Marvel’s Spider-man has had more reboots than a desktop computer… but the latest ‘Homecoming‘ spins the hero firmly into the wider MCU – and could be the most fun yet…
After Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr.) summoned him as back-up when facing down Captain America, the young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has found himself at a loose-end. He’ll stop local crime and run interference on a street-level, but he’s anxious to get back to the big leagues… to become a fully-fledged Avenger.
Stark – and assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) – are less convinced and prefer ‘Spider-man’ keeps a low profile and learns about the power of great responsibility. They’ve given the would-be webslinger a costume with a Stark-designed upgrade, but it’s still in the ‘training-wheels’ mode. But when Peter finds himself encountering thieves who are using salvaged material from the attempted Chitauri invasion several years ago, he sees the ideal opportunity to prove himself. The more he tries, the less he impresses Stark who starts to regret putting Peter and others in danger.
However, as Peter tries to balance his high-school life and crime-fighting, the two are about to collide in unexpected fashion… and Parker will have to step up and prove the kind of hero he’s prepared to be, no matter what the cost.
Perhaps the best way to describe this Spider-man is… ‘fun’. It’s not without its moments of darkness and angst but they are seen through the prism of being a teenager, where all things are possible and sheer enthusiasm challenges inexperience. In that sense, this is the truest version of Marvel‘s flagship character that we’ve ever seen on the big screen, showing a young man’s whose everyday choices are amplified by the maxim of great power and great responsibility, where matters that seem like life-and-death in the moment actually can be just that.
Tom Holland’s interpretation of Peter Parker though puppy-dog earnest in the extreme is hard not to like eventually, even if it’s down to sheer attrition. Yes, older comic-book fans may have grown accustomed to the more assured post-school, mid/late twenty-something, but this is the high-school version, newer and less adept with his abilities and with all the peer-pressures one can imagine. Holland basically gives us a good-soul’d character just trying to do his best with Parker sometimes overcompensating in every department. It’s like watching Spider-man: The Wonder Years, a film with ultimately less radioactive bite than the average superhero flick, but more goofy awkwardness that will enhance his appeal with a younger audience… without losing the mainstays.
Those worried by pre-publicity that Stark/Iron Man/Downey would overshadow the titular hero needn’t worry too much – the character and actor used to punctuate the story rather than steal too much screen-time. He’s the mentor and father-figure, there to provide banter and support and just add the correct course-adjustments as necessary.
The Adrian Toomes / Vulture antagonist is an interesting choice of main threat – in many ways a very Norman Osborn / Green Goblin take on a man whose inventions bolster his resentments. At the start it’s easy to have some sympathy with him as a salvage expert and contractor screwed over by the powers-that-be when he’s unceremoniously pushed aside and possibly bankrupted in the clear-up after the alien attack on New York (seen in the original Avengers movie). Secretly-keeping some of the tech he’d come across and assembling a team of workers to create new weapons from it, he becomes an arms-dealer, even that means sometimes selling to less desirable clientelle. He compares his actions to those that gave the Starks their tech empire and there’s some truth to that, especially in their egos, but it’s Tony’s moral centre that Toomes lacks… though he’d do anything to secure a better future for his daughter. The skilled Keaton (ironically still an icon for Batman and Birdman) makes the most of a role that has some solid ‘moments’ though it would have been nice to see more development once he physically dons his latest wings. When he’s Toomes, he’s interesting, but the ‘Vulture’ never soars.
Marisa Tomei is also interesting choice for Aunt May. Anyone with even the basic knowledge of the Spider-man mythos will likely picture her as the elderly aunt and widow with a dodgy ticker and an old-school outlook. By skewing Peter’s age downwards the same has become possible for May and there’s little doubt this is the youngest and, yes, sexiest version of the character we’ve seen. That takes a little getting used to and though Tomei is a fine actress, anyone over the age of thirty may take a while to dismiss those preconceptions. To her credit, it works and may forever change the way we see the character.
Jacob Batalon’s Ned is a new addition to the supporting player’s gallery and is essentially inspired by the best-friend relationship in the Ultimate Spider-man comics (for the uninitiated: Marvel‘s parallel universe comics that introduced Mile Morales, a young hispanic character who takes over the Spider-man mantle when Peter is killed). He’s the goofy side-kick, amazed that’s his friend is a superhero but he’s an endearing guy who is just the sort of friend every budding superhero needs to keep perspective. Singer Zendaya (as Michelle) and Laura Harrier (as Liz) also give us interesting, enigmatic characters in their own right – more than potential love-interests or friends and peers that actually give Peter something to fight for.
As well as homages to key Spidey moments (including finding inner and actual strength to rise above rubble on his shoulders – again with the metaphors), there’s plenty of other easter-eggs in the mix that it would be better not to spoil, but all are delivered affectionately. Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy aren’t in the mix at all (or, at least, not overtly) and it’s interesting that so many parts of the oft-repeated origin have been deemed as surplus-to-requirements this time. It is true that most people know the origin story by heart, so it’s probably fair-play to start spinning new material.
Personally, I could have done with less of the extra bells-and-whistles that come with the fully expanded Spider-suit upgrade… Spidey having an on-board computer makes for some fun situations but, just as the character learns, it’s far more important to be good at the basics. The fight scenes are good, if sometimes TOO kinetic,falling into that old problem of whizzing pixels around the screen so fast that we lose track of who is doing what to whom. But it’s in the quieter moments the film shows a good sense of pacing – it’s a movie that doesn’t just throw everything at the screen for two hours and hope for the best. For instance, the car scene between Peter and Toomes outside the school’s titular homecoming prom is claustrophobic and scary for all the right reasons because the actors sell it well.
The very last scene of the film is a literal ‘WTF’ moment that promises some interesting developments for the inevitable sequel. The mid-credit scene also hints that we haven’t seen the last of a certain character and the very final ‘extra’ post-credits scene is one that you have to applaud for sheer audacity.