SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING: 4 STARS

The folks behind “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the second reboot of the web-slinging comic superhero following franchises lead by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, wisely decided not to rehash the Peter Parker's origin story. We know he was an orphan being raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben when a bite from a radioactive spider caused mutations in his body, granting him the superpowers of super strength and agility.

Been there, done that twice before.

Instead, this film picks up the story a few months after “Captain America: Civil War’s” epic airport tarmac battle. After that taste of big league crime fighting with the Avengers, 15-year-old Parker (Tom Holland) returned to normal life as a high school student in Queens, New York, living in a small apartment with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). 

Mentored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he’s slowly figuring out what it means to be a superhero at night while being Peter Parker, a scrawny science nerd, by day. “I am a kid,” he says, “but a kid who can stop a bus with his bare hands.” When he’s not fighting crime he’s acting like a teen, building a 3803-piece Lego Death Star with his best friend or getting shy in the presence of his crush Liz (Laura Harrier). He likes Liz but Liz loves Spider-Man. What to do? 

It’s just one of many problems Parker encounters as his ambition to become a full-fledged Avenger puts him on a crash course with Vulture (Michael Keaton), a villain with wings and a bad attitude. 

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is easily the best web tale since 2004s “Spider-Man 2.” Director Jon Watts channels John Hughes in the high school scenes, Sam Raimi in the action scenes. There’s comedy and a more light-hearted tone as Parker comes of age as a crime fighter and hormonal teen. Holland finds the right mix of the character’s vulnerability and arrogance, nerdiness and impulsiveness. Together they spin a new web that is the most diverse entry in the Marvel Universe to date and one of the most entertaining. 

There are new Spidey toys—his suit now speaks to him à la Jarvis in “Iron Man” for instance—but while cool, the effects aren’t the things that give “Homecoming” a recommendation, it’s the movie’s sense of fun and humanity. It’s a fantastical story about real people. Parker is simply a teen coming to grips with the changes in his body and even the villain is essentially a working class guy who wants to provide for his family. He’s tired of being pushed around so he's pushing back. By going back to basics, Watts grounds the movie in the comic book lore that made the character popular in the first place. He’s not the tortured superhero we’ve come accustomed to seeing on the big screen, instead he’s a regular teen in extraordinary circumstances. How regular is he? Sometimes his crime-fighting escapades are spoiled by after school detention.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is over two hours long and, like all other superhero movies, features a CGI heavy climax, but somehow doesn’t feel bloated. It also features the best last line of any Avengers movie and, for once, an after credit scene that is worth waiting for.

THE BIG SICK: 4 STARS

The old maxim, “Write what you know,” holds true for comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani and writer Emily V. Gordon who turned their personal relationship into the new film “The Big Sick.”

When we first meet Kumail (“Silicon Valley’s” Kumail Nanjiani), he is an aspiring comic and Uber driver with a traditional Muslim family who wants him to settle down and give up stand up. He strings them along, agreeing to dinners with women his mother (Zenobia Shroff) chooses for him—“Be a good Muslim and marry a Pakistani girl,” she says—while pretending to be a dutiful son, but his passion is comedy. 

One night, at an open mic in a small club, an audience member interrupts his show. Later he confronts her at the bar. “You shouldn’t heckle comics,” he says. “I didn’t heckle, I woo-hooed,” says Emily (Zoe Kazan) and the flirting begins. 

What begins as a casual fling—“I’m not really dating right now,” she says. “School and work. A lot on my plate.”—soon turns serious as they both admit they are overwhelmed by one another. Still, he is reluctant to meet her parents and disappears once a week for dinners with his family and his mother’s meet-and-greets with prospective wives. 

Kumail loves Emily but can’t find the way to tell his parents he is dating someone outside their faith. When Emily discovers this, she asks, “Can you imagine a world where we end up together?” Unsatisfied with his namby-pamby answer, she breaks up with him. 

