Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jon Watts
Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey jr, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Zandaya, Donald Glover, Logan Marshall-Green, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael Chernus, Hannibal Buress, Tyne Daly, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Young British actor Tom Holland (from the tsunami drama The Impossible, etc) is the third actor to play Spiderman and his alter ego Peter Parker in the past fifteen years. He steps into the shoes of Tobey Maguire, who played the web slinging superhero in the Sam Raimi directed trilogy from 2002-2007, and Andrew Garfield, who played him in the two films directed by Marc Webb in 2012 and 2014. We first met Holland’s Spiderman in the recent Captain America: Civil War when he was an awestruck adolescent involved in the epic superhero smackdown. Thanks to a deal between Sony, who own the rights to the character, and Disney, who own the rights to the Avengers universe, Spiderman has been allowed to become part of the Avengers. And now he gets his own stand-alone adventure.
The film is set several months after the events of Civil War. Peter Parker has been assigned by his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey jr) to protect his local neighbourhood while awaiting another call to arms to join the Avengers on another adventure. Stark has assigned Happy Hogan (a welcome return for Jon Favreau) to look after the young Parker, who has to learn some hard lessons about responsibility and using his powers properly. Meanwhile Parker finds himself helping little old ladies across the street, apprehending purse snatchers and bicycle thieves. But he is growing a little frustrated by the lack of excitement and is keen to prove himself to Stark.
The film opens with a prologue set in the immediate aftermath of one of the Avengers’ adventures. Work crews are cleaning up the wreckage of Stark Industries headquarters left after the Avengers battled the Chitauri. Adrian Toomes (Micheal Keaton) is a salvage expert in charge of one of the crews. He is ordered to stop by the mysterious Department of Damage Control and forced to hand over everything his company has so far found. When he learns that Tony Stark is the person behind Damage Control he sets out to wreak vengeance. Toomes gathers three of his co-workers – Jackson Brice (Logan Marshall-Green), Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine), and Phineas Mason (Michael Chernus) – to continue their work in gathering Chitauri technology.
Eight years later, Toomes has used alien technology to create some superweapons which he sells on the black market. But supplies of the alien technology are running low so he and his crew have to carry out some daring raids to get their hands on Stark Industriesâ€™ stockpile of weapons. Toomes has also used the technology to create a set of mechanical wings, and he adopts the pseudonym of The Vulture when committing crimes.
When Spiderman attempts to foil a raid on an ATM machine in his neighbourhood he first encounters one of the superweapons, and realises that something bad is happening. His efforts to alert Stark and Happy Hogan though seem to fall on deaf ears. Parker decides to investigate by himself, and soon he and The Vulture are on a collision course. Peter juggles his work as a superhero and saving the world with the usual concerns of a normal teenager -school work, bullies, homework and finding a date for prom night. Spiderman will finally shrug off his “training wheels”and earn his stripes, and become an official member of the Avengers.
Thankfully Spiderman: Homecoming doesn’t give us another version of the familiar origin story. Six writers have laboured over the script for Spiderman: Homecoming, and it is a little cluttered and busy, but it is laced with generous dollops of humour, not surprising as the writers here come from a background in comedy. The writers here include Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses, etc), Christopher Ford (The Fuzz), Chris McKenna (American Dad, etc) and Erik Sommers (The Batman Lego Movie). But there are also a couple of spectacular set pieces, including a scene set on the Staten Island ferry and one involving the Washington Monument.
As is their wont with their superhero franchises of late, Marvel Studios have handed over a multi-million-dollar budget and state of the art special effects to tyro directors rather than proven filmmakers. Taking the reins here is Jon Watts (who comes from a background in short films and whose only other feature was the little seen Cop Car starring Kevin Bacon). The result is a satisfying entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although it falls short of the best Marvel films like Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy, and the first couple of Raimi helmed Spiderman films. Watts subtly pays homage to Raimi’s original film here and brings a lighter touch to the material.
The special effects here are quite good, especially those sequences where Spiderman does his thing swinging between buildings. Here the film doesn’t end with the usual over the top destruction of half a city in the climactic finale, although the fight between Spiderman and Vulture on a jet plane is rendered almost incomprehensible thanks to some choppy editing, murky cinematography and less than impressive special effects. The film has been shot by cinematographer Salvatore Totino, well known for his collaborations with Ron Howard.
Downey delivers his trademark snark as Stark here and he seems to have a bit of fun with the role. Holland brings an infectious enthusiasm and energy to his performance as the teenage superhero and he suffuses the character with a sense of innocence and naivete. His take on the character is more upbeat and joyful than previous incarnations. But he also has the physicality to carry off the role convincingly (Holland’s first big break came playing the lead role in a London production of Billy Elliot). Keaton’s career has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance over the past few years, having appeared in back to back Oscar winners Birdman and Spotlight. And his casting as the blue-collar villain here is quite astute, as, when he wears his wings, one can’t help but draw comparisons with the fictitious superhero he played in Birdman. Keaton’s disgruntled villain earns some audience sympathy as he is also a bit of a victim and brings some pathos to his character.
Most of the humour comes from Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter’s overly inquisitive best friend, the overweight nerdy Ned. His Ned is a familiar cliche and his character here will probably remind audiences of Julian Dennison, who played Ed Oxenbould’s best friend in the feel good Australian film Paper Planes. Also in the cast is Marisa Tomei, who plays a much young Aunt May than we are used to seeing; pop star Zendaya (from Shake It Up, etc) plays Michelle, one of Peter’s classmates who is something of a misfit and loner; and Laura Harrier (tv soap One Life To Live, etc) plays Liz, the potential love interest for Peter, and Tony Revolori (from The Grand Budapest Hotel, etc) as Flash, one of Peter’s more smug classmates.
Spiderman: Homecoming is more of a teen coming of age flick exploring Parker as he navigates the tricky world of high school along and it offers up many of the usual tropes with a superhero edge – it’s probably what Spiderman would have been like if directed by the late great John Hughes.