Early word on “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was right: Jon Watts, the director plucked from “Cop Car” obscurity by the production combine of Marvel’s Kevin Feige and Sony’s Amy Pascal, finally made the Spider-Man” movie that Sony (and the rest of us) needed.
It’s highly entertaining. It’s fleet of foot and confident, even though it’s the product of a hugely collaborative effort. And it will yield many dividends beyond box-office returns. Here’s what this new iteration of “Spider-Man” wrought:
1. A directing star is born.
Somehow Watts and a sprawling production team manage to keep the movie on a believably human scale (save for that final airborne set piece). Tom Holland introduced himself as a high-school Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War,” so this movie continues from there, with plenty of wit and comedy and a genuine appreciation of what it means to be smart, confident, and incredibly awkward and insecure at the same time.
The high-concept plot is well executed by Marvel’s TV-style writers’ room. Smartypants 15-year-old Peter Parker is immature, but eager to rejoin the Avengers after his exciting first mission. Mentor Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), and his chauffeur driver/security guard, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), keep him at bay; they track him as he attends high school and polices local thuggery in Queens on the side. (As Stark puts it, he’s “the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”) Parker tells friends and his girl crush (Laura Harrier) he’s an intern at Stark Industries. And Stark is always poised to rescue Parker, until — like a kid stuffing his bed to throw off his parents — he removes his Spidey suit-tracking device. (Learning what the super-juiced suit can do — complete with his own “Her”-style cyber-assistant — is fun.)
Parker stumbles upon a particularly nasty local black-market arms inventor and dealer (the delightfully dangerous Michael Keaton), but Stark and Happy don’t take Parker’s warnings seriously. To prove himself, Spidey takes on the dealer.
There’s an ingeniously vertiginous set piece for Spider-Man at the Washington Monument. And another on the Staten Island ferry, and much more. Watts is a gifted filmmaker with the ability to direct action, actors, and slapstick comedy. He has a sophisticated ability to manipulate the physics of cinematic space, which is gold in Hollywood. He can write his own ticket.
2. Tom Holland goes global.
British actor Holland proved his acting bonafides in such movies as J.A. Bayona’s “The Impossible,” but now takes off on a global scale. His Peter Parker is utterly engaging and rings true as a geekily attractive, athletic kid with special powers who wants to both get the senior girl and jump into superhero mode. Holland is young enough to give this iteration of Spider-Man a nice long run.
3. Sony gets a hit.
Finally, while expensive ($175 million, plus worldwide marketing), this movie starring a diverse, globally friendly ensemble will prove yet another box office smash for Marvel. More importantly, it will provide a much-needed summer blockbuster for Sony’s beleaguered chairman Tom Rothman and ex-chairman-turned-producer Amy Pascal, who looks smart for brokering this return of Spider-Man to the larger Marvel universe. (This movie has Marvel’s fingerprints all over it; thankfully, it doesn’t feel like the conventional white-bread retreads the studio has produced in the past.) That investment will pay off down the line.
Sony could reap Oscar dividends as well. Tech Oscar nods could be in the offing, for VFX, Michael Giacchino’s second big score of the year (along with “War for the Planet of the Apes”), cinematography, editing, and production design.