Film’s Todd Waugh Ambridge reviews Spider-Man: Homecoming as the iconic hero swings into the Marvel Cinematic
Universe with style
In the age of sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots, Spider-Man is practically the poster child. With six movies featuring three actors in the space of fifteen years, many have questioned how many more times Uncle Ben must die on screen. During that time, the once-underdog comic-book heroes of Iron Man and the Avengers have risen from obscurity, reshaped the cinema landscape, and completely eclipsed the popularity of Marvel’s web-headed mascot. However, the architects of the MCU have joined forces with Sony and – under director Jon Watts (deliverer of 2016 indie hit Cop Car) – Uncle Ben is now safe and Spider-Man will once again be the hero on the tip of your tongue. Sorry Maguire and Garfield, but fresh-faced Tom Holland has delivered the definitive version of your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: Homecoming depicts a fifteen-year old Peter Parker struggling to balance his life as a high-schooler with his ambitions of super-heroism. While the story of a teen learning their place in the world has been done time and again, it is made fresh through the lens of a superhero flick. Parker’s coming-of- age journey runs parallel to Spider-Man’s quest to join the revered Avengers; making for a clever, insightful and novel take on the microcosm of teenage life. Homecoming pays homage to the high-school dramas of yesteryear with all its clichés: the lovable social outcasts, the eponymous impending dance, the blossoming romance, etc. However, it improves on this nostalgia by modernising the young-adult cast, their dialogue and their attitudes to one another. It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood picture with such respect for its young audience. Unfortunately, the film’s reach in this area does exceed its grasp. Some of the potentially-poignant moments of drama are cut short to serve the superhero action. It could be argued that this is inevitable, as the film is a blockbuster first, but I felt that the two sides could have been balanced better. At the end of the movie, only Spider-Man fully gets the resolution he deserves; whereas Peter Parker’s story seems to somewhat trail off.
So yeah, about that superhero movie. As last year’s Captain America: Civil War already serves as a brief introduction to the character, Homecoming is able to swing directly in to the action without having to worry about any of the slow-plodding set-up we’ve already had two times over. However, this does of course mean that the small number of newcomers to Spider-Man or the MCU are left without much in the way of character motivation. My earlier joke about Uncle Ben in fact falls flat, as his crucial influence is not felt here at all. While this did not affect me, I do wonder to what extent newcomers – particularly children – were left confused as to who Spider-Man is and why he is doing all this. Fortunately, however, I suspect Holland’s accessible portrayal of Parker as a good-meaning- but-naïve super-kid may carry the film past this potential roadblock. Contrary to my expectations from the film’s trailers – I found the MCU’s influence to be primarily stylistic. All the humour, action, cheesiness and structure that we’ve come to know and love about the MCU is here, firing on all cylinders, but the film never becomes bogged down by its context. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) shows up as a sort-of father-figure for Parker a few times throughout the movie, but his appearances drive the plot instead of feeling forced by some contractual or marketing necessity. This is still a standalone Spidey flick – and that’s a huge positive.
While Spider-Man films have generally had good villains, the MCU has definitely not – it’s one of the franchise’s most often touted, and genuine, flaws. A Marvel villain is usually hastily introduced as an egotist who wants to take over the world, given a scene where they kill someone (so that the audience knows they’re evil!), has little motivation or character development and is killed/destroyed/captured at the end of the movie as a result of their own short-sighted narcissism. Imagine how hopeful I was when Michael Keaton (Birdman, ironically) was cast as Vulture, a supposedly “everyman” villain just looking to make a quick buck, paralleling Spider-Man’s more grounded heroism compared to the Avengers. But does Marvel succeed in its first attempt of a more complex villain not bent on world domination? Mostly! While the first half of the film set me up to be disappointed – the character unconvincingly ‘becomes evil’ in the first ninety seconds of the film – the script, and Keaton’s acting chops, finally catch up in the second half. Later scenes between Holland and Keaton are electric, full of tension and well-balanced. It’s a shame that Vulture wasn’t more consistently written and portrayed, but if nothing else this is a significant step away from the rubbish villains of Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange or the Iron Man films.
The rest of the (surprisingly large) supporting cast are wonderful here. Zendaya plays the awkward, sarcastic Michelle and, while not given enough to do in this outing, she still owns each one of her scenes. Jon Favreau returns as Iron Man’s Happy Hogan – essentially Parker’s childminder – and reminds us how much we’ve missed him since then. And Jacob Batalon’s nerdy ‘sidekick’ Ned is bound to become Homecoming’s breakout fan-favourite character. I was, however, incredibly disappointed with Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May, who – although a victim of recent grief –is simply reduced to a few ‘jokes’ about her being Parker’s ‘hot Aunt’. Apart from this single outlier, I was repeatedly impressed by how much personality was injected in to each tertiary student, teacher and citizen. This tiny corner of the MCU feels like it’s been around long before the movie begins and will continue long, long after.
Verdict: Spider-Man: Homecoming walks the line between coming-of- age drama and superhero-blockbuster with an impressive amount of grace, style and good humour. While its ambition marginally exceeds its success, its place in both the Spider-Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe canon is firmly among the very top.