Unfortunately there are no instructional videos presented by Captain America to teach us how to write a good wholesome film review of the latest attempt at repackaging Spider-Man. Alas, you’ll just have to make do with Owen Hughes’s thoughts on this Sony / Marvel concoction.
Alright, let’s get the controversy out of the way early doors. This is the best Spider-Man film thus far. The Amazing Spider-Man came close to being a Good Movie. As important as Sam Raimi‘s trilogy was for giving comic-book films a bit of credibility back at the turn of the century (alongside Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies) – following disastrous outings for the likes of Spawn, The Phantom and Batman & Robin, which almost killed the sub-genre stone dead – they are not good. And I include Spider-Man 2 in that.
For those of you who haven’t just closed the tab, muted us on Twitter or otherwise opened an email to begin composing a death threat… that wasn’t a test. You can still do all of the above. I genuinely do mean what I say. Spider-Man 2 is (mostly) bobbins. Now you may properly and fairly decide whether you want to continue with this review.
After his cameo in the Civil War between opposing factions of the Avengers, the unassuming teenage superhero Peter Parker (Tom Holland) bides his time until Earth’s Mightiest Heroes call upon him again by kicking his heels with his widowed Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), hanging out with his school-chum, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and bunking off classes to partake in his Stark Internship (AKA dressing as Spider-Man and thwarting petty criminals). Eager to get back to some real action, he constantly pesters his handler, Happy (Jon Favreau), for news about his next mission. Meanwhile, disgruntled construction manager Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), known to you and me as Vulture, is quietly reeking havoc using the Chitauri technology he illegally kept hold of after Parker’s mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), replaced his blue-collar crew with the government’s Department of Damage Control mid-way through their very costly post-Avengers NY clean-up gig.
Phew! That’s a lot of jargon and made-up words to remember to spell correctly.
If you hadn’t already worked it out, the sub-title ‘Homecoming‘ has a double-meaning. Surprise! As well as the narrative building towards the high school-age Peter Parker’s Homecoming bash (whatever the Hell one of those is, America) it is also the return of the Spider-Man character back into the warm, welcoming, 22-inch bicep embrace of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ergo, this is a Sony Pictures movie in all but name, cheque card and rubber stamp. Since Samuel L. Jackson first muttered the words “Avengers Initiative” in the Iron Man post-credits stinger, and as the MCU began to take shape, a steadily increasing swell of fans begged and cajoled Marvel Studios to re-purchase the rights to their famous wall-crawler. We know a deal of this kind has been on the cards for a while thanks to the leaked Sony emails, but this appears to be in the best interests of both parties. Sony make a lot of money. Marvel get to use their character again.
So, is it the movie that those very same fans have been desperate for? Well… given that it’s the second reboot in the ten years since Tobey Maguire’s mop-topped, jazz-playing, emo-Man last graced the screen, it’s as good as we’re going to get. Which, thankfully, is “pretty good”.
Our first introduction to the web-slinger is via personal vlogs made by Parker on his mobile phone during his first meeting with Stark and Happy. Because, y’know, Marvel are so hip to what the kids are all into these days. They’re all into the YouTubes and the Twitches.
I’m being deliberately antagonistic there; and not at all honest. It’s actually a really great way to ease us into this brand new version of the character. In these moments, we get a flavour of the personality of this new hyperactive Spider-Man in a way that makes him very different to all previous big-screen outings. He’s still that comfortingly familiar shy, nerdy and sensitive kid who gets riled by the class bully, Flash (Tony Revolori), can’t talk to the girl he likes, Liz (Laura Harrier), and gets excited about building a (ridiculously over-priced) LEGO Death Star. What’s different this time is that we effectively have Spider-Boy. This is the first time we get to see Parker the 15-year-old kid who still has to deal with schoolwork on top of saving the world. Not college work. Not finding a job. Not graduating to MIT. But actual school-age Pete.
They could have revealed the title for the film to be The Spectacular Spider-Man and a large group of cartoon nerds at SDCC would have all in synchronicity pressed palms to foreheads and let out a collective “doi”. It is such a delight to see that a rebooted Spider-Man movie is in fact a re-imagining. He’s not a cool geek, like Andrew Garfield was. He’s not a soppy shoe-gazer, like Maguire was. In previous instalments, Parker had graduated from school before the first entry was even through with. This time, we get to spend time with the younger Peter – and best of all, it’s not an origin story. We all know how Spider-Man got his powers, and the movie treats us as such.
However, I would be loathe to label Homecoming as a coming-of-age drama. Spidey at the end of the film is still the loveable scamp he is at the start, if only a little bit more mature. Character growth is arguably the area that director Jon Watts struggles with most. Spider-Man rarely takes responsibility for his own hiccups; but the counterargument is that this is a brightly coloured, action packed live-action cartoon aimed primarily at a younger teen audience, and not one that’s particularly concerned with bogging itself down in dark foreboding set-ups to teach Parker lessons about how with great power comes great responsibility. Uncle Ben barely registers at all. His fly-by-night moral guardian is playboy Tony Stark. The purpose of literally every single character in this film is to help tell Peter’s story. Even within the script, Peter is obsessed with himself, and apparently everybody else is obsessed with helping their pal be the best him that he can be without any other purpose for being.
Indeed, it might actually be fairer to say that Toomes has a more rounded arc than the title character, as Keaton reprises his role as Birdman (not really). Watts’s intention for Toomes was to bring a ground-level player into the story, just like John C Reilly in Guardians of the Galaxy. Someone who sees the city from the streets, instead of the skies. I would say that he went one better and somewhat accidentally made a working class anti-hero. A hard working American who has the rug pulled out from underneath him by a bureaucratic faceless Government department under the jurisdiction of a multi-billionaire. Who’s the really villain here?
That’s rhetorical. It’s still half a Robin Hood character, who steals from the rich and powerful, but deals in the illegal arms trade and murders his own criminal gang members. But that’s beside the point. He provides a perfect foil for the naive young super-powered schoolboy genius who sees no future more worthy of aspiration than joining up with a bunch of other superheroes and kicking butt. Whilst Stark effectively replaces Norman Osborn as Peter’s surrogate father-figure, it’s really only Vulture who helps him to make sense of his place in the world. And, let’s face it, those eyebrows of Keaton’s really do help him nail the role as a character whose alias is Vulture.
Sure it complies with conventions of all big-budget studio-led superhero movies. There are big action set pieces, as seen in the trailer, including a ferry being ripped in half, and a climb up the Washington Monument before leaping backwards over an airborne helicopter. Nevertheless, they’re well shot, sprinkled with humour rather than waves of groan-inducing quips, and aid the lively pace of this punchy action-comedy.
There are also plenty of well hidden Easter eggs that you could spend days reading about online. Whilst it took me a second to remember Jennifer Connelly was in this movie and therefore provided the voice of Karen, Spider-Man’s suit A.I., there are plenty of other character name-drops and actor appearances that flew over my head. A cameo from Donald Glover as the uncle of Miles Morales (a different Spider-Man from the comics) suggests that there are plans to branch out this property even further. Something I am all for.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t result in a Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 on the scale of the previous franchises and their attempts to deliver a solid sequel. And, whilst I’m having a moan, can we stop playing Blitzkrieg Bop over the end credits of these sorts of movies now? Cheers.