When I was young, my favourite comic book hero was Spider-Man. Peter Parker’s appeal to me from the comics? He was a socially awkward kid (just like me!) who was trying to juggle life (also like me!) but would inevitably mess up in the process (STILL like me NOW!) Peter Parker was a flawed teenager with superhuman abilities, an intelligent yet sensitive guy that empowered me, and with a few slight variations (I don’t have an exceptional IQ that could make web shooters, or live with my Aunt) he portrayed everything that was me.
Spider-Man: Homecoming fixes the one thing that the original Sam Rami trilogy and Amazing films failed to stir within me – bringing out the red and blue onesie kid from this hardened, carapace shell of a reviewer. Homecoming made me want to flick my wrists at buildings and make ludicrous sound effects like: ‘Thwip, thwip,’ after leaving the cinema.
Spider-Man: Homecoming feels fresh in a saturated land of Avengers and Leagues. There’s an American preppy high school feel to everything, like something out of a John Hughes coming-of-age comedy, where the teens talk like teens instead of cantankerous Hollywood writers trying to sound hip and cool. There’s also an anarchic, spontaneous charge to the film – veering off slightly into a chaotic mess at times but just teetering on the praecipe of elation. We’re spared the origins storyline this time around (phew) and the whole ‘With Great Power…’ shlock, instead focusing every moment in developing the surrounding characters and plot. Tom Holland is great as Parker, balancing the fine line of smart-kid goofiness and heroic potential – he’s not as emo and lonesome as Toby Maguire’s version, and not as smug and cocky as Andrew Garfield’s take on the web-slinger, but finds the right equilibrium with the character. The film starts with a sequence set immediately after the events of the first Avengers movie, (they play with the timeline a little with the previous Avengers films) with the shattered remains of alien technology scattered across Manhattan. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) plays a working class salvage operations clean-up guy, clearing up the mess and expecting a big pay cheque when some suited Government types show up and take over the operation as they don’t want the potentially dangerous technology to fall into normal civilian’s hands. Obviously miffed that such a big job has been taken away from him, Toomes manages to steal some power sources and we fast-forward 8 years, where he has created a black market for the alien technology and has weaponised it for the highest bidder. He’s also created a scary set of wings to become The Vulture. Spider-Man gets involved and the basic premise of trying to stop him at all costs and prove that he’s an Avenger is mired with the tribulations of young adulthood.
Keaton seems to be having a blast as the hard-done-by Toomes and as villains go, he’s the first one in the superhero-verse that resonated with me in a way that wasn’t Machiavellian by nature. He’s not a terrible person – he’s not out to conquer the world, or take revenge on a costumed hero. He just wants to provide for his family (albeit by illegal means) and not get caught in the process. The consequences of The Avenger’s actions have had repercussions that have led to a normal working class guy stand up and take what he believes to be his investment. At first I thought the CGI battles between the ‘ol web head and The Vulture would be very PlayStation-esque, but their tangles in mid-air are simply dazzling to watch. The best kind of villains are ones showing the vulnerabilities and human motivations behind the masks, instead of moustache-twirling caricatures Keaton’s portrayal of Toomes is one of the more realised summer-movie villains in recent years.
Director Jon Watts (COP CAR) doesn’t seem content with just giving us super hero tussles though, he stresses as much about depicting Peter’s school life accurately as he does about the big action segments. There’s the stereotypical comic relief friend – Ned, Peter’s crush – Liz (Laura Harrier), the outcast – Michelle (Zendaya) and Flash Thompson. All have their own quirks and have ample enough screen time to make you want to find out more about them – but in this fast paced movie there’s little time to be dawdling too much on the teen drama element.
Let’s get one thing out in the open before we go any further though – Marvel have been lambasted in the last few months with allegations of whitewashing in their films and TV spin-offs, most notably with Dr. Strange and Ironfist. To its credit, Marvel seems to have taken on-board these criticisms and in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the cast are an eclectic mix of ethnic origins; Peter’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), is one of the few major Asian film characters in the Marvel Universe; Zendaya plays a delightfully kooky Michelle and it really hits home that Watts has gone out of his way to represent Queens’ diversity. However there was a finicky warning bell that was going on in my mind during all of this – that by casting a lot of the supporting characters from different ethnic backgrounds it still accentuates the fact that they’re just exactly that – comic relief sidekicks for the main character; set dressing for the main star. A lot of cues and material has been taken from the ‘Ultimate’ Spider-Man comics; with a biracial teenager superhero at the wheel. Would it have been so controversial to have an actor play the Miles Morales’ version of Spider-Man? Would it have been too political to have Morales as the main character instead of Peter Parker? Although Marvel should be praised for their diverse direction, it still may be a while before we see some mould breaking when it comes to altering the standard conventions of what we’ve previously seen on screen.
Another bugbear of mine – Flash Thompson. They just seemed to get this character so, so wrong. Flash Thompson would not be in a mathematical decathlon. A fifteen year old would not be driving a car. I understand the direction they were trying to take this character; that he’s not just a Neanderthal jock who bullies Parker, but to turn him into an irksome frat-boy type just seemed to grate me. But that’s my trivial rankle. Did it take anything away from the film as a whole? Nope. Not in the slightest – because I was having way too much fun with the film.
And Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun film. A really entertaining, popcorn summer movie. It’s a boost injection of blissful exhilaration to a somewhat flagging franchise, and in all honesty, once Infinity War is over I kind of hope that the superheroes will hang up their capes for a while. The billions of dollars that these types of films generate will argue heavily against me, but one can hope. If you want to watch the best web-slinging adventure since the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man, then look no further, true believer.
Review by Anthony Self
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