Director: Jon Watts Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr Running Time: 133 minutes
In recent years, the behind the scenes efforts of non-Marvel studios attempts to make films with Marvel characters could make compelling movie material all on its own. Specifically, comedy-of-errors movies. The chaos reportedly caused during the awful 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four by director Josh Trank (and his little dogs too) is one example. The leaked e-mail fiasco showing out-of-touch exec’s attempts to make an EDM-loving, humble-bragging hero that’s down with the kids for the ill-fated, ever spin-off proposing Amazing Spider-Man series is another. The lack of financial success made by the Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone-starring Spidey movies led to an “if you can’t beat them, join them” rethink and Sony drafted in Marvel Studios to help produce a reboot, with Sony retaining film distribution rights and Marvel masters Disney controlling merchandising rights. After a popular cameo in last year’s Captain America Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Marvel’s most beloved comics character take centre-stage once again. From the orchestral arrangement of the classic 60’s Spider-Man cartoon theme that opens this film onwards, the effort to bring the character (or more cynically, the IP) back to its roots is clear. This is a younger, more innocent Spider-Man, and the film is refreshing for that, even while the creative constraints of being part of the MCU never go away.
Fresh from his web-slinging, shield-swinging airport intervention in Civil War, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is buzzing with his anticipation for his next Avengers mission, assuming after Tony Stark lets him keep his fancy Spider-suit that the next call is only moments away. Though Peter leaves plenty of messages for Tony’s aide (third-billed!) Jon Favreau, nobody is ready to take the teenager seriously as a hero yet, preferring that he stay in school and try to be a good “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man”. Which is what he tries to do, but this being Marvel, what’s happening in the neighbourhood is the sale of deadly weapons boosted by alien tech, courtesy of the Vulture, a standard Marvel villain given some blue-collar grit and shoulder chips by the performance of Michael Keaton. With some typical elements missing and so much focus on impressing Iron Man rather than on the great responsibility that comes with great power, fans may disagree about how true Homecoming stays to the Spider-Man character. But Spider-Man being down on his luck and unable to get no respect seems pretty consistent with previous portrayals on the screen and the page, and his struggles to balance his superhero life with his studies are where Homecoming really excels and Tom Holland’s performance really comes alive.
A common comparison being made about the high school scenes in Homecoming is to John Hughes movies, but Peter and best friend Ned are less archetypal than that implies. They’re definitely nerds, but nobody is being shoved into lockers here and Peter’s crush Liz isn’t a million miles out of his league, Peter and Ned are both happy, dorky kids who wouldn’t mind being seen as a little cooler. Holland’s Peter is enthusiastic, believably self-deprecating, he’s easy to root for, unlike say, the aloof stalkery that Andrew Garfield would veer into at times. He’s a chemistry magnate to boot, bouncing entertainingly off of Jacob Batalon’s performance as Ned, RDJ’s distant dad routine and Marisa Tomei’s spirited Aunt May. The other kids at Midtown High School are entertaining with the screen time they get, some more of Zendaya’s character or Tony Revolori’s smug nerd take on school bully Flash Thompson would not have gone amiss, but it’s the nature of the story that the school stuff has to be ditched repeatedly for more superhero antics. It would just be more forgivable if the superhero stuff were more entertaining to watch.
The CGI action of Homecoming offers nothing that hasn’t been seen before in a dozen Marvel movies at this point. It isn’t all impossibly high stakes, which is nice – no danger of the world being destroyed here – but it’s all still a bit weightless, still a bit laser-filled, still a bit blandly designed. The looming presence of Iron Man is a big factor here, partly because he might fly into a scene at any time to “handle things”. His gifting of the suit to Peter is the bigger problem though, the emphasis is all on what the suit can and can’t do, rather than Peter’s strength and agility, leading to uninspiring action scenes that lack physicality. The film itself says that if Peter is nothing without the suit then he shouldn’t have it at all, but why must we wait until it’s nearly over to see what he’s capable of on his own?
Caught somewhere between the big-swinging melodrama of the Sam Raimi movies and the aimless studio hand-wringing of the Amazing ones, it’s a mark in Homecoming’s favour that its tried to do its own thing with a younger, kid-friendly Spider-Man movie, it just would have benefitted from doing more of it. The film’s end-credits suggest a brash, hip youth movie that isn’t fully what was delivered, for every scene that makes Homecoming more of a high school movie there’s another that is firmly and predictably in the Marvel template. For every appearance of a Martin Starr or Hannibal Buress as comedic teachers, there is Jon Favreau, looking exasperated. It’s a recipe for a solid superhero movie, but one that’s just short of having enough of its own personality to stand out from the many others.(3.5 / 5)