If you were to ask a group of people who had neither read comic books, nor have watched a single superhero film, to name three characters from a comic book. I would place high odds that one of the names most frequently mentioned would be Spider-Man, next to perhaps Batman, Wolverine or Superman.
Spider-Man has been subjected to the reboot/recasting treatment of Hollywood more than most and in a remarkably short space of time. We first saw the character in the 2002 trilogy as played by Toby Maguire. Who I thought captured the Peter Parker side of the character superbly, yet sadly could not deliver the comedic flair of Spider-Man. In 2012 Andrew Garfield took over the mantle, or donned the red and blue PJs as it were, and suddenly we had our first outgoing and funny Spider-Man. Unfortunately, as Parker, he was simply too cool, with scenes depicting him skateboarding around abandoned warehouses after school, and mostly spending his time with like-minded characters such as Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Though the warehouse scene did imply the anti-social brooding nature of a teenager coupled with isolation, it’s also like watching any skateboarder at work, impressive, cool and something most of us wish we were able to do on some level.
In 2015, Sony, who own the rights to Spider-Man, made a deal with Marvel. This agreement enabled Spider-Man to not only finally appear alongside The Avengers, but also enabled Marvel to make a Spider-Man film, as long as Sony received a producer credit. Sadly, this meant that once more Spider-Man would be recast, and this time by a young British actor called Tom Holland. Now, many, myself included, both inwardly and outwardly groaned when the title ‘Homecoming’ was announced. We had after all literally just watched the previous Spider-Man graduate from high school, and I for one was rather looking forward to finally moving beyond the difficult and emotional angst of being a teenager, particularly one as young as 14.
Unsurprisingly, Marvel knew exactly what they were doing. We were given an origin story, but one that was cleverly within a larger film. Spider-Man’s introduction during ‘Civil War’ was perfection, it showcased his transition from his homemade costume to one provided for him by Tony Stark. We also bypassed the initial awkward moments each hero faces when discovering their abilities and, we found a character who was already known as the ‘Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man’. He even came equipped with a convincing Queens accent, a surprising first for the character, and established Marvel’s continued dominate ability to create and cultivate their own characters.
‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ sees Peter Parker once more back in High School, fresh from his mission with Tony Stark in ‘Civil War’. He is desperate to prove himself, making questionable judgements in order to gain a place with The Avengers. He spends his time after school as Spider-Man moving around the neighbourhood solving as many local problems as possible, and at the end of each evening, he reports back to Happy Hogan (Marvel does love its alliteration). He does all this under the pretense of a ‘Stark Internship’. Thus enabling the story to move somewhat beyond the usual bombardment of questions Parker is usually subjected to by loved ones who, quite rightly, question his many disappearances, and to which he never has a satisfactory answer. The ‘Stark Internship’ is an example of Marvel not only understanding the process of developing a believable narrative, but also creates a fresh and rewarding approach to the character.
Despite Holland’s actual age of 21, due to his baby face and his smaller build, you could actually be convinced that you are watching a cast of young teenagers, perhaps not 14 but certainly young, and they indeed all look remarkably younger than their actual ages. It thankfully removes something that has disturbed me in each film, in that they all frankly looked too old, the character of Flash being a prime example of this. Flash has always been portrayed as this large cumbersome musclebound man in his mid 20’s playing a high school student. I for one don’t remember anyone being anywhere near this size when I was 14, tall, yes, but not built like a Canadian wood chipper. This version of flash, who is played by Tony Revolori is less into the physical act of punching and literally pushing people around. Instead, he’s a rich kid who offers sarcastic comments, questions Parker’s relationship with Stark, and produces the rather juvenile insults. “I say Parker, you say penis” it’s crude and uninspired, but is absolutely something you would expect from a group of young teenagers.
