“Can’t you just be a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man?”
I love the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. I just think you should know that going into this review. Raimi’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 are, in my mind, 2 of the greatest films ever made – never mind being some of the best things to come out of the comic book movie genre. So Marvel and Sony’s latest attempt at the character, in Spider-Man: Homecoming, has a lot to live up to. Directed by relative newcomer Jon Watts (with only two films under his belt, one being the fantastic Cop Car) and starring Tom Holland as the titular wall crawler, Homecoming is a bit of a risk. Not a massive risk mind you, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proved the audience will turn out for any old Spider-Man rubbish, even if that includes an incy-wincy spider dub step remix. But if Homecoming 2 was to launch all MCU stuff post-infinity war then this one better be up to scratch.
The last go at adapting Spidey was in Sony’s solo effort The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2. Out of that came 2 forgettable films directed by the forgettable Marc Webb staring the forgettable Andrew Garfield. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey was good and I enjoyed whatever the hell it was Jamie Foxx was going for but, for the most part, the films fell flat. They looked to have been made by a committee who had no understanding of the character. Peter Parker was a hipster with a skateboard and an odd habit of enunciating everything with weird hand gestures. Parts of it showed promise, like casting Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborne. But that was ran into the ground with a corporate desire to wring as much out of the film as possible, rushing the Osborne storyline and not allowing time for the human elements to come through. And Marc Webb’s insipid direction was just the final nail in the coffin. Superhero movies don’t need auteurs behind the camera (although some benefit from them, Raimi’s Spider-Man for example) but the direction needs flair. Webb’s direction is as by-the-numbers as the performances and script, Sony canning the series before it wallowed too long in mediocrity was a small mercy. Luckily the next development was more promising; Marvel and Sony struck a deal to make another Spider-Man movie, but this time share the responsibilities. In the words of MCU emperor Kevin Feige, the deal was as so; “Have Sony pay for the movie, distribute the movie, market the movie. Just let us make the movie and incorporate him into our universe.” So that was it. After teasing Homecoming by having Spider-Man steal the scene in Civil War, it was up to Sony to handle the corporate side of things (which explains the sub-par posters and all-too-spoilery trailers) and Marvel gets to do what they do best; make a damn fine movie.
Spiderman: Homecoming feels like a fresh take on the Spidey story and this is mainly for two reasons. Firstly, the death of Uncle Ben and the events leading to Peter Parker (Tom Holland) getting freaky spider powers are left out. Everyone knows his backstory and even if you don’t read the comics, it’s been shown on film twice now. Secondly, the film makes the wise decision to keep Peter Parker in high school. Even the revered Raimi films didn’t do much of this (Pete graduated halfway through the first film). Holland is perfectly cast as the young and inexperienced wall crawler and even better as the awkward teenage Peter Parker. His experiences in High School feel normal and the schools inhabitants feel like realistic portrayals of young people. Director and writer Jon Watts never presents a tired nerds-v-jocks scenario. High school bully and Peter’s enemy, Flash (Tony Revolori) is a football playing Jock in other interpretations but here he’s on the same academic decathlon team as Peter. And sure Peter is a nerdy dork but not in the stereotypical way you may expect. He’s got friends and isn’t ostracised for being part of ‘nerdy’ school groups. If anything it’s him leaving these groups that causes him to be ostracised. Holland’s web-head is probably the best Spiderman we’ve had yet. I still think Tobey Maguire’s portrayal in Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was fantastic, but Holland zeroes on one of the reasons why people like the character so much; he’s nearly always out of his depth – and doesn’t let it stop him. He enthusiastically tries his hardest whether trying to hold a ferry full of people together as Spider-Man or trying to argue with Tony Stark as Peter Parker.
Perhaps the biggest shock in Homecoming though, is just how fantastic Michael Keaton is as Adrian Toomes (AKA The Vulture). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we all didn’t already know how good an actor Keaton is (he should have won the Oscar back in 2015 over Eddie Redmayne) but I don’t think anybody was expecting The Vulture of all all villains to end us as the MCU’s most compelling antagonist. The MCU’s reputation for undercooked villains is actually a little unfair, even in the early days there were great baddies (Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane for example) and they’ve definitely been on the upswing lately with a succession of fantastic evil doers. Up until Homecoming I’d have said Kurt Russell’s Ego in GotG2 was the best MCU bad guy but Keaton surpasses even him. Toomes is a great villain mainly because he isn’t villainous, he’s just a blue collar guy who got a bad deal at the hands of Tony Stark and his super friends. He turns to crime to survive and provide for his family. He doesn’t even want to commit the third act plane heist, he’s wants to stay lower key but is left no choice. Okay he gives the whole “I’ll kill you and everyone you love,” villain speech but his beef with Stark is still undeniably legitimate. Keaton is absolutely fantastic in the role and a third act twist concerning his family is one of the more shocking things the MCU has pulled. The film links beautifully to the wider MCU as well, despite a few timeline inconsistencies. The cameo’s by Cap are hilarious and Toomes’ grievence with The Avengers is born right out of the previous films.
The film frequently looks fantastic and Watts uses some interesting shots and a wonderful colour palette reminiscent of classic teen movies from the 80’s, but these really shine in the slower moments. The only thing that lets the film down ever so slightly is Watts unremarkable action direction. And it’s not that his action is bad, in fact the ferry scene is pretty great, it just feels lacking after the fantastic Raid–esque action work of the Russo brothers on Winter Soldier and Civil War. A battle between Spidey and Vulture upon an invisible cargo plane crashing towards New York suffers from dark lighting and too many quick cuts. But when the showdown reaches it’s climax on a flaming debris strewn beach near Coney Island, it’s emotionally charged and stylised enough that the problems are quickly forgotten.
The bottom line: It might not quite match the highs of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, but it comes real close. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fantastic entry into the MCU, and one that won’t quickly be forgotten. Homecoming is probably the first Marvel feature to make the MCU truly feel like a shared universe, yet the film isn’t beholden to the wider canon. The characters are fantastic and the film has a vein of humour and wholesomeness that’s difficult not to get caught up in. While Watt’s direction in the action scenes occasionally falls short of previous series entries, his human drama elements soar above nearly all else in the MCU.