Let’s talk about that scene.
Or rather, the one-two punch of seamless consecutive scenes that provides the tensest moments in Spider-Man: Homecoming - and arguably the most stunning reveal in the entire Spidey film franchise.
It is, fittingly, the homecoming date that sets up the film’s climax of a showdown. When Peter Parker (Tom Holland) asks Liz (Laura Harrier) to homecoming during a chance encounter in the school hallways, viewers can get so caught up in the kid’s giddiness that we’re completely blindsided by the twin scenes that soon follow.
After Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) prepares Peter for the dance in a montage worthy of an ‘80s John Hughes teen comedy, the 15-year-old arrives at Liz’s front door, only to be greeted by. . .
Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except it happens to be . . .
Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture (Michael Keaton), Peter’s target antagonist throughout the film.
I’ve seen the movie twice, and both times the audience reaction was the same: a second of stunned silence, followed by scattered audible gasps.
That reaction, primary screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein say, is immensely gratifying.
Soon, we are inside the gleaming home of Liz and her family - a relative opulence presumably afforded largely by the Vulture’s nefarious arms deals involving salvaged alien material. As the parents, including mother Doris (Garcelle Beauvais), insist on taking a picture of the adorable couple, Adrian is handling a kitchen knife that resonates as a direct nod to 2002’s “Spider-Man” - another domestic meeting that involves Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), Peter’s would-be love interest (Kirsten Dunst) and a friend’s father (Norman Osborn/Green Goblin) who, when not wearing his civvies, is Spidey’s sworn aerial enemy.
In Sam Raimi’s 2002 film, the fact of Peter’s alter ego is pieced together by the Green Goblin very quickly, as Peter is asked about a cut on his arm - a bloody “tell” that spurs Mr. Osborn to excuse himself rapidly.
In “Homecoming,” by contrast, director Jon Watts and his writers decide to string out the tension like an expertly paced game of liar’s poker.
Cut to the next scene, as a twitchy Peter and a nonchalant Liz sit in the back seat while papa Adrian chauffeurs them to the dance. With curiosity and menace practically sewn into his arched eyebrows, Keaton’s Adrian begins with the standard “Dad interrogation,” asking about Peter’s plans after graduation - with a sly dig at the class differences of expectation at such a prestigious school.
When Liz innocently lets it drop that Peter had an internship with Iron Man/Tony Stark and he knows Spider-Man, that information becomes the conversational blood in the water, and Adrian moves in rhetorically like a shark.
By the time Toomes gives Peter a man-to-boy ultimatum, we have shared the most expertly riveting ride in Spider-Man’s history - a scene worthy of a Mamet play or a Christopher McQuarrie interrogation.
From door to door, we travel from stunning twist to the emotional entryway of Spider-Man’s biggest decision.
“I am such a fan of twists, and they are hard things to execute,” Daley says. “You have to surround that twist with distractions and a worthy subplot, so that you’re not just looking for where something is going to trick us.”
Daley also relished the chance to combine two cinematic tropes.
“There’s the movie twist about who the bad guy is,” the screenwriter says, “and then there’s the awkwardness that comes with meeting the father of the love interest.
“To be able to combine those two elements was really satisfying.”
Indeed it was, Mr. Daley. To the point that in terms of dialogue-built tension, it is the best-dealt scene in the whole Spider-Man franchise.
Bravo. And to the film’s six credited screenwriters, I’ll add: “Author, author” times three.