Parker attends an advanced high-school, ‘The Midtown School of Science and Technology’, and placing him at this school makes total sense. A young teenager who has the intellectual capability to create web fluid that allows him to swing between buildings, amongst other scientific breakthroughs, so finally this is the correct environment. Furthermore, it would seem rather odd to place him in a non-scientifically inclined high school, especially with Tony Stark as your mentor, your Uncle Ben if you will.
Once Peter dons the suit, the film is elevated. We have a Spider-Man who is clearly still learning the ropes, choosing his stance and somewhat nervously deciding how best to approach a group of bank robbers with high tech weapons. It’s a new and fun direction for the character who finally has control over his abilities, it’s now just a question of presentation, building the character and guiding his moral choices.
One frustration that has cropped up repeatedly in Marvel films who are introducing a new character, is that we never experience them in full possession of their abilities until the third act. It’s understandable but awfully frustrating for those of us who want them to simply pick up the pace, and become the characters we recognise. Spider-Man handles this possibly better than any previous film. We know he has control over his powers, and thanks to ‘Civil War’ he now has a Spider-Man suit, so there is no need to give him the origin story treatment because if anything, this already feels like a sequel. Furthermore, Parker discovers that Stark has placed certain restrictions on the suit, so what we recognise as the Spider-Man we have seen him in the previous films, is actually being restrained. This revelation occurs during the second act, meaning we are provided plenty of time to still enjoy comedic mistakes, unsure footing and a confused initial use of equipment. It’s all thoroughly entertaining, and quite excellent, and although the suit is CGI for the most part, it never distracts from our enjoyment.
Like any good superhero film, you need a good villain, and in recent years’ superhero films have tended to be rather heavy handed in terms of CGI, particularly in the third act. Fortunately, Marvel cast the Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton as the villain of the piece, playing Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture. Refreshingly Toomes’s narrative is given substance and purpose, but more importantly, he isn’t yet another maniacal villain, though granted he has moments that stray between comedic and the former. Most importantly, you feel empathy for him, a feeling that has been mistakenly absent from Marvel films for some time. Toomes may be one of my favourite film villains, as you not only do you empathise with him, but one can’t help but be both in awe and at the same time a tad terrified of his costume, marvellous thing it is.
Toomes and his team worked on New York after the battle in the first Avengers film, helping to clear up the mess. However, once Stark takes their work from them and makes them redundant, they begin selling homemade alien weaponry on the streets. Which is where Spider-Man comes into play, a character who is still learning his craft, often placing himself and other in posistions of danger, but who is constantly striving to be morally virtuous. Keaton is as expected, phenomenally good in the role, and this is never more apparent than when he comes face to face with Parker. I won’t spoil it by saying how, who, or why or even when. But those scene between the two actors are electric and push Holland’s acting ability for the better.
Holland is the correct choice for both Spider-Man, and although he doesn’t quite have the same emotional reach and intensity as Garfield, hard to do as Garfield is exceptionally good at this, Holland’s performance is really quite impressive, and you instantly warm to him. I would argue however, that his level of acting does seem dependent on who he is playing across from. For although the tones for each scene are different, there is a remarkable change between his scenes with Stark, and those with Keaton. It’s hard to tell whether Holland and Stark have become too comfortable with one other or perhaps because most of these scenes shown in the film were also heavily used in the trailers they have lost their effect, but the atmosphere between Holland and Keaton becomes electric when the pair are on screen.
So, although I am sad to see Garfield leave the role, ‘Homecoming’ is by far the best Spider-man film to date. It’s exceptionally fun, interesting, good-natured, wonderfully orchestrated and a joy to watch. The pacing is excellent, and where other Spider-man films have ventured towards the darker end of the narrative spectrum, ‘Homecoming’ firmly remains as an entertaining film with nods to the previous installments.
OVERALL **** A superb film, funny, interesting, well-acted and a thankfully refreshing approach for not only the character, but for superhero films in general.
RECOMMENDATION – This is simply an exceptionally fun film to watch, with a nice balance of tones and solid pacing, it’s just rather good fun to be frank.