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"Spider-Man: Homecoming" is the sixth movie in the past 15 years starring Marvel's wall-crawling character and the third to reset the franchise with a new actor as the high-school superhero, and it's the best of the bunch packed with heart-pounding action and heartfelt emotion in equal measure.
Director Jon Watts makes good on the promise made by Spider-Man's impressive cameo in "Captain America: Civil War," grafting onto the Marvel Cinematic Universe but retaining Spidey's unique charms.
The movie stays true to the original Marvel character by remembering that Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker (Tom Holland), is still just a kid a high-schooler still amazed by his powers and eager to prove himself the equal of anyone on the Avengers. Not so fast, says his mentor, Tony Stark, alias Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who advises him to keep his superheroics more at ground level: "Can't you be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?"
Peter deals with the usual problems of a Queens high-school sophomore: having a crush on a senior girl, Liz (Laura Harrier); deflecting the taunts of rich-kid bully Flash (Tony Revolori); and prepping for his school's academic decathlon with his teammates, including his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and the perpetually jaded Michelle (Zendaya). But he's also mixing web fluid in chemistry class, patrolling the city at night and hiding his abilities from his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
One night, Peter runs into a crew boosting ATMs and using some dangerously high-tech gear to do it. The source is Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a contractor who branched into developing weapons using contraband technology from the Chitauri the aliens who attacked New York in the first "Avengers" movie. (In a prologue, we see Toomes losing a post-battle clean-up contract to, yes, Tony Stark.)
Peter thinks he can prove himself Avenger-worthy if he goes after Toomes and his associates. But Tony, who has given Peter a high-tech Spidey suit, warns him to stand down and let the grown-up Avengers handle things. This conflict between the impatient Peter and the fatherly Tony becomes the backbone for the movie's ferocious action sequences, from Queens to the Washington Monument and back.
Watts and his regular writing partner, Christopher Ford, graduate from their indie roots (their collaborations include the horror movie "Clown" and the crime thriller "Cop Car") with a tale that mixes action, humor and deep feeling. (Watts and Ford are one of three credited screenwriting teams, along with Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers. The surprise is that the script remains remarkably cohesive in spite of the tag-team work.)
Integrating the Marvel Cinematic Universe into Spider-Man's story driven by a corporate cooperative deal between Sony and Disney-owned Marvel Studios brings in some needed humor, such as a running gag in which Captain America (Chris Evans) shows up in school AV presentations.
But Watts smartly keeps Spider-Man, as Tony Stark puts it, closer to the ground. Peter's final confrontation with Toomes is no simple good-vs.-evil battle, and Keaton brings a working-class grit that's often missing from the usual special-effects climax.
The key to making "Spider-Man: Homecoming" fly is Holland, who is barely 21 and looks and acts more like a high-school student than his predecessors, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, ever did. He captures the full weight of Peter's predicament, and also the giddy thrill of being able to swing amid skyscrapers. By the end of the movie, you feel Peter's ready to graduate to the big leagues.
A fresh and exciting take on Marvel's wall-crawling hero, with Tom Holland giving a perfect portrayal of Peter Parker.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, July 7.
Rating • PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.
Running time • 133 minutes.