Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Simply put, Spider-Man: Homecoming is now my favourite Spider-Man film. It’s fun, different and exciting rather than tragic, gloomy or sorrowful – finally reflecting the character rather than his origin.

After the events of Captain America: Civil WarPeter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) comes back down to earth, facing teenage school life while providing minor superhero services to the people of Queens. Trying desperately to join the Avengers and impress Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter stumbles across the nefarious intentions of blue-collar villain Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), at the same time as trying to keep up at school.

Director Jon Watts (in his second film) crafts an exciting, hilarious and engaging Spider-Man flick that feels like a teen school movie with incidental superheroics. The film’s script and plot are quippy and strong despite Watts being one of six (!!) credited screenwriters – usually not a good sign! What’s impressive is it gives us what feels like a radical spin on Spider-Man that doesn’t focus on his origin, or the tragedy of Uncle Ben, and fits perfectly into the Marvel cinematic universe without feeling like that all-encompassing narrative is intruding on Peter’s exploits.

Actually, the constant references and callbacks to other films are either featured or important parts of the plot, which makes a huge difference to other installments. Toomes’ gadgetry, weapons and motivations are explicitly connected to Avengers Assemble and later movies, notably through the mundane nature of cleaning up after the superhero battles. Peter’s development as a hero meanwhile is tied into Stark’s technology, while erstwhile bodyguard Happy Hogan is essentially Parker’s frustrated chaperone/emergency contact.

The comedy on show is far superior to much of what Marvel has managed before (and I say this as a fan). Parker’s school-level troubles feel more grounded than before, with the kids all nerds (at a special academic school) and thus both more awkward and unique than the standard US high school film. Their excitable and stupid conversations feel endearingly real and give the movie a levity more adult-centric entries lacked, while Parker’s giddy, overexcited use of his abilities is both funny and a welcome change from Holland’s brooding predecessors.

Actionwise, it also feels different, and maybe it’s because set-pieces are low-level and intimate (compared to huge city-wide battles). Peter’s smaller-scale rescues or interventions mean the action feels a lot more fluid, is more navigable for the viewer and amusing as well as gripping – you’re more invested in what happens to him simply because he’s a kid learning the ropes (or should that be the webs! Sorry…). Musically, Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is one of the only disappointing aspects, particularly given his amazing rendition of the famous Spider-Man theme over the opening – if that had been threaded through the score, it would have been far more memorable!

Holland is an engaging and young Peter/Spider-Man – Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were thirtysomethings pretending to be kids, but Holland is only about three years older than the character. Taking Spider-Man back to school makes everything much less serious and much more buoyant, and the young British actor is very good at balancing quips and drama under a flawless US accent. He is an endearing character to watch and root for, which is down mostly to Holland’s performance filled with puppy-dog enthusiasm and a growing maturity.

Keaton plays a more interesting, fleshed out Marvel villain, Toomes a man doing bad things for more understandable reasons than to just cause havoc, and alongside a third act plot pivot, he manages a balance between comedic and sinister aspects. I hope he returns in future because his appearance and storyline were interesting and integral to making the film work.

Downey Jr. is promoted heavily, but appears sporadically. While you could say he was phoning it in (Stark is often remotely contacting Parker, just to reinforce that), there are some interesting new facets developed. With the few scenes he has, Downey Jr. paints a slightly more mature and cognisant character, Stark realising he’s made himself responsible for this teenager’s actions and his safety, and this continues his arc throughout the series as someone grappling with his hold on responsibility.

Jon Favreau gets a welcome return as the officious and overworked Happy Hogan, used almost as a infuriated buffer between Stark and Peter but slowly warming to the teen. Jacob Batalon however steals the show as Peter’s nerdy, excitable friend Ned, getting most of the best lines as the best friend who is neither a brooding rich boy psychopath or doomed future girlfriend.

The huge and diverse supporting cast helps flesh out the school and other groups, Marisa Tomei playing a more realistically youthful Aunt May as aloof and caring in equal measure – and part of one of the film’s funniest scenes toward the end. Other notable appearances include Laura Harrier as Liz Harris, Peter’s intelligent and interesting crush, as well as Zendaya as weird girl Michelle, the socially aware and sardonic schoolkid whose presence gives things a different, more modern feel.

The group of minions working with Toomes are fairly hit-and-miss, while famous actors including Donald Glover appear in good but mostly near-cameos. At the school meanwhile, noteworthy comic appearances include Martin Starr as the kid’s quirky teacher and Hannibal Buress as a disaffected gym teacher. In summation, most of the smaller appearances add comedy and that sense of tangible depth to the school and Peter’s world. Finally, one particularly famous Marvel character pops up in a series of scenes that get progressively more amusing, the final one of which is a hilarious reward for staying through the credits.

It’s interesting to think while this is the third cinematic Spider-Man in 16 years, there’s finally something exciting and different about the character. A lot of that lies at Holland’s feet just for his youthful exuberance, but Marvel deserves praise for astutely rebooting the character in a meaningful and fun way – future appearances are eagerly anticipated! For Marvel universe and superhero fans, this is a recommended watch.

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