Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei
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“Spider-Man: Homecoming is fresh, funny and entertaining, but it ultimately works better as a teen flick than it does as a superhero movie.”
After his scene stealing Marvel Cinematic Universe introduction in Captain America: Civil War, Spidey now gets to go long form with Spider-Man: Homecoming, and if this latest superhero mini-extravaganza shows us anything, it’s that Kevin Feige and his crew at Marvel Studios certainly know how to pick the right actors to fill out their vividly coloured costumes. Beginning with the ingenious assignation of Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, every casting decision that the company has made since has been bang on the money, and the choice of young British actor, Tom Holland, to play Peter Parker alias Spider-Man, could very well shape up to be one of their best calls yet.
Holland shone briefly in Captain America: Civil War, and now with even more to play with, he impressively ups the ante, almost making previous wall-crawlers, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, feel like distant memories. Funny, sweet, and enjoyably earnest in his desperation to do the right thing, Holland’s Peter Parker is the real joy in Spider-Man: Homecoming, easily making up for the occasionally tiresome action sequences and sketchy supporting players.
Now under the tutelage of Robert Downey Jr.’s billionaire Avenger, Tony Stark aka Iron Man, Peter Parker takes on the mantle of suburban crime-fighter, foiling bicycle robberies and ATM take-downs, all while dealing with a daily mundane existence familiar to anyone who’s been in high school. But when he hones in on his own super-villain in the form of Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes alias The Vulture – a scrapper who has assembled a criminal crew and built a winged tech-suit using leftover alien technology retrieved from The Battle Of New York (as seen in The Avengers) – Peter Parker brings down the wrath of Tony Stark; irks the concern of his Aunt May (the superb Marisa Tomei is another brilliant casting masterstroke); and places himself in big-time peril.
A far more grounded Marvel Studios effort (in the same kind of ballpark as Ant-Man), Spider-Man: Homecoming (which sensibly avoids the origin story that we all now know so well) revels in the wide-eyed wonder of its lead character. Tapping right into the fantasies of its younger audience, the film mines the joyful confusion of adolescence, and then asks how a teenager would actually deal with being a superhero. In the case of Peter Parker, it’s with entertaining awkwardness. He’s wholly geeky and unsure of himself, and his wrong-footed attempts at crime-fighting instantly set Spider-Man: Homecoming apart not just from the two recent on-screen iterations of Spider-Man, but from all of Marvel Studios’ previous films too.
Oft-touted as a tribute to the seminal teen output of 1980s figurehead, John Hughes (there are nods aplenty), that’s where the film really sings, with its cast of engagingly multiracial kids (at times, the film looks like a wholesale, single-swoop effort to redress Marvel’s oft-criticised previous lack of diversity) proving likeable to the extreme, particularly Jacob Batalon as Peter’s goofy buddy, Ned.
Their entertaining interactions and the film’s high school corridor setting are surprisingly more compelling than the Marvel-ready scenes of mass destruction, which feel a little played out. Michael Keaton’s villain, meanwhile, is disappointingly one-dimensional, despite having a fascinating key source of motivation. He’s never explored in any great detail, forcing him way back into the shadows cast by Peter Parker himself. Similarly, Robert Downey Jr.’s appearances feel intrusive more than anything else, and the film might have been better served with just an extended cameo from the actor, as opposed to his scattershot series of ill-staged drop-ins. While heavily stitching Spider-Man: Homecoming into The Marvel Cinematic Universe, they unnecessarily blow out an already exhaustive running time.
Other Marvel fly-bys, however, are lots of fun, with Chris Evans’ Captain America hilariously utilised, and Jon Favreau making a welcome return as Tony Stark’s right hand man, Happy Hogan. Sure, his involvement might be a little opportunistic (he’s likely there to negate the need to bring the considerably more expensive Robert Downey Jr. back for further sequel appearances), but Favreau turns what is essentially a plot device role into something much more. And taking Marvel Studios’ famous brand of connectivity to enjoyable extremes, the role of Peter’s high school principal even offers an amusing Easter egg for keen eyed fans.
With Spider-Man: Homecoming, director, Jon Watts, and his five co-writers (yes, five) have effectively relaunched Marvel’s most famous superhero. It’s fresh and entertaining, and offers something truly new to The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hopefully, the promised sequels will stick more to what makes the film feel so freshly minted, as opposed to the elements that tie it so heavily to what has gone before.