2017 | rated PG-13 | starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr. | directed by Jon Watts | 2hrs 13mins |

Studio Pitch: (insert long, convoluted history of the Spider-Man franchise and studio battle between Sony and Marvel over the character)

Spider-Man: Homecoming acknowledges the elephant in the squeaky-voiced teenager’s room right in the title. The 6th Spider-Man film and 3rd reboot in almost 15 years, Homecoming is a homecoming for comic book fans (the most important movie fans of all!) after year’s of Sony bogarting the character with making pointless sequels so they wouldn’t lose the license obtained in the pre-Marvel Universe era that Sam Raimi original brought Spider-Man to the big screen in. The agreement lets Spider-Man appear in the Marvel Universe and Robert Downey Jr. appear in the Sony movies. And Downey Jr. is in this movie a lot more than I expected. But, that aside, the more interesting aspect of this homecoming is the title’s double-meaning. That this Spider-Man doesn’t include city-wide web swinging or the massive floating city/war ship finales of Marvel movies – instead like a tried and true teenage movie, it builds to… the big dance.

That street-level modesty and trueness to the character is what makes Homecoming so charming. This is the best MCU movie yet at giving us a feel of what living in a world full of superheroes would be like for the average person. At the edges of the lives of Peter Parker and his friends we see construction crews salvaging alien technology from the events of The Avengers, New Yorker’s cheering on heroes flying in and saving them from disaster like it’s nothing and – in maybe the best running joke in the entire MCU – Captain America himself showing up in perfectly cheesy school educational videos to teach kids how detention or the Presidential Fitness Exam works. Homecoming has more creative world building than all of Asgard.

Odd note: the film is strangely PC in a way that reeks of the handywork of Sony Chairman Amy Pascal, who was behind the odd political spectacle around the 2016 gender-reversed, creatively bankrupt Ghostbusters remake. In the first lines of Homecoming our arch villain is corrected by a subordinate for not using the proper nomenclature for “Native Americans”, which would ordinarily be nothing, but think about how many hands and eyes the very first lines of a movie go through. The first lines on the first page of the script. The first thing seen in the dailies, in the previews. It sets the movie off on a bizarre tone that sacrifices the introduction of Keaton’s character to the language police. It’s odd.

This score is a lot higher than how I felt after seeing the film. When you pull the film out of 2017 here and now it will be very, very watchable, but right now it came off as very much more of the same. The main issue is how familiar Spider-Man: Homecoming feels inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe cannon. Spider-Man’s big character selling point is his wise-cracking running commentary, but with that role already occupied so beautifully by Tony Stark in these movies, Peter Parker comes off more like a whiny obnoxious teenager. The MCU formula has gotten more transparent with each film  and it feels perhaps most by-the-numbers in this film. It feels like scenes being mechanically plugged into a template where the timecode dictates an action scene go here and a self referential joke go here.

The film prides itself on not being another origin story which is true, we don’t see Peter Parker bitten by a spider or Uncle Ben dying in an alley, but then the movie proceeds down a storyline structured just like an origin story. Actually, an origin story we’ve seen not to long ago. It moves like Iron Man for all intents and purposes. Tony Stark gives Parker his new high-tech suit with his own built in AI, “Karen”, and Parker spends the rest of the film getting used to his new super-suit’s gadgets with all sorts of comical failures for him to learn from – until (a la Iron Man 3) they are taken from him and he has to improvise his way into saving the day with his own low-tech wits. Yes, the details are rich, the jokes often work and there is at least one knock-out surprise, but the overall structure of Homecoming is tired and familiar by now.

The first half of the film is positively constructed out of winks, nods and references to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s at least an hour until the studio training wheels come off and Spider-Man gets out from under that and is freed up to have something of a self-contained adventure. Here’s hoping the next movie will trust Holland and director Jon Watts to steer the ship themselves in the same way that Thor: The Dark World feels creatively freed up. Too often Homecoming feels like the patched together Frankenstein’s monster it’s dual studio deal would suggest, but Marvel has this down to such a science that even this toe-in-the-water approach is undeniably more agreeable than most studio action films.