After Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 (2007) left a venomous taste in the mouth, and Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Electro Boogaloo (2014) proved to be a tangled mess, it’s now Marvel’s turn to take a crack at a cinematic version of their endearing web-slinger; but can Tom Holland’s Spider-Man hold this movie together, or is he left clutching at too many frayed threads?
For the third time in 15 years, a new cinematic Spider-Man franchise has been launched. After Sony were roundly criticised for the way the last two iterations ended, they have now joined forces with Cinematic Universe powerhouse, Marvel, in the hopes of producing a movie that fans can truly get behind and cheer for. And they’ve only gone and bloody done it!
The film opens with the standard Sony/Columbia logos, before we are given a brief but effective prologue that takes place shortly after The Avengers climactic Battle of New York, which adeptly sets up Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew of blue-collar workers as ill-treated everymen with legitimate grievances against Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who turn to a life of crime out of necessity more than anything else. Indeed, by focusing on Toomes in the opening scene, the studios manage to achieve what very few superhero movies have been able to and create a villain with relatable motive whose actions we can empathise with, if not altogether condone. These are working class guys who turn to alien arms dealing in order to support their families; in many cases, they’d be the heroes!
The Marvel Studios’ logo then appears, complete with theme music from the original 1967 Spider-Man cartoon and we begin to get the impression that this isn’t going to be your typical rehashed reboot; that this has been put together by people who possess a genuine love and understanding of the character and the lore. Spider-Man has come home.
But it is in Spider-Man’s alter-ego, Peter Parker, in which the movie truly excels. Whether he be excitedly jumping around whilst filming his involvement in Captain America: Civil War, infuriating Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) with repeated calls and texts about when the next ‘mission’ will be, or simply hanging out with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), Tom Holland is completely believable as Peter; a frustrated school kid, desperate to break free from his high school limitations, whilst struggling to find his place in the world. Indeed, Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige has described this cinematic outing as being akin to a John Hughes movie and this is evident throughout, feeling more like Peter Parker’s Day Off than a giant, summer, tent-pole movie. Ferris Bueller even makes an appearance, albeit on a TV screen, as Peter flies through neighbours’ gardens, doing his best to re-enact Ferris’s climactic race home. The whole feel of the film, including soundtrack, dialogue and closing credits, screams of a rebellious, indie, high school drama along the lines of Rushmore, Charlie Bartlett or the aforementioned Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The school itself is filled out with a cast of young actors who for once look like the ages of the students they’re portraying! We see a group of girls playing a game of fuck, marry, kill using members of The Avengers (poor Hulk!), and instead of being portrayed as the stereotypical hulking meathead (sorry Joe Manganiello!), this time Flash, the ‘school bully’ is played by Tony Revolori as a smart, sarcastic and popular student who takes umbrage with Peter for taking his place in the intellectual decathlon team.
Wisely realising we didn’t need to see yet another “with great power, comes great responsibility” story, Spider-Man’s origin is dealt with in a single line of dialogue, “you got bit by a spider?!” There’s no mention of Uncle Ben and no drawn out montage where Peter gradually learns to master his powers; the learning curve instead coming when he and Ned hack his suit, unleashing all the gadgets and powers that Tony Stark had installed behind the ‘training wheels’ program.
The trailers and posters all seemed very keen to push Downey’s Tony Stark to the forefront of the movie, understandably so as Iron Man is guaranteed bank and the Spider-Man brand is still recovering from the stench of his last solo outing. However, I can confidently state that this is absolutely Spider-Man’s movie, with Stark making the occasional fleeting appearance but never imposing himself on the film. In fact, Stark’s right hand man, Happy, gets equal if not more screen time than his boss, acting as exasperated go-between and overseer of Stark/Avengers Tower’s relocation to Avengers HQ. Captain America also pops up in a few well-placed and very funny school infomercials, and with that in mind, I would suggest people wait until the very end of the credits before leaving, as there are not one but two post-credit scenes!
This of course wouldn’t be a Spider-Man film without a love interest for Peter, this time coming in the form of Laura Harrier’s high school senior, Liz. Ever the awkward teenager, Peter tries to juggle his feelings for her with his extra-curricular web-slinging, culminating in an unexpected third act twist that proves the catalyst for the final showdown between Spider-Man and the Vulture. There is another ‘twist’ in the form of a character reveal at the end of the film that reminded me of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s ‘reveal’ in The Dark Knight Rises. Personally I thought was so obvious that I’m tempted to put it up there with Star Trek Into Darkness, where Benedict Cumberbatch was playing ‘John Harrison’ and definitely, definitely not Khan!
The action in Homecoming is as entertaining and as polished as you would expect from a Marvel movie and Michael Keaton and his band of not-so-merry-men are worthy adversaries for our hero, setting up some spectacular action set pieces and throw-downs. From Batman, to Birdman, to Vulture, Keaton fills the screen with a menacing presence; although, refreshingly, his villainy feels much more grounded and localised than the cataclysmic, world-threatening events we are usually subjected to. In one scene, we see a ferry full of people in peril, but that is about as high as the stakes get in terms of lives being threatened. It seems that, at least in this first solo movie in their collaboration, Marvel and Sony are happy to have Peter be a friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man.
In summary: Although not necessarily breaking any fresh ground, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a breath of fresh air that reinvigorates one of the most famous characters in comics, providing the perfect platform for Marvel and Sony to base their partnership on and get fans excited for the future of the web-slinger.
Thanks for reading, and until next time…