Director: John Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, John Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Laura Harrier, Donald Glover, Tony Revolori, Jennifer Connelly
For almost a decade now Marvel has been the dominant player in the superhero movie market. Bet thanks to a pre-existing licensing agreement with Sony, they have done so without the use of their most iconic character, Spider-Man. While Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films were instrumental in launching Hollywood’s present fascination with superhero movies, Sony’s more recent efforts have paled in comparison to what Marvel has been achieving and left many fans wondering ‘what if.’ However, a recent license sharing agreement between Disney and Sony has seen everyone’s favourite web-slinger enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe fold, and after a scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War, we now get his first solo outing, the appropriately titled Spider-Man: Homecoming. From the opening moments of the film, in which an orchestral version of the classic Spider-Man cartoon theme song plays over the Marvel Studios title card, there is a palpable sense of glee at having their trump card back in their hand.
After two separate Spider-Man franchises in the last 15 years, Spider-Man: Homecoming thankfully takes it as a given that we know how Spider-Man came to be. Rather than going through the origin story motions, it picks straight up from his appearance in Captain America: Civil War. Arriving back home to Queens after helping out Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) in Berlin, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is told we’ll call you when we need you. Back at Midtown School of Science and Technology, he spends the next two months waiting by the phone, having quit all of his extra-curricular activities so that he can be ready to go. Out of school hours Spider-Man performs small-scale good deeds around the neighbourhood and phones in daily reports to Stark’s right-hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). But a foiled ATM robbery puts him on the trail of a crew led by a man in a high tech winged suit, selling incredibly powerful weapons incorporating salvaged alien technology from the battle of New York. When Peter can’t get Stark to take it seriously, he decides to investigate it himself.
The giddiness and exuberance of Spider-Man: Homecoming is a reflection of its protagonist. This Peter Parker, as only 15 years old, is notably younger than previous screen versions. Tom Holland, a likeable and effervescent presence, both looks and feels refreshingly young, being significantly younger, at twenty, than Tobey Maguire (26) and Andrew Garfield (27) were when they first appeared in the role. Spidey’s youth also makes him unique in an MCU which is largely the domain of men in their 30s, 40s, or even 50s. He has great power but is still very much a kid. Far cry from the reluctant heroes who have preceded him, Peter is absolutely desperate to be an Avenger, and that eagerness results in mistakes. He still has a lot of learning to do, and Tony Stark – who has a smaller role than the lead in marketing might have suggested – is cast in the role of mentor/father figure, giving us a different view of this character for Downey’s seventh outing in the part.
Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like the superhero movie John Hughes would have made (a debt that is acknowledged in a brief reference to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). With that coming-of-age element, the film makes us care about Peter Parker, not just Spider-Man, and the scenes that take place at high school in which Peter has to navigate the ordinary challenges and embarrassments of being a teenager are among the film’s strengths rather than just necessary filler. It helps that these high school scenes surround Peter with a collection of interesting and fun characters. A school for the academically talented, the students, from best-friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), love-interest Liz (Laura Harrier), nemesis Flash (Tony Revolori) and the aloof Michelle (Zendaya), all demonstrate a believable level of brilliance while still being grounded as teens.
Villains have never been the Marvel movies’ strong suit, but Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, is one of their best. A salvager who was working on the post-Avengers cleanup of New York, he was driven to a life of crime when the job is taken over by the Stark-supported Department of Damage Control, putting he and his team out of business. Toomes backstory continues Captain America: Civil War’s questioning of the extent to which the Avengers are actually responsible for many of the problems they are then called upon to solve, while also tapping into contemporary real world issues surrounding class warfare and the 1%. Toomes is a defiantly blue-collar man who is determined to provide for his family, and believing that the system which celebrates and supports the Tony Starks of the world is not looking out for him, has no problems stepping outside the law to do so. He is pragmatic, not wanting their operation to get too big, knowing that as soon as they get on the radar of the Avengers or even the FBI, they are done. As a man in his 60s, he is also an interesting foil for Peter, as jaded and world-worn as Peter is eager and aspirational. Toomes is one of the MCU’s most fleshed out villains and is menacingly portrayed by Keaton.
While Sony footed the bill and will reap the financial rewards, it was Marvel Studios who oversaw the production and Spider-Man: Homecoming thus represents a return to form for them, having been not quite at their best with Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. A smaller scale story taking place in the streets and the suburbs rather than in the skyscrapers overlooking the city, it gets the characters right and infuses some youthful exuberance and humour into the MCU.
Review by Duncan McLean
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