REVIEW: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Director: Jon Watts

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Robert Downey Jr.

Running time: 133 minutes

4-stars

Still reeling from his airport encounter with the Avengers in Civil War, Peter Parker (Holland) is desperate to show Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) that he has what it takes to become a member of the famous superhero team. In his search for acceptance, and his own excitement, his path crosses that of arms dealer the Vulture (Keaton), whose alien-tech integrated artillery poses a significant threat to the people of New York, and ATMs everywhere…

To most cinephiles (and, let’s face it, pretty much everyone else), the words “those MCU films have never really done it for me” would be instantly, and unanimously stamped as blasphemous. While I can certainly appreciate their astronomical success, I’ve never been one – perhaps with the exception of a quintet of galactic misfits – to throw the proverbial knickers at anything and everything that comes out of Burbank, California (a.k.a Marvel Studios). Their ability to churn out film after film in such rapid succession, and balance the many interweaving storylines, has effectively blended my recollection of them into one, great big, spandexy, fisty pulp (made using a green screen, most likely). With Spider-Man: Homecoming, however, we get everything we expect from a Marvel superhero film, and also everything we don’t.

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The overarching brilliance of Jon Watts’ take on the New York web-slinging do-gooder is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Right from its iPhone camera shot video-diary opening, it’s apparent that this Spider-Man opts for a totally different vibe to what has come before. For the first time, Peter Parker feels like a genuine teenager, and not just someone older playing a teenager. Whereas the Maguires and Garfields of yesteryear gave us a Spider-Man whose heroics derived from an unfaltering, Miss Universe-ish desire, and self-proclaimed duty, to make the world a better place, the only world this Spidey seemingly wants to improve is his own. Doing as all wall-climbing, web-shooting boys his age would, Homecoming’s Parker seems motivated to don the infamous red and blue exclusively to further his own reputation, and improve his stature in the ol’ high-school political scene. He wants to party, to impress his crush, be a big deal in the eyes of them darned Avengers, and it just so happens that fending off the Big Apple’s criminal underbelly constantly gets in the way of all that.

And painting a near perfect picture of all the above is the instantly likeable Tom Holland. Rarely in control of his own powers, and more than a little bit clumsy; but delightfully charming, convincingly American, and scrawny in the most ripped way imaginable, Holland gives us the Spider-Man we never knew we wanted. Going against the grain of superhero narrative relationships, Parker’s interactions with his wise ol’ aunt May (a neatly nuanced turn by Marisa Tomei), his surrogate paternal figure, Tony Stark, and even romantic interest, Liz (Laura Harrier) take an unexpected back-seat as Holland and on-screen best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon) quickly adopt a Superbad-esc double act which is wonderfully, and consistently, entertaining.

When the plot does inevitably start to take a firmer grasp of the narrative, however, and Keaton’s band of badd’uns get considerably badder, the film starts to blow hot and cold. Save for a couple of impressive, but wholly inevitable action set-pieces atop the Washington monument and then later aboard a ferry, the stakes are never raised as high as we might want or expect. Keaton’s right-hand men – namely Bokeem Woodbine and Logan Marshall-Green – are disappointing, overly novice depictions of a well-known Spider-Man villain.

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And as the saying goes, a superhero film is only ever as good as its main villain. However, that seems less and less applicable here. In a film of such refreshing brilliance, Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (a.k.a the Vulture – I’ll let you make your own Birdman joke) is for the most part underdeveloped and unremarkable, although Watts does attempt to claw back some character depth in the film’s latter stages, as conflictions in both Toomes’ motivations and Parker’s romantic predicament throw up an intriguing, but ultimately underwhelming final showdown. Amidst this, however, there is an ingeniously sharp, and very bold, reversal involving the Spidey-suit that feels so well justified given the film’s devotion to giving us more of Spider-Man as man than it does with giving us Spider-Man as Spider.

Far from perfect, this is rough-round-the-edges Spider-Man made all the more satisfying in its genre subverting idiosyncrasies. It’s far from ground-breaking, but takes that already shattered earth and grows something organic from it. As both Homecoming and Holland quickly find a home in our hearts, I can now finally pledge my allegiance and say that Watts’ film is MARVELlously good fun.

 

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