Thursday, 6 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

(M) ★★★★

Director: Jon Watts.

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei.

Spider-Man ruled the jungle gym.

SO Spidey is back where he belongs - sitting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside the likes of Iron Man and his fellow Avengers.

(Sony still own the film rights to Spider-Man and are desperate to keep their golden goose but can't figure out how to get it laying again, so technically Spidey's on loan to Marvel.)

We got a taster of what this meant in Captain America: Civil War, where Tom Holland's iteration of the wallcrawler debuted via some excellent cameos. But here he is hosting his own MCU movie, making this the third reboot of the character in 15 years. Is that too much Spider-Man? Can the MCU give us something new with a character that's been in five films already in the past decade and a half?

The answers are no and no. Hang on, hear me out.

Firstly, there can never be too much Spider-Man in my book. In terms of success, the Maguire years were two out of three, and I think the Garfield years got an unfair pasting, with the first film particularly good. Tell me how wrong I am in the comments.

Secondly, there isn't much that's really new in Homecoming. Marvel have made deft decisions about what to leave out and what to emphasise in the Spider-verse. It's a fresh, fun, and immensely enjoyable take on Ol' Webhead, but it's also a safe one. They're not reinventing the wheel here - in fact it's probably the most risk-free MCU movie since Iron Man 3.

That's not to say Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't great, because it most definitely is. It does everything it needs to do, and does it all really, really well. What's not to love? Just don't go expecting this to be a game-changer or a ground-breaker.

Ignoring the bitten-by-a-spider-and-discovers-his-powers first act (that's pretty much dealt with in one sentence), Homecoming sees Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland) re-adapting to normal life in the wake of having a taste of the big leagues in Civil War (again dealt with cleverly and succinctly).

While he eagerly awaits his next Avengers call-up, Parker goes about trying to be a Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man, where he stumbles on the illegal activities of Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Keaton).

As stated, it's not so much that this is a new take on Spider-Man, but rather a well-crafted one. Director Watts and the five (!) other screenwriters have honed in on key parts of the Spider-mythos, ignored other parts, and dished up the filmic equivalent of mum's lasagne - it's comforting, tasty, nothing special, but exactly what you're looking for.

Gone is Uncle Ben (except maybe one oblique reference), as well as any attempts at rewording the line "With great power comes great responsibility". The latter is still a key theme, but here it's presented in a "show, don't tell" scenario via Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.) and his mentoring of Parker. There's no J. Jonah Jameson or Norman Osborn, no photography skills, and no Gwen Stacy.

In their place is a greater focus on high school, which creates interesting new problems to test Parker. The much-spoke about "John Hughes" vibe of Homecoming is the freshest part of it, although it's a good example of the filmmakers emphasising and better-using existing Spider-themes (Parker was in high school in the first Maguire and Garfield films).

Parker is given a confidante named Ned (Batalon), who does an excellent job with the comic relief, and a more interesting backdrop - the world of Avengers - to play around in front of. For the first time, we get to see how a kid who grew up in the Post-Superhero Era reacts to that world, and it makes for an intriguing version of Parker. Tony Stark as the Iron Mentor is another spin-off of this, and a welcome one.

Of course, that "version" is largely thanks to Holland. Mindblowingly likeable in the role, he's everything Peter Parker needs to be. Perfect in Civil War, this is merely a double-check, and, yep, Marvel's casting department got it right.

In Vulture/Toomes as the villain, we get the best Marvel big bad since Ultron. He is sympathetic yet menacing, and comes off as believable and far from cartoonish. Toomes is a 99 per center with an axe to grind against the Tony Starks of the world, who were born with a silver spoon in his mouth, whereas Toomes had to salvage and sell the spoon to feed his family. Keaton (who's gone from Batman to Birdman to Vulture) is excellent in the role and ticks all the boxes to make Toomes a well-rounded baddie.

One criticism is that all the pre-film promo meant there were few surprises left when it came time to sit down and watch Homecoming (even though just about every shot in the trailers has been tweaked or an alternate take has been used in the finished film). There are one or two twists that remain unspoilt, but the majority of the key scenes had been summarised or quoted in the barrage of trailers and TV spots. It gives a feeling of over-familiarity on a first watch, which is far from ideal. Or maybe I just need to stop watching so many trailers.

This aside, Homecoming is Spider-Man done right. And after five films in 15 years, that's probably better than should be expected.

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