Spider-Man Homecoming provides a great point at which to join Peter Parker’s solo story. After a cracking introduction in Civil War, Parker finds himself benched, being figuratively babysat by Tony Stark’s fixer Happy Hogan, who has taken to screening his calls.
But all is not well in Peter’s corner of New York. A team of bandits led by Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes are hitting salvage operations across the city, and using the scavenged Chitauri tech to create weapons that they then sell on the black market or rob banks. One such piece of tech, a mean looking pair of wings (and talons too) that make Falcon look like a pigeon, transforms Toomes into the Vulture, complete with a fan-pleasing fur-lined collar.
Don’t worry about it, says Tony. Leave that sort of stuff to the Avengers and go be a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. So the scene is set with a freshly-blooded teenage superhero desperate to prove his worth, an absent mentor figure laying down rules, and a bad guy doing enough to pique Spidey’s interest but seemingly not quite enough to call in the cavalry.
To be honest, Spider-Man Homecoming really takes its time setting all of this up. It’s a little slow going to begin with, especially when you consider that this doesn’t need to take the time to introduce us to this new Spider-Man. But that’s okay, because much of the crackle in this film comes from Peter’s attempts to juggle his local superheroing with his life as a school kid. Homecoming is a film that feels like a breath of fresh air with its bright colours, rapid-fire script, and jocular tone. There’s a levity to the movie that undercuts pretty much every serious part of the film with a quick one-liner, a bit of physical comedy, or a visual gag of some description. Importantly, it never feels try-hard, the humour manages to stick the landing most of the time, and it feels emotionally true.
To that end, the film spends a lot of time building up the relationship between Peter and his best friend Ned, played by Jacob Batalon. They’re both in-betweeners in a way – smart, yet socially awkward, but not quite outright losers. They have one another, and that counts for a lot as they navigate bullies, girls, parties, and so on in the first part of the film. It’s nice to see a superhero film that plays with the balance of being a regular person in this manner, and with Peter (accidentally) revealing his identity to Ned early on, we are gifted with a sidekick through whom we can enjoy a bunch of humorous asides, reactions and observations.
The on-location snapshots of Queens in these early scenes give the film a nice sense of place, and there’s a strong focus on making Spider-Man Homecoming feel a little more grounded than previous flicks. The action scenes aren’t as overblown as some that have come before in the MCU. In many ways, this is the flip side of Doctor Strange as a film, with a strong emphasis on the main characters, whip-smart dialogue and strong scripting showing restraint favoured over constant barrages of CGI. The restraint is shown in the sparing use of Robert Downey Jr., for example, who literally phones in most of his performance, but in the best possible way. And while, Ned aside, Peter’s school friends could maybe have been fleshed out a little more, that restraint means Zendaya’s snarky asides never outstay their welcome, Ned’s bumbling never crosses the line from funny into exasperating, and the cameos from the likes of Donald Glover and Hannibal Buress prove small but memorably entertaining.
The lone exception is perhaps Laura Harrier’s Liz, who is really given very little to do apart from be the ‘hot girl’ whom Peter lusts after and inevitably disappoints when his superhero life crashes into his personal life. Harrier and Holland don’t really have a huge amount of chemistry, and they get a meagre amount of screen time together to develop anything for us to root for. Liz is an emotional MacGuffin more than anything else, and a useful plot device for a twist in the final act. The twist works well, but it’s a shame that the character is pretty one-dimensional, and so forgettable that had to look up her name three times.
One the subject of female characters, it’s also a shame that Marisa Tomei doesn’t get her due in this film either. If you’re going younger with Peter Parker, it makes sense to do the same with Aunt May. I just wish this didn’t mean reducing her value to the film to a few ‘sexy aunt’ gags. We get it, Marisa Tomei is hot. The flirty banter with Tony Stark was funny. We don’t need awkward sexual innuendos from random waiters to reinforce the point. How about exploring Aunt May’s relationship with her nephew instead?
At least Marvel have sort of halted their inability to deliver decent villains with this film. Toomes is an interesting character, and Keaton plays him fantastically. There’s a simmering sense of danger to him, bubbling just below the surface at all times. Toomes is introduced to us several years previous to the main story, with annoyingly clandestine government busybodies bumping his original crew off of a Chitauri cleanup site following the Battle of New York. It’s difficult not to feel a little pang of sympathy for the man, and once again, there’s a sense of moral ambiguity around the wider actions of the Avengers, in this case Tony Stark. Marvel’s films have often been at their best when exploring the consequences of their heroes’ actions, and it’s easy to see Toomes as a blue-collar chancer doing what he can to go up against the elite corporate machine in Stark Industries. Keaton’s ability to deliver a wolfish smile is used to great effect.
And finally we come to Spider-Man himself. Tom Holland is excellent. As we saw in a Civil War, here’s a Peter Parker with a fundamental earnestness and a desire to prove himself that never really crosses the line into arrogance as was sometimes the case with Andrew Garfield. There’s something essentially *good* about this Peter. It’s one thing to cast younger, but Holland delivers a performance assured in its hyper-energetic winsome earnestness.There’s an innocence and an idealism to his Peter Parker that makes this film a really warm tale. It’s a film all about learning what it means to be a superhero. The scene between Holland and Glover, where the latter almost ends up laughing at the former’s attempts to fashion an imposing and intimidating voice is hilarious. ‘You’ve got to get better at this part of the job,’ deadpans Glover’s character. Peter’s character is perfectly balanced and brilliantly portrayed. He desperately wants to do the right thing and make a positive difference. It’s this earnest idealism that gets him in way over his head and leads to a disastrous ferry crossing that the FBI would have had under control had Spider-Man not intervened. But this impulsiveness and willingness to act on instinct is ultimately what saves the day in the end. In the final battle, he’s not really fighting the Vulture as much as trying to save his life.
So, yeah, Spider-Man Homecoming is pretty ace. It’s a lot of fun, and it left me with a big smile on my face. Hopefully the female characters have a bit more to do in the future films.
BEST BIT: Peter and The Vulture share a car ride, and it’s probably the best, most tense scene in the entire film. Good face acting.
WORST BIT: Pointlessly leaving Zendaya’s character reveal until the very end for minimal impact.
What did you think of Spider-Man Homecoming? Who has been your favourite actor to play Spidey so far? You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel for videotastic awesomeness. Streaming coming soon to Twitch too!