D: Jon Watts / 133m
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael Chernus, Logan Marshall-Green, Tyne Daly, Hannibal Buress, Jennifer Connelly
What must it have been like back at the tail end of 2014 and the start of 2015 if you were “in the know” at Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios, and were aware of what was about to happen to everyone’s favourite neighbourhood web-slinger? How exciting must that have been? If you were a fan of Spider-Man, just the anticipation that he might be coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was enough to send you into a giddy spell of mega proportions. And then to find out that not only was there going to be a new Spider-Man movie designed to bring him into the MCU, but that he was also going to make his first appearance in another movie within that Universe – well, it was like having Xmas every day (if you were a fan). And then to have that early appearance, in Captain America: Civil War (2016) no less, and for him to steal the movie – well, that was like having the best ice cream in the whole wide world, and with sprinkles on (but again, if you were a fan).
But what if you’re not a fan? What if the very idea of another Spider-Man reboot (the third in fifteen years) has all the attraction of a Liam Hemsworth movie? What if the idea of all that ice cream, with sprinkles on, holds no attraction at all? Well, if that’s the case then be assured: this is a Spider-Man movie that even non-fans can enjoy. And why? That’s the clever part. This is the first Spider-Man movie where the whole notion of “with great power comes great responsibility” is sidelined in favour of seeing Peter Parker struggle with the basics, and not some overwhelming sense of guilt over the death of his uncle, or his parents, or Mary Jane Watson (or even Norman Osborn). This is the first Spider-Man movie where the makers have done away with the more traditional origin story, and instead have got things started by accepting that we all know the story by now; so why bother? Why not just get on with it?
Which is exactly what happens, but cannily, not before a trip back to 2012 and the aftermath of the Battle of New York. There’s Chitauri technology all over the place, and salvage contractor Adrian Toombes (Keaton) has spotted a way of exploiting it in order to make a lot of money. But no sooner has he thought of it than he’s shut down by the US Department of Damage Control and forced to continue his plan to make weapons in secret. And before long, that plan is coming to fruition. Fast forward five years and high school student Peter Parker (Holland) still can’t believe he was involved in the airport scrap that took place in Berlin between Team Captain America and Team Iron Man. Still buzzing, Peter believes his involvement in that fight means he’s a member of the Avengers team, but Tony Stark (Downey Jr) has other ideas, and does his best to mentor Peter from a distance. But Peter is irrepressible (and naïve), and his determination to show Stark what he’s capable of inevitably backfires. When he inadvertently takes on some of the men that work for Toombes, it brings him to the attention of Toombes’ alter ego, The Vulture.
Peter decides it’s his mission to stop The Vulture from building and selling any more Chitauri-based weaponry, and one (future) classic scene where Peter and Toombes realise each other’s secret identities aside, the movie follows a predictable pattern before the inevitable superhero v supervillain showdown. But what makes the movie so charming and so enjoyable is both its backdrop and its setting: Peter’s first year in high school and all the trials and tribulations that follow in the wake of that teenage milestone. Already described as a superhero movie by way of John Hughes, Spider-Man’s first solo outing in the MCU paints a much more believable portrait of Peter Parker than we’ve seen in the previous five movies. By keeping Peter at the age he was when he developed his powers in the comics, Marvel have actually managed to breathe new life into the character and make him seem fresh and relevant, rather than an angst-ridden science nerd with literally no friends. Here, Tom Holland’s incarnation is bright, overly enthusiastic, and immensely likeable (just like the movie). Holland perfectly captures the giddy sense of euphoria that comes from doing something so cool you want to shout from the rooftops about it – but know that you can’t. This is a Spider-Man who knows how to have fun (at last).
By focusing more on Peter’s attempts at fitting in, both in high school and in the wider world of superheroes, the script allows the audience to have a lot of fun at Peter’s expense. But then he is only fifteen, and he’s bound to make mistakes, whether from plain old exuberance or because he hasn’t built up his street smarts yet. Seeing him fail is more refreshing than expected, and a pivotal scene involving Stark and the loss of his Stark-created outfit highlights the true dilemma of being able to shoot webs and swing between tall buildings but not be able to talk to a girl. But again, it’s a happy dilemma because this is what the movie is all about: providing audiences with a surfeit of fun. Marvel know how to incorporate humour into their movies, but this may well be the first MCU movie that knows how to sustain that humour throughout, and round things off with the best end credits sting since Nick Fury first tried to recruit Tony Stark to some team he was trying to put together. This is a movie that is enjoyable and joyous at the same time, and proof that Marvel really do understand their characters better than anyone else (sorry Sony).
And for the first time since Loki we have a villain who has a credible motive for being the bad guy, and thanks to Keaton’s performance, he’s one we can have a degree of sympathy for. Toombes is about providing for and protecting his family, but though that’s an honourable sentiment, Keaton shows how that has become inexorably warped over the years, until his motives aren’t quite as clear-cut as when he began putting on the flying suit. Together, Holland and Keaton are terrific adversaries, and easily outshine the rest of the cast, who, to be fair, don’t stand out quite as well (though Batalon as Peter’s best friend, Ned, comes close). There’s the possibility of a romance for Peter with debate team captain, Liz (Harrier), that takes an unexpected turn, a series of action scenes that vary between broadly exciting and acceptable, competent direction from Watts that fares better away from said action scenes, a little too much moralising from Tony Stark, and a “get-to-know-your-suit” sequence which is possibly the movie’s true highlight. Smartly written – and by a team of six writers at that – this is the Spider-Man movie fans have been waiting for. Now, how about all you non-fans?
Rating: 8/10 – a giddy fun ride of a movie that can’t contain its own excitement about existing, Spider-Man: Homecoming adds another superhero to the MCU roster and does so with exuberance and no small amount of wit; you know Marvel have got a firm grip on things when the opening music cues reference the original Sixties animated series theme tune, and web-swinging in the suburbs brings its own measures of difficulty and danger.