-collar sort whose lucrative city contract to collect and dispose of alien technology was terminated, and who seized an opportunity to repurpose stolen components into high-tech weaponry and sell it on the black market - an operation that was running like clockwork until the appearance of "some little punk in red tights." Unlike several of Marvel's past endeavors, this film has a villain with some legitimate depth whose motivations are clear, and despite the character's terrifying appearance Keaton is arguably even more sinister without the costume.

Aside from a running time that feels about 15 minutes too long - an affliction sometimes referred to as "summer blockbuster syndrome" - there are few complaints to make about Spider-Man: Homecoming. Holland's charming and charismatic performance is a great match for the material, which has a distinct John Hughes influence (complete with a Ferris Bueller reference that's perfectly on point) while still providing the sort of thrilling action setpieces that have become synonymous with the MCU. Packed with humor, heart and plenty of surprises, Spider-Man: Homecoming belongs in the upper echelon of the ever-expanding Marvel catalog - not to mention superhero movies themselves - and heralds plenty of spectacular adventures yet to come.

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