Film / Theatre Reviews

Spider-Man: Homecoming


‘The world’s changing’, announces Michael Keaton’s Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s feather-ruffed villain, ‘and we have to change with it’. Change is the name of the game for the web-slinger’s third modern cinematic run, following Tobey Maguire’s and, less successfully, Andrew Garfield’s time in the red and blue undies. Adrian Toomes (Keaton) is speaking as a resentful civilian caught up in the skyscraper debris of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a metal-scrapper by trade, forced to make a living scurrying in the damage left by Stark and co. (when his crew are pushed off their clean-up gig by the drily-titled, Stark-sponsored Department of Damage Control, it’s the final insult). Toomes, both magpie and vulture, lives under the shadow of magic gods and reanimated patriots, repurposing all this fancy new tech for a career swerve into robbery and weapons dealing. He has to adapt and so, too, does our new Spider-Man.

The ‘homecoming’ tag doubles as a welcome banner, Sony Pictures wisely (and inevitably) handing over their friendly neighbourhood asset to the sturdy creative hands of Marvel Studios. Directed by Jon Watt and storied by regular collaborators Jonathan Goldstein and former Freak and Geek John Francis Daley, with screenplay assistance from multiple writers, Homecoming reboots Tom Holland’s web-slinger inside the MCU and builds on his short, memorable turn in Captain America: Civil War. In 2002, when Sam Raimi brought him to the screen just on the heels of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men, Spider-Man was a big deal. Now, with Marvel’s creative and box office successes established, Spidey arrives as a latecomer, a newbie junior in comparison with vets like Stark and Cap. Cleverly, Homecoming internalises its diminutive status up front, giving us a scrappier, younger Peter Parker, an excitable super-nerd desperate to impress the grown-ups. It’s down to earth, funny and immensely likeable.

Homecoming is a movie that makes sense. The tone that the MCU has developed over the past few years — fun, light, sarcastic — fits Spidey like the snug super-suit gifted to him by a mentoring Stark. It’s also a movie about and for teenagers. Robert Downey Jr.’s Stark and Jon Favreau’s Happy are perfectly poised foils to the over-eager Peter, every bit the Hollywood 15 year old. Almost every time Peter is the same room as an adult he’s a buzzing nuisance. Tonally, Homecoming is the lightest, surest Spidey film yet. The melodrama and angst of the Saimi films and the awkward backstory plotting of Webb’s have been gutted and streamlined; narratively and emotionally, Homecoming is smaller, leaner and self-confident.

Taking its cue from the classic comic stories’ blending of superheroics with teenage obligation, this is the most believably adolescent Spidey yet, Peter flanked by nerd sidekick (Jacob Batalon), older love interest (Laura Palmer) and a dickish Indian-American Flash (Tony Revolori). The comedy of Peter meeting his homecoming date’s parents is an MCU all-time. Not forgetting, of course, Marissa Tomei’s Aunt May, caring for Peter in the absence of parents and a certain unfortunate Uncle, who all go curiously unmentioned. Skipping over the origin beats help the movie sprint out the blocks — we don’t need to see another glowing spider — but an acknowledgement of the famous ‘power and responsibility’ mantra would have been useful for giving some moral substance to Peter’s frustrated determination to prove himself.

Homecoming demonstrates Marvel Studio is learning some lessons: like Guardians 2, it’s a self-contained story with a credible villain whose motivations make sense (Keaton’s face is just fun to watch). In other areas, like action and visual composition, the studio is still limited by its house style (although there is one piece of hilarious framing which pokes fun at the web shooters’ reliance on metropolitan architecture). The visual craft isn’t quite there: there’s nothing to match, say, the Doc Ock tentacle POV sequence in Spider-Man 2, the sort of auteurial flourish that remains rare in the Marvel factory. Still, it is consistently entertaining and the funniest MCU film yet, taking as its default the dry, laidback comic tones of the moment. A rogues gallery of talented comic actors (Hannibal Buress, Martin Starr, Donald Glover) sell the deadpan delivery. Like any 15 year old, it doesn’t take much of anything seriously. Conor Smyth

Conor Smyth is the Film Editor at The Thin Air and regular Banterflix contributor. Follow him @csmythrun.