After taking on joint parenting duties with Sony, Marvel has gifted Spider-Man a new lease of life.
Set immediately after the events of last year’s Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming drops over-enthusiastic fifteen-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) back into high school.
Determined to prove himself to a seemingly disinterested Tony (Robert Downey Jr.), and thereby become an Avenger, Peter ups his ambitions from friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man – busting bike thieves and giving old ladies directions – to single-handedly taking down a gang dealing high-tech weapons on the streets of New York.
Directed by Jon Watts, the film gives us Peter as we’ve never really seen him before. Holland’s guileless performance is a perfect fit for this with all his emotions, fear and jubilation, writ large. It’s amazing he’s managed to keep his secret identity from his doofy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) for this long; let alone his Aunt May (Marissa Tomei).
Continuing the ’80s trend that Marvel seem to have embraced of late -possibly as an effort to get nostalgic parents into the cinema along with their ‘tweens – Spider-Man: Homecoming introduces us to the Midtown School of Science and Technology; an academic institution of which John Hughes would be righly proud.
Surrounded by a veritable breakfast club of well-sketched archetypes – Peter’s crush, popular, smart girl Liz (Laura Harris); obnoxious rich kid Flash (Tony Revolori); the bookish, dryly deadpan Michelle (Zendaya) – the film manages to make this an organic part of Peter’s life; as opposed to just a stylistic flourish as in, say, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2.
Where previous attempts to populate the MCU have led to narrative bloat, a sequence here where Spider-Man takes a shortcut through suburban backyards Ferris Bueller style – interrupting pool parties, knocking over trees houses – manages to be both swiftly characterful and neatly funny.
More so, perhaps, than any of the other Spider-Man films, Homecoming charts its Peter’s development on a beat-by-beat, moment-by-moment basis. Based on his first film, Cop Car, Jon Watts has form when it comes to overenthusiastic adolescents who are out of their element, sometimes literally here, and Homecoming summons up real peril by ensuring we never lose track of exactly where its protagonist is emotionally; whether he’s readying his nerve to make a leap of faith from the Washington Monument or being dragged kicking into the sky by screeching, mechanical bird-man The Vulture (Michael Keaton).
Keaton, too, deserves praise for imbuing the film’s antagonist with a sympathetic streak, even while radiating smiley, crinkly-eyed menace. His henchmen – including Hakeem Woodbine and Michael Chernus – get little to work with, but their presence as possible future super-villains of themselves works purely in terms of fan service.
However, the film fails somewhat when it comes to that classic mantra of “With great power comes great responsibility”. Having already given us an origins crash course in Civil War, the film’s otherwise exemplary script – which has five credited writers, including Horrible Bosses‘ duo Jonathan Goldstein and Jonathan Francis Dailey – brushes straight over Uncle Ben, a mention of whose tragic death might have helped justify Peter’s investment in getting guns off the street.
As it stands, however, the only time anyone gets hurt by them is when Spider-Man escalates the situation. On more than one occasion, the outcome of his intervention is very near devastating. Without imminent threat of human life, Peter’s behaviour too often seems reckless; for which he is rightly punished, that is until the film finally has to reward him for it. This is the first superhero film where I found myself wishing the hero woul slack off and leave “saving the day” to the grownups. By the time Peter’s change of heart comes around, it’s a bit too late.
Michael Giacchino’s score is magnificently rousing, with a few familiar grace-notes, and Salvatore Totino’s cinematography helps turns New York into a sunlit playground. A shot of Spider-Man lounging on a fire escape, backgrounded by a light golden dusk and the New York skyline, is a neat encapsulation of Marvel’s new approach.
A bit more web-head, a bit less hot-head – or, in other terms, more Anthony Michael Hall, less Judd Nelson – and this could have been a perfect blockbuster; as opposed to just a very good one.