SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – a review by JJ Heaton

Starring: Tom Holland (The Impossible), Michael Keaton (Spotlight), Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler), Jon Favreau (Swingers), Zendaya (Shake It Up!), Donald Glover (Atlanta), Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Director: Jon Watts (Cop Car)

Writers: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses) and Jon Watts & Christopher Ford (Cop Car) and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (The LEGO Batman Movie)

Runtime: 2 hours 13 minutes

Release Date: 5 July (UK), 7 July (US)

We are now on our third Spider-Man in fifteen years and, after seeing the character interpreted in now seven different movies, it’s hard not to compare the various incarnations. Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films still stand as some of the best superhero movies ever made and helped to define the genre as we know it today, and not even the hot mess that is Spider-Man 3 can dampen that. I’m one of the few people that still appreciates The Amazing Spider-Man series for what it is, but it’s hard to deny those films suffered not just because of studio mandates but because they had such a hard act to follow. Spider-Man is a timeless and incredibly versatile character who has adapted to the times before and will continue to do so, but even in the hands of Marvel how can you define your interpretation as the most definitive when it’s been done so many times before? Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t ultimately fully overcome that trap, but it still succeeds in ways none of the previous adaptations have managed.

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Picking up not long after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Homecoming functions as somewhat of an origin story for Spider-Man without diving into familiar territory. Instead of retreading the well-worn Uncle Ben story yet again, the film instead focuses on Peter Parker coming to terms with his place as a ground-level superhero and as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. It often feels like too much of a meta-narrative to Spidey’s own relationship with Marvel Studios through the years, but it functions well as a story that introduces us to this character in a fresh way without having to tread on familiar territory. Where Homecoming mainly succeeds is presenting a grounded and timely portrayal of Spider-Man’s world that gives it a fresh twist. The influence of John Hughes movies and other 80’s teen classics is clear throughout the film, resulting in what is probably the funniest Spider-Man movie to date, and makes Peter feel more like a teenager than any previous version has. The story itself has the right amount of stakes and twists; not too overblown to feel out of Spidey’s wheelhouse, but not so simple that it fails to live up to the spectacle of the MCU so far. Where the film falters however is the culmination of a larger problem with Marvel’s films have had for a while: they constantly undercut their sincerity with humour. Homecoming mines some great gags out of typical superhero situations, but they often come at the cost of ruining genuine moments of poignancy. Whereas Raimi’s movies embraced the melodramatic pathos of the character without irony, here it often seems like the movie feels too hip to allow an emotion to sink in without cracking a joke about it first. Doing that a little is perfectly healthy, but after a while it’s hard to take certain moments seriously when the movie itself won’t at others. But overcoming that, the film is still a blockbuster ride with a sweet touch of indie flavour, and hardcore Spidey fans should be satisfied by the plethora of Easter eggs and shout-outs sprinkled in intelligently throughout.

Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both delivered different but totally valid and well constructed takes on Spider-Man in their respective films, and Tom Holland more than makes the role his own. His cameo in Civil War blossoms here into the most enthusiastic and endearing take on the character yet, filling him with a boyish sense of optimism and naivety. It’s hard not to feel for this kid who so buoyantly jumps into situations he’s unprepared for with such confidence, which makes it so frustrating and yet rewarding as he constantly fails. In terms of capturing the essence of the character from the comics, Holland has nailed it and he deserves to carry this mantle for as long as he can. His young supporting cast of lovable high school miscreants perfectly compliment Peter on his journey. Jacob Batalon makes for an excellent clingy but loyal best friend as Ned, Zendaya constantly steals the show with her brief screen time as Michelle, and Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson captures the essence of the character whilst perfectly updating him for the modern day; no jock stereotypes here.

On the adult side, Michael Keaton’s Vulture is easily the best Spidey villain since Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. He doesn’t quite have that iconic look or presence, but the character’s motivation feels not only relatable but incredibly relevant as a working stiff trying to prove he’s as capable as the fat cats; after seeing so many wealthy and elitist supervillains in recent years, it’s great to see one who’s just trying to make a living but has gone too far. There are a few other side villains like Shocker and Tinkerer amongst others that maybe don’t get as much time to shine as I would have liked, but it ultimately works. They are clearly supporting players to Keaton, and the story leaves plenty open for their roles to be expanded in the future. Marisa Tomei makes for a very different interpretation on Aunt May but again is a change of pace that feels necessary for the times, and any chance to see more out of Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan is a pleasure worth indulging in; he is the true unsung hero of the MCU. Robert Downey Jr. is thankfully used sparingly in the film, entering in just when the plot needs him to act as Peter’s aloof mentor. This is not the Spider-Man/Iron Man team-up movie some of the marketing may have made you believe. This is a Spider-Man movie simply set in a universe where Iron Man happens to exist.

Homecoming fits into the MCU aesthetic whilst forging enough of its own identity in the process. Its worn city street environments and comforting high school hallways feel like a far cry from the fantastic vistas the larger-scale Marvel movies have spoiled us on, but it’s all the film needs to convey the comparatively-grounded story it seeks to tell. Whilst the action might not be as instantly iconic as some moments from the Raimi movies for example, the filmmakers have certainly found new situations to test Spidey’s abilities in. Seeing him swing through the skyscrapers of Manhattan is something we’re all used to, but how is Spider-Man expected to negotiate environments like a suburb or a plane? The film finds clever and often humorous answers to those questions. On a music level, Michael Giacchino delivers a lively and uplifting score worthy of the character though, much like anyone who has attempted a Superman score after John Williams, topping Danny Elfman’s work is a tough mountain to climb. The movie also makes some great use out of pop music both contemporary and retro, giving it that youthful and anarchic edge that a teenage superhero needs. That and any movie that features A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song” immediately wins a piece of my heart.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is ultimately a success in bringing the character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in appropriate fashion, but it is neither the best Spider-Man movie nor a particularly landmark title in the MCU thus far. It gives the character the fun and carefree attitude he’s needed for years, but in grounding him so much from the larger Avengers action it robs him of his sincerity. Spider-Man is an upbeat and youthful character, yes, but he’s also one saddled with a lot of tragedy and internal conflict. Homecoming gives us some of that, but not enough to balance out the fun. With everything said, Spider-Man is at least clearly in a safe place now, and there’s ample opportunity for this take on the character to flourish and perhaps even spawn the best movie this character will ever have. Only time and continued friendly relations between Sony and Marvel will tell.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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