Goofy vibe to latest incarnation of Spider-Man series
Film review: Spider-man:Homecoming (12A), 7.5/10
Jon Watts' slick reboot of the Marvel Comics superhero - the third iteration in 15 years - spins an impressive web of rites-of-passage drama, buddy comedy and bombastic spectacle.
There's a goofy, youthful vibe to this incarnation of Peter Parker, played by British actor Tom Holland, who recently turned 21 years old.
He certainly looks more convincing as a socially awkward high school student than his big screen predecessors - Tobey Maguire was 26 when he slipped on the spider suit, Andrew Garfield was 27.
Holland sparks a terrific on-screen double act with Jacob Batalon as Parker's best friend Ned, who discovers his buddy's secret identity by accident and almost self-combusts with fan boy questions.
'Can you spit venom?' he giggles. 'Can you summon an army of spiders?'
A cute homage to arguably the greatest coming-of-age comedy of all time - Ferris Bueller's Day Off - is affectionately tossed into an origin story that doesn't feel the need to replay Peter's encounter with a radioactive spider.
Instead, six screenwriters reference events from Captain America: Civil War and position Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) as a surrogate father figure and mentor to 15-year-old Parker while the boy grapples with his burgeoning powers and responsibility.
Several months have passed since the destruction of the Avengers headquarters and Peter has managed to conceal his crime-fighting alter ego from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
Best friend Ned (Batalon) is sworn to secrecy, joining Peter in their school's Academic Decathlon team alongside Peter's crush Liz (Laura Harrier), sardonic loner Michelle (Zendaya) and bullying rich kid Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori).
The pupils have a brush with death in Washington DC at the hands of salvage company owner Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who has been robbed of his livelihood by Stark's offshoot, the Department of Damage Control (DODC), and has taken flight as a larcenous winged menace called Vulture.
Youthful impetuosity overrides common sense as Peter tries to prove himself to the Avengers by tackling the airborne madman alone.
In a demonstration of tough love, billionaire inventor Stark punishes Peter by reclaiming the lad's hi-tech suit laden with neat gizmos.
'If you're nothing without the suit, you shouldn't have it,' he wisely observes.
Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't king of the slingers - Sam Raimi's 2004 sequel Spider-Man 2 retains that web-spun crown - but director Watts' opening salvo isn't far behind.
Action sequences are executed with verve, without swamping the screen in digital trickery, and the most dramatic interludes are underscored with snarky humour.
The script pulls off two impressive sleights of hand, one of which is a bona fide jaw-dropper, without sacrificing Parker and his growing pains as the emotional heartbeat.
Creator Stan Lee makes his obligatory cameo and there are a couple of additional scenes secreted in the end credits.
One tees up a venomous new adversary for a sequel in summer 2019, the second delivers a comedic flourish that rewards the virtuous.
New Ross Standard