Months later he’s woken from a deep sleep. He’s told Emily is in the hospital and needs someone to stay with her. She has a massive infection in lungs, needs to be put in a medically-induced coma and until her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) arrive, Kumail has to make some difficult decisions. 

Calling “The Big Sick” a rom com doesn’t do it justice. It is much more than that.

There are no major revelations here, just a carefully balanced look at the immigrant experience—“The rules don’t make sense to me,” Kumail says to his parents. “Why did you bring me here if you didn’t want me to have an American life?”—ambition, family and the nature of true love. It’s funny, but not laugh-a-minute funny, just comfortably charming as it navigates the cultural and medical landmines in Kumail and Emily’s path. 

It works so well because of the chemistry between the leads. Kumail and Emily do the heavy lifting for the first half until she becomes ill. They spark in the most natural and sweetest of ways as their relationship goes from casual to serious, from good to bad. 

The second half explores the chemistry between Kumail and Beth and Terry. What begins as a contentious relationship—“You don’t need to commit to anything here,” snarls Beth. “You didn’t while she was awake and you don’t have to now.” It then becomes heartfelt and loving. Hunter and Romano bring considerable warmth as well as honest humour, finding a balance between the drama of the situation and the rom com elements. 

Even when “The Big Sick” is making jokes about ISIS and the “X-Files,” it is all heart, a crowd-pleaser that still feels personal and intimate.

THE JOURNEY: 2 ½ STARS

To understand “The Journey” you need to know the players. The film, a speculative look at the negotiations that brought peace to Northern Island after forty years of violence, does a good job of setting the stage but in the interests of clarity, or if you miss the movie’s opening minutes, I’ll give you the Coles Notes. 

Set in 2006, the film sees Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness, the former chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army (“Allegedly,” he says) and Sinn Féin politician. “You may call me the acceptable face of the organization,” he says. Timothy Spall is Ian Paisley, the eighty-one-year-old leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and founder and moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church. The two are sworn enemies—“They are civil war,” says MI5’s Harry Patterson (John Hurt), “They are anarchy.”—warriors on opposite sides of a bloody decades-long war known colloquially as The Troubles. 

Northern Irish director Nick Hamm and writer Colin Bateman play fast-and-loose with the details. In real life the men met on an airplane. In reel life, the film finds a contrivance to place the two in the back of a car, on a sixty-minute trip to the Edinburgh airport. MI5 secretly arranged the meet in hopes the men will discover what they have in common, that barriers will be broken down and that some sort of pact will be reached. It doesn’t start well. “I haven’t spoken to him in thirty years,” snorts Paisley, “another hour will be no trouble.” 

History tells us the conversation led to the 2006 St. Andrews Agreement and an end to The Troubles. “We need a leap of faith,” says McGuinness, “and you are a man of faith.” The film shows the head-to-head that led to the treaty; how the two began as egotistical enemies and ended as friends and allies in a new, shared Northern Irish government. 

“The Journey” is essentially a two-hander between Meany and Spall. There are others characters—Freddy Highmore as a British agent masquerading as their driver, Hurt as the architect of the scheme—but the movie hinges on the chemistry between its leads. Both hand in sturdy, theatrical performances as they spar, like two heavyweights trading words instead of punches. It often feels like a play adapted for the screen.

Spall is all bluster and religious rage. Meany plays McGuinness as a canny but pliable politician, resolute in his beliefs but hopeful for a deal. Each hand in interesting work but their conversation often feels like history in point form. The passing along of this information feels artificial and drains much of the juice from the situation. The script zips along, never digging too deep, which given the performances is a shame. These actors are hungry for a meatier script but Bateman’s dialogue doesn’t deliver. 

Despite the performances “The Journey’s” take on the St. Andrews Agreement feels false. By the time Patterson shrieks, “Bloody hell, they’ve done it! They’ve bloody done it!” the film takes on the tone of a buddy movie and not a persuasive document of how peace came to Northern Ireland.