Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Bokeem Woodbine and Robert Downey Jr.
Plot: Peter Parker (Holland) is still reeling from being hired by the Avengers, but finds life empty when he is out of the suit.
The MCU have given us quite a few fun movies recently. Guardians of the Galaxy hasn’t got a serious bone in its body, Ant-Man’s premise is so daft it is hard not to play for laughs and even Dr. Strange, despite the world potentially coming to a close, had large portions of humour injected in. Marvel have always put fun before the weighty drama of, say, the Christopher Nolan Batmans, and Spider-Man is no different. The tone is bright and cheerful, exactly how Peter Parker’s Civil War cameo implied and the original comics intended. I have always been of the opinion Spider-Man is a great starter pack hero for the young comic fans, before hitting teenage years and finding solace in the darker depths of Batman. While Spidey can turn dark when needed, it is hardly the way forward for a beginner movie. Watts tucks into this with spectacular fashion, keeping to the fun-filled joking that we expect from the material. But, especially straight after Guardians, are we having too much fun in the MCU and not enough dramatic weight?
Watts’ biggest achievement is keeping Spider-Man: Homecoming separate from the countless reboots that came before. Poor Spidey has been through the wringer when it comes to remakes and as the third version of the character in a decade hits our screen, it would have been easy to feel fatigue. Poor Amazing Spider-Man can be the proof of that, Andrew Garfield making for a fine leading man, but his films never escaped the concept of being unnecessary re-treads. Watts skips past the tiresome origin story (it helps Civil War means that, short of making a prequel, Watts is forced to start the story with a half-established Parker), and asks us to just accept that Peter is a young fifteen year old boy, living with his aunt. It is hinted that they have suffered hardship in the past, but otherwise we are thrown into the deep end. That is more than fine by me. Instead, we get to dive a little deeper into the kind of antics Peter gets up too. Spider-Man movies actually work best played reasonably slow, with less thought put into the frantic action pieces and more time spent developing the life of Peter Parker, not his alter-ego. With a packed origin story, the other two Spider-Man series never quite had time to not jump straight to the masked criminal and explosions, but here Watts is happy to spend sizeable portions of his film with Peter, just being Peter Parker. While the trailers bigged up Homecoming to be a buddy cop pairing of Iron Man and Spidey, the truth is Downey Jr is reduced to a glorified cameo to connect the dots between this and Homecoming, and for the most part, Holland is on his own. The movie actually makes some brave moves in both casting no-names in the high school parts and also bravely refusing to white-wash its cast. Peter’s best friend is Hispanic, his love interest is black… at one point, you might think that Holland is the only white man in his whole school. This is never brought up, merely accepted, a wonderful example of the diversity of both cinema and society, in general. The high school points of the film are actually the more unique scenes in the Marvel universe, nameless extras finding time to get a few gags in and the bit parts bursting full of life and flavour. You have to give Watts his due: he takes a holistic approach to this film. Even Spider-Man feels fresh here. While the same wise-cracking, agile hero we know and love, Watts takes some time to think where his hero fits into the Avengers’ cinematic universe. If Iron Man and Captain America are the FBI, Spider-Man is the community support officer. Happily spending his evening swinging around Manhattan, finding stolen bikes, giving the elderly directions and stopping car-jackers, Spider-Man feels more personal than the other heroes. You can’t imagine Hawkeye stopping to say hi to the local shopkeeper during a chase scene.
However, while the character and setting is organic, the narrative, in itself, feels strangely routine. The issue with having Marvel movies pumped out continuously, is that patterns begin to emerge. Spider-Man: Homecoming’s job is to establish Peter Parker, but otherwise, it is business as usual. The villain, while interestingly a blue-collar thief rather than the usual megalomaniac, is nothing to be added to the superhero history books. Robert Downey Jr. phones in a performance, his character almost completely devoid of anywhere else to go. Half of the time, Iron Man is simply a hollow suit talking to Peter and it must be said, it felt like a good analogy for the actor himself. There is an appearance from the Shocker, another Spider-Man who hasn’t had a cinematic adaptation yet, but he is so thinly written, he might as well have stayed in the comics. The action is rote too, a punch-up between the Vulture and Spidey on the Avenger’s invisible jet, almost impossible to keep track of due to the blurring special effects and fast edit. Yet another stepping stone in the MCU is surprisingly hard to care about. It says a lot about this film that I am more interested in Peter’s flirting with Laura Harrier than I am about whether he bags the Vulture and earns a spot in the Avengers. That being said, Michael Keaton is solid as the Vulture, helped by a neat post-credits scene that nicely adds to his character and a twist in the final act that comes out of nowhere and amazes. Solid work, if not outstanding.
Final Verdict: Watts and Holland impress in this satisfying Spider-Man adventure, although the Marvel machine is beginning to lag.