Running Time: 133 minutes
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon & Robert Downey Jr.
Good-natured, studious, and blessed with radioactive powers. Peter Parker has grown restless. Having been involved in one Avengers related assignment, he’s hungry for more and not content to remain a “Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. Keen to impress Tony Stark, Peter sets out to foil the illegal operations of The Vulture, whose group have been dealing in the sale of stolen arms infused with alien technology. Plus, all the usual Spidey adventures ensue… girl problems, high school bullies, suitors hitting on his hot aunt…. wait, what?
Introduced to cinema-goers in Captain America: Civil War, was the latest on-screen attempt to capture Spider-Man on screen. Within the aforementioned character-feast, Spidey was one of a multitude of faces, that all conspired to make for an indulgent, over-long, but ultimately satisfying superhero mash-up. Spider-Man (along with Black Panther), was a clear highlight though. Young and energetic, Tom Holland’s brief cameo was a breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief for those who may have dreaded another Spider-Man following the weary Andrew Garfield effort.
The prospect then, of him appearing in a solo project, was a tantalizing one, though it didn’t come without reservations, given what we have seen before. After all, it wasn’t long ago that Toby Maguire donned the tights to do battle with Willem Dafoe, or Andrew Garfield spun webs in the direction of Jamie Foxx. Fresh off fans’ memories, will have been the hideous aroma of ineptitude that came to the fore at the conclusion of both those series’.
Maguire’s goofy Spider-man series started very well indeed in 2002. In fact, the first two of his pictures still hold up as terrific entertainment. Dynamically directed by Sam Raimi, they boast strong villains (Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Alfred Molina), and a convincing chemistry between Maguire and his leading lady (Kirsten Dunst). There’s a sense of ludicrous fun to proceedings, which is a Raimi staple, and the characters are almost exclusively excellent.
The second film did the improbable in actually building upon and improving much of the first before Spider-Man 3 came along to sink the whole lot. An overreaching mess, this tepid, wet dog of a picture mashed a zillion plot-lines into one, bearing clear evidence of way too many voices contributing to a script that nobody had control over.
2012 saw a miscast Garfield don the mask, in an uninspired retread that nevertheless, took plenty of money. For sure, it was an improvement on Raimi’s final film, but it still felt like an unnecessary, revisionist take, and was bogged down by the use of The Lizard in a role that shod have had more impact. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey was a likable presence and had chemistry with her partner, but much of the film felt gutless and confused.
The sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, fell victim to many of the problems that plagued the third installment of the first series. Over-egged to the point of ridiculousness, too many villains were introduced, and it was achieved with all the panache of the overblown Batman Forever. There was much to like, but just not a lot to remember. Garfield did his best with the material, but crucially, this didn’t feel like classic Spider-Man, it felt more akin to a very expensive place-holder, designed to keep proceedings in check while the kinks could be worked out for a proper effort.
Which brings us to Spider-Man: Homecoming. A 2017 endeavor courtesy of Jon Watts (Director of Clown, and Cop Car), there really would be little excuse had this not lived up to the promise offered in Civil War. With hindsight, it is clear that Spidey needs to be a young, likable underdog, and it was precisely the “friendly neighborhood” aspects of his character that make him so endearing. These characteristics felt a little forced in previous incarnations wherein it really didn’t feel like the scripts necessarily played to the strengths of the main characters.
That isn’t the case here at all. Peter Parker is a tangibly good-natured young man, bursting with wit. He’s smart without conforming to the “Wallflower” two-dimensionality that would have rung untrue had they stuck too closely to his Sixties comic interpretation. Those involved have updated and taken influences from Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man incarnation, without reducing Peter to being unrecognizable to those who haven’t followed those particular exploits.
The wide variety of supporting characters are also deftly depicted, much more so than in previous attempts. Wisely, the film-makers haven’t yet resorted to further versions of Mary Jane Watson or Gwen Stacey to fill the shoes required for the object of Peter’s affections. Instead, Liz Allan is positioned in the role here (the comics historically had Liz become the wife to Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborne), which deflects needless comparison to previous movies and gives extra weight to the notion that this is more than a retread. There’s also a new spin elsewhere that should help continue this theme throughout the series, but to say more would be an unfair spoiler!
Introducing Ned Leeds as Peter’s closest confidant is another nice touch. James Franco’s Harry is simply too fresh in the memory to be a major part of the series at this stage, and it’s nice to feature names that had significance in the funny books, in modern twists that make sense and feel real. In general, his class-mates are portrayed accurately as, well, high-school students, and they are all contributing believable turns. Gone are the days of brooding twenty-somethings who are far too muscular and sinister, this is more Steve Ditko than The Vampire Diaries.
A major strength in the scripting is the lack of an origin story- a well-worn crutch that Batman screenwriters have long lurched upon, to the detriment of many a Bat-flick. Being the third attempt to capitalize on the webbed ones potential in a relatively short time frame, there simply isn’t a need to regurgitate what the viewer already knows. Instead, we’re trusted to either know enough or connect enough doubts to pick up on the bits that are not said out loud.
The movie is carried by 21-year-old Holland, who delivers a terrifically nuanced, credible effort in a tricky lead role. He’s required to juggle the trivial nature of the problems caused by his socially awkward Peter, with the ambition of a super-hero eager to prove himself, without one overwhelming the other. Special mention obviously must go to Michael Keaton though, who steals the screen with a compelling, believable turn as a bad guy motivated by rather simple ideas. He isn’t a Thanos, a Red Skull, or even a Green Goblin. This is a guy with basic, clear human goals, distorted through a twisted vision, defined by the circumstances created around him. That’s not to say he’s a typically righteous, noble villain- he’s certainly a not a good dude, but he’s utterly convincing every second he’s on screen.
If there’s one glaring, gaping chasm of “huh?” at any point, it’s in the casting of Marisa Tomei as the famous Aunt May. For those of us who grew up reading the adventures of Peter Parker, there’s a distinct discomfort to seeing her morph into a much younger person, being flirted with by waiters (though thankfully not Tony Stark… in this movie at least). Frankly, it’s a bizarre decision that doesn’t appear to have any benefit, despite Tomei doing a decent job with the material. Even Tomei herself has subsequently seemed perplexed by her own casting!
Nonetheless, minor, minor quibbles aside, Spider-Man Homecoming, is rousing, modern family entertainment at its very best.
Spider-man: Homecoming finds Spider-man hitting a home-run however, and it feels like this is genuinely a superb foundation on which an entire franchise could potentially be hung and that legacy could be upheld. Holland’s always been an actor whose ability surpasses his years, and in this role, he finds himself a superstar who is more than ready to carry the load.
This is the film that finally puts all of the pieces together correctly, and gets the elusive Spider-Man puzzle right. In short, it’s the one that sticks.