SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – What’s refreshingly surprising about yet another reboot of Marvel’s web-slinging superhero is how fresh it feels. Emerging from his debut in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), the title character (Tom Holland) now finds himself relegated back to normalcy as a geeky, fifteen-year-old high school underclassman in Queens. But when trouble comes knocking in the borough, teenage impulse rules the day with criminal takedowns that occasionally result in disastrously unintended consequences. It’s all part of a juvenile learning curve that’s put to the test when an arsenal of alien weapons that can cause catastrophic damage to the masses as well as human arachnids is put on the market by an unscrupulous salvage dealer (Michael Keaton). Along the way, we’re treated to some spectacular sequences on the Staten Island Ferry plus some cliffhanging, acrophobia inducing scenes atop the Washington Monument that has the effect of diminishing the concluding showdown at Coney Island. Marvel movie villains have historically been inconsequential and secondary. And despite a game effort from Keaton, his Vulture attire appears to be shamelessly referencing his BIRDMAN (2014) role. There’s much overkill with the visual effects which have the effect of enlivening the high school “dramas” where Peter Parker’s struggles are more centered around keeping his portly best friend (Jacob Batalon) mum about his double life and trying to win the affections of an “out of his league” beauty (Laura Harrier). Unlike most of the DC Comics’ flicks, Marvel films never seem to be taking themselves too seriously and the five screenwriters responsible here infuse their work with tongues firmly in cheek as they deliver knowing winks at the audience. Expectations for a movie like this require it to be entertaining and fun so on that basis HOMECOMING succeeds as crowd pleasing, “put your mind on hold” escapism. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+

DOUBLE FEATURE: What stands out in THE BEGUILED is the authenticity of its setting in 1864 Civil War Virginia. The misty cinematography, accurate costume design and natural lighting create a genuine sense of 19th century life at an insular “Seminary” for young Southern women. Sofia Coppola’s (LOST IN TRANSLATION) screenplay doesn’t stray far from the plot of the original 1971 Clint Eastwood movie about a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) whose presence stirs conflicts, divided loyalties and sexual tension at the school. Coppola’s direction is at a properly languid pace until matters come to an inevitable boil. Some of the character transformations are all too abrupt or otherwise this film would make a lot of “10 Best Lists” at the end of 2017. But the ensemble cast, especially Nicole Kidman (LION), is excellent in a psychological drama that’s uniquely off-beat. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+