Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Directed by Jon Watts. With Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Zendaya and Jon Favreau.
Due to owners rights (Sony own him), Spider-Man hadn’t been able to play with the Avengers big boys until his extended cameo and that airport showdown in Captain America: Civil War. A mutually beneficial deal was struck which paved the way for that and this homecoming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Along with six writers, director Jon Watts takes the unenviable task of essentially rebooting Spider-Man for the third time in recent years, with young British actor Tom Holland slipping into the famous red & blue onesie. The good news is, we’re not made to endure Uncle Ben’s death for a third time, or, the radioactive spider bite. It’s high praise to the deftness of the screenplay that Homecoming doesn’t feel like that much of a reboot. Of course, it’s a help that Spider-Man is jumping on the moving juggernaut that is the MCU, with the world/universe he’s in already fleshed out. He just needs to find his place amongst it all. And find it he does.
There’s a lot of talk in the movie of Spider-Man ‘staying on the ground’, which is no small part of what makes his story work. Some of the MCU films lack personality for having too many personalities crammed into them. Spider-Man: Homecoming aims to chisel out its own identity, operating partly as a tale of teenage angst as Peter Parker swoons over a girl he fancies and builds Lego Star Wars toys with his nerdy friend, all the while trying his best to win a gold star at the school of Tony Stark. Which brings us neatly to the part of the story that links him in with the wider ‘verse.
Some might say that Downey Jr’s presence smacks of franchise hand-holding, but he’s given the somewhat distant role of Peter’s father-figure, in the absence of Uncle Ben, and, given the playground we’re in, it feels right for him to be there as together with Jon Favreau’s ‘Happy’, they gift Peter a high-tech Spidey suit and monitor his antics from the periphery.
These films (there’s 18 to date) can often be summed up as bits of forgettable story woven around massive CGI set-pieces, and to some extent this isn’t anything new. But it is fun, and it does have a focus on what it wants to be, Moreover, an enthusiastic Tom Holland feels more ‘right’ for the role than anyone before him, playing the character with a more age-appropriate spin than we’ve previously seen. His optimistic naivety works well, meaning that Spider-Man often seems out of his depth and more vulnerable than many of the MCU heroes. Pitted against Michael Keaton’s blue-collar guy gone rogue, ‘Vulture’ (Batman v Spider-Man anyone?), there is a good sense of men-against-boys, which hasn’t been prevalent in any of the previous Spidey adventures.
There were times when I thought about Kick-Ass, particularly as the film covers similar ground in pitching its hero as an in-over-his-head YouTube sensation, struggling with hormones, girls and identity. But of course, it’d be almost impossible to make a mainstream-appeal Spider-Man film without butting your head on the ceiling of ‘we’ve-seen-that-before‘, and in fairness, Kick-Ass was a part subversion of Sam Raimi’s take on the character. On the whole, Jon Watts steers the ship in the direction of youth in flux. And, with the usual excess of wit and knowing nods you’d expect, it’s mostly the right direction.