Sony Pictures hasn’t had much luck when it comes to Spidey in recent years. First came Sam Rami’s fall from grace with the painfully disheveled Spider-Man 3. Soon after arrived a retooled-yet-unimaginative origin in the form of The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). After its 2014 sequel failed to prematurely kickstart an Expanded Universe, it seemed as though the story of Peter Parker had lost its shine once and for all. Now that the kids over at Marvel are in on the action, however, it seems Spider-Man is in safe hands once again .
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) administers a flare of much needed energy to the franchise. All the weight and melodrama from previous instalments has been trimmed away. In short, this offers audiences a story which may at times feel like a less grandiose interpretation of what came before, yet ultimately offers up a much needed tone lifter absent from several predecessors. Here we get a fluffier rendition of everybody’s favourite webslinger; restructuring him as the unduly excited super teen the comics often depicted him being.
After the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is thrown back into daily teenage life. Still elated from his involvement working alongside Team Stark, Parker’s deadset on becoming an Avenger. He soon crosses paths with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton); an alien tech scavenger who’s turned to crime in an attempt to make a living after Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) shuts his business down. Peter must learn to choose his battles wisely and accept that being a hero with a flashy suit doesn’t make him invincible.
There’s a playfulness and spirit here that shifts the story of Peter Parker from tortured loner to ecstatic hero-in-the-making. This isn’t about a superhuman yearning for normality; it’s about a kid overwhelmed by the hand he’s been dealt in life. Reinventing this into a coming of age film about a young superhuman clumsily trying to operate abilities no child should wield is a refreshingly thrilling take on cinema’s most notorious webslinger. This isn’t the tale of tortured Peter (Maguire) or Grieving Parker (Garfield), it’s the jubilant romp of Spidey being Spidey.
Director Jon Watts ramps up Homecoming’s liveliness by choosing to structure a majority of it as a present day John Hughes movie. The politics and interaction of Parker’s fellow classmates – not to mention the liveliness and diversity of Midtown School – turns this humble setting into an entire world of its own. Kids in both the foreground and background interact with one another much like they do in real life; making this more authentic and flashy than your standard Hollywood flick. They don’t simply huddle into distinct social groups based upon their stereotypical subcultures. All of them possess unique relationships with one another – both good & bad – in a manner seldom seen in modern Hollywood movies. Midtown School isn’t just a backdrop to Peter’s life, it’s a vibrant community he’s apart of.
Pruning Spider-Man: Homecoming’s scale down to a smaller size offers plenty of comical potential during the film’s action sequences. Seeing Peter unable to swing between skyscrapers due to events taking place in a suburban neighbourhoods – not to mention his anxious bewilderment in fights causing more material damage than anything else – makes for many laugh-out-loud moments. We even get a neat Ferris Bueller reference as Parker chases down a group of criminals whilst dashing through an assortment of backyard parties. The film’s action isn’t the most spectacular of set pieces, however they do carry one heck of a comical kick; offering up great moments in which a super powerful kid stomps into a situations he has little grasp of.
Moving Spider-Man from melodramatic blockbuster to John Hughes coming-of-age teen homage furthermore ramps up the threat levels. Having a kid with little knowledge or skill as to what it is he’s doing means he’s in much more danger than we’re use to seeing Spider-Man in. He may have superhuman abilities – not to mention a suit that could easily become a plot Mcguffin – but seeing a fifteen year old run headfirst into a situation he has no idea on how to resolve places him in a position where he could easily get killed. We as an audience know this won’t be the case, however seeing as we spend so much of this movie watching a boy clumsily run headfirst into peril amps up the risk-factor considerably.
Tom Holland delivers a fabulous performance as Peter Parker; finally managing to nail the character of both Parker and Spidey in a way his predecessors failed. Not that Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield were bad, they just struggled at nailing both personas. Maguire successfully portrayed a neurotic angst that suited the role of Parker, whereas his poor attempt at wiseguy humour made for a less credible Spidey. Garfield was quite the opposite; successfully playing a likeable and funny protagonist that made a great Spider-Man but unbelievable Parker. Holland plays both personas as humorous-yet-awkward outcasts; likable in a quirky way which audiences will dig, but in a manner that could easily make someone unpopular during their High school years. He manages to fuse the clumsiness of Parker with the playfulness of Spider-Man in a way that benefits both identities.
Homecoming even offers up an antagonist with a backstory more logical than your usual run of the mill baddies. Although Adrian Toomes is largely a callous jerk whose actions will inevitably result in many fatalities, there’s a reason lying behind what he’s doing. He’s chosen to salvage and sell alien tech to the criminal underworld so he can feed his family. Prior to his involvement in such affairs, Toomes was more than happy legally tidying up the alien crash sites caused by the Avengers. After Stark decided to take that privilege away from him, he was forced to find another way to make a living; ultimately pushing him into a life of crime. In many ways, this is more a story about Tony screwing up than it is about an evil Birdman.
Stark’s overall involvement in the film is utilised relatively well. He’s not brought into the action too much (except for when he’s sometimes used as spontaneous plot MacGuffins, but more on that in a moment), plus his presence makes sense based on what we saw in Civil War. He’s largely responsible for Peter’s current desire in wanting to become an Avenger, and although the movie probably could’ve made do with using Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as a full time substitute, including Stark helps maintain a goal and level of tension that drives the film from start to finish. Moreover it raises some interesting questions surrounding Stark, largely regarding the ways in which his actions impact others. Not only is he largely responsible for Adrian Toomes becoming the Vulture, he’s also to blame for a lot of Peter’s troubles. He neglects and unwittingly entices Parker into getting involved in something above his head, only to then blame Parker for most of these actions. Stark spends a lot of his time indirectly screwing up people’s lives in this movie without ever really taking full responsibility.
You could argue that Homecoming fails to fully explore or even wrap up this particular plot thread, however it nonetheless positions Stark in a negative light from time to time. Whether this side-thread holds any water in future MCU instalments largely boils down to how it’s handled in later films (the curse of episodic movies), however in the context of this film, it works by connecting both the antagonist and protagonist together. Both Toomes and Parker’s circumstances are largely manufactured by the actions of Stark; thematically linking the two of them together.
Stark’s association with Homecoming isn’t perfect mind you. There are one or two moments in which he’s used to get Parker out of perilous situations. Whenever our protagonist faces certain death, or is caught up in a disaster clearly out of his depth, Iron Man will appear out of the blue and put everything right. It’s these moments where the film’s writing becomes lazy. Having Stark sweep in at the last second instantly drains all the tension out of a given scene, making life easier for both Parker and those responsible for writing the screenplay. Fortunately, these moments are few and far between.
On the whole this is a film stuffed with fun. It’s decision to curtail the grandiosity; remove that all too familiar origin story; switch from melodrama to coming-of-age comedy; and staging it as a John Hughes homage makes for a feature packed with endurance and character.
It’s not perfect, and at times may fall into the usual trappings of a MCU flick (relying on the context of a larger franchise; loss of individuality; setting up future characters/plots), however this is by far the strongest and most entertaining Spider-Man movie to hit theatres in over a decade.
If you enjoy smashing chemistry between characters; vibrant pacing and action layered with humour, then Homecoming is the film to see this summer.