"Just forget about the flying monster guy and try to focus on being more like a kind of, friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man"
When it comes to everyone’s favourite web slinger, the variation of quality for big screen adaptations is a wide margin. On the one hand you have Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man 2’, which was not only hailed as a great movie upon its release, but is still regarded as a high point of the superhero genre (it genuinely holds up shockingly well). But on the other end of the scale you have the manufactured, soulless, franchise pandering train-wreck that is ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’. High ceiling, low basement.
Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns home to live with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Under the watchful eye of Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr), Parker starts to embrace his newfound identity as Spider-Man whilst also trying to return to his daily routine. Peter must soon put his powers to the test when the evil Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges to threaten everything that he holds dear.
It’s strange to think that the biggest movie franchise on the planet is being forced to compromise with another, much less powerful studio that botched their own attempted franchises twice before. But that’s exactly the situation that Marvel Studios find themselves in when trying to make their own Spider-Man movie. Having been introduced in last year’s ‘Captain America: Civil War’, Tom Holland steps into the web slinger’s costume to take his place amid the rest of the MCU. Of course, Marvel had a tightly wound schedule for the next ten or so years of filmmaking, but their deal with Sony basically changed the playing field, meaning that a few things had to be shuffled around and other things had to be rushed forward and in some regards that is evident within ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’.
But since I’m an optimist (okay that’s not true, but just go with it) I’ll focus on the positives first. In fact there are mostly positives to be pointed out since on the whole ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ is another solid entry for Marvel. It’s a fun and entertaining ride that promises plenty of laugh out loud jokes, likable characters and a relatable setting for its target audience. The movie is easily at its best when it embraces its high school movie influences. They understand the fact that at its heart Spider-Man has always been compelling to the masses because he is simply an ordinary teenager trying to navigate life, merging the person he is with the person that he wants to be. ‘Homecoming’ not only understands this but also fully embraces it, to a level where it almost feels like the superhero aspects of the plot feel more obligatory than anything else.
However, therein lies one of the problems, as the action scenes and narrative of the movie feel somewhat underdeveloped. We are treated to another fairly generic villain in the form of the The Vulture who despite being portrayed with great charisma and menace by Michael Keaton (were we expecting anything else?) lacks any discernible motivation or memorable presence. While I do enjoy the fact that the plot bases itself heavily on Peter Parker’s own need to carve out an identity amid this sprawling world, the actual story doesn’t seem to yield much consequence.
The thing is, many MCU solo movies feel the need to jog on the spot in order to maintain the status quo for the eventual team up later down the line. That is what ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ suffers from, things happen but none of them feel like they have an impact. The main emotional arc is that we get to witness Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man, which is fine but not something we’ve never seen before. As I said though the high school setting and comedic sensibilities lead to a greater sense of freshness and originality. While it’s action scenes are not particularly memorable (especially when compared to Raimi’s movies in which every action sequence works to further the characters and their development) the way the characters react to them and take us toward them is hugely enjoyable.
The cast are probably the strongest aspect of the entire movie, with the young actors being more than convincing in their respective roles. Tom Holland is exactly what I think of when I think of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, a morally driven kid torn between two identities. The dynamic he shares with his classmates is believable and often hilarious, with Zendaya, Toni Revolori, Jacob Batalon and Laura Harrier all doing a good job at drawing me into the unfolding high school drama. Then there’s Robert Downey Jr and Marisa Tomei who, along giving me weird feelings over Aunt May’s attractiveness, are compelling mentors to Peter as he makes his way through both high school and heroism.
While that high school setting does work for the narrative and humour of the movie it never quite feels as involving as it should, especially when for the first time their “high school superhero” doesn’t look like a 30 year old pretending to be a teenager. But while the environment puts a fresh dressing on the story, it doesn’t give it enough substance. When they pull out the old “Spider-Man lifting the heavy thing” moment is feels like an obligation rather than what it should be, a metaphor for the emotional weight said hero is lifting and overcoming. I feel like I’m being too critical since this is still a highly enjoyable and entertaining movie, but I guess I just wanted a bit more.
Another solid effort from Marvel that is joyous and massively entertaining, but perhaps somewhat lacking in substance.