SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING | ★★★

“This is my chance to prove myself.” 

It certainly is, Peter. You’ve had it rough for the last few runs, but this time you’re back in full swing. Well… almost. You’ve completed the MCU checklist to the letter, but I’m afraid there’s a little more to it than that. I know, I know, I already sound picky, don’t I? You’re probably thinking I’m going to compare you to your predecessors, especially since I grew up with you and your web-slinging alter ego. Well, what if I said that the new you is one of the best things that has ever happened to the MCU? Oh you better believe I think so! It’s just that your (third) first solo outing doesn’t quite live up to your potential. Don’t get me wrong though. Your new adventure does a fine job reminding us why we love you so much, but I’m certain you can show us more than we already know about you. I will say that it is wonderful to have you back, Spidey. If you want to know more about what I thought of your new movie, please read on.

Following the climactic battle of “The Avengers,” Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) scavenges for Chitauri weapons to sell on the black market. Eight years later, high school sophomore Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is recruited by Tony Stark to fight alongside him in the events of “Captain America: Civil War.” Eager to officially join the Avengers, Peter spends his time outside of school cleaning up the streets of Queens as Spider-Man, hoping that his actions will win the attention of Mr. Stark. Peter eventually stumbles upon thugs working for Toomes - now suited up as the Vulture. The wall-crawler tracks the avian crime boss’s movements, but school, friends, bullies, and girls become the hurdles he must face along the way.

Marvel’s penchant for charisma, laugh-a-minute humor, and wicked fast pacing is clearer than ever in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Rarely does the film ever get to breathe between the action, which hurts its chance to truly engage us on an emotional level. Our attention is held through and through, thanks to great casting and director Jon Watts’s construction of a light-hearted environment that suits the character well, but when nearly every moment is played for laughs, its only humor for humor’s sake. The film’s relentless commitment to wit renders everything a little chaotic, but never disorienting. Marvel either needs to tone it down considerably, or send this shtick on a well-earned vacation.

The first half of “Homecoming” is more or less what you’d expect from a Marvel-branded Spidey. It has a sort of energetic, multi-tasking, quick-hitting mentality in its dialogue and editing that is appropriate for Peter’s teenage world, and will undoubtedly satisfy millennials across the board. Holland unsurprisingly owns it throughout. You really get the sense that, like Peter, he’s trying to impress us as well. There’s also great work from newcomer Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend, Ned, even though he’s resorted to the token minority sidekick a la Michael Peña in “Ant-Man.” The two play off each other effortlessly. The back half is where things finally start to get interesting. There’s a kicker of a revelation, one that satisfy those left bewildered by the twist from “Wonder Woman.” It is here where Keaton gets to shine. Vulture is not quite a patch on Marvel’s lackluster rogues gallery, but Keaton is still riveting, forming a fairly imposing villain.

In its back-and-forth between Peter’s school life and superhero life, “Homecoming” is essentially a lighter riff on what Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” achieved. But whereas Raimi set the two lives in a wrestling match, Watts has them work a double act. One has a solo, the other has a solo, the solos become a duet, and so on. It is a bit intriguing watching the two balance each other out, but the stakes ultimately have little to no impact due to the inconsequential nature of this approach. It’s John Hughes’ Greatest Hits sans personality. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” coasts on its charisma, but forgets that charisma does not equal personality, which is what really goes a long way. Even “Spider-Man 3” had genuine personality buried under heaping piles of fluff. Yes, I went there.

(6/10)