15 years after Sam Raimi’s original swung into theatres and planted it’s boot decisively into the face of blockbuster cinema, we now live in very different times when in regards to the on-screen life of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Since then we’ve had 4 further solo movies with the last 2 being a rebooted series and one hugely impressive cameo in Captain America: Civil War, butf any series should be running on fumes it should be this one. Detractors rightly pointed their fingers at Andrew Garfield’s versions for rehashing too much of the Spidey lore (at this point Uncle Ben’s been shot more times than 50 Cent by my reckoning) and rushing in too bluntly when trying to build a Spider-Verse to rival other connected universes. But defying expectation is what Peter Parker is all about and in a move worthy of Mavel’s Team-Up comic book run, parent studio Sony and those crafty fellas at Marvel Studios have somehow pulled out the freshest feeling spider-movie yet, with a fun, touching and hugely funny film that easily matches the best in the series.
After his trial by fire in that Berlin airport where he put his Empire Strikes Back knowledge to good use by taking down Giant-Man, amiable Peter Parker has been impatiently cooling his heels while waiting from another call from the Avengers. Trying (and failing) to balance day to day school life with his burgeoning career as the crime fighting wall crawler known as Spider-Man, his secret identity is comprised when his best friend Ned discovers his dual life clad in spandex, but when they hit upon the idea of using Spider-Man as a way to up their social standing at school, Peter stumbles on a conspiracy. It seems ever since the Chitauri invasion of New York, a rogue group led by The Vulture, a mystery man in a mechanical winged suit, has been plundering all the leftover tech gathered up after every superhero smackdown and have been selling them on the black market as next-gen arms dealers. Desperate to put the kibosh on this operation, Peter throws himself headlong into the fray to the annoyance of his mentor, Tony Stark, but does the impetuous young hero have what it takes to go head to head with veteran criminals armed with funky lasers and shit?
If you needed a quick and concise breakdown to reveal the secret of making a third run at a famous character feel fresh and new it’s this: dump all the stuff that audiences already know and forge ahead intelligently and fearlessly into new brand new territory. All that spider bite and Uncle Ben stuff – we’ve seen it twice already so we skip it, plus Peter is usually out of high school by the end of his other movies, but not here. Peter Parker has always worked best on film as the boy king in waiting; a superhero in training – Homecoming ups that theme by ACTUALLY having him be in training with Tony Stark (RDJ thankfully kept to a strict extended non-scene stealing cameo) and his driver Happy Hogan (John Favreau in top deadpan form) keeping him under close scrutiny. There’s no mention of any Osborns and a fussing Aunt May doesn’t halt the film with a tedious life lesson (she’s actually the much perkier Marisa Tomei who’s way more helpful, like teaching him how dance or tie a tie for prom) and there’s also no Gwen or MJ (technically), which thrusts lesser known Parker squeeze Liz Allen in over his other, overused girlfriends.
So far it’s not sounding very Spider-Man, is it?
Well diving headlong into lesser known comics lore the film makers have mined some seriously smart choices. Peter’s new Stark built Spider-suit is literally packed to the Web-shooters with gadgets much like Dan Slott’s comic run) and provide the bulk of the film’s physical humor (Instant Kill Mode! Enhanced Integration mode!).
Pete’s surrounding cast also mix things up with best friend Ned and gloomy foil Michelle (Zendaya channelling the same bookish weirdo vibes as Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club) being hugely welcome additions, providing someone for Pete to bounce off as he travels on his journey to become the greatest hero there is.
The tone is spot on – John Hughes teen movie for the drama, Robert Zemekis style action when the pace picks up (a desperate scramble up the Washington Monument in order to grab an explosive device from going off is utterly fantastic) and relatively new director Jon Watts (formerly of indie flicks Clown and Cop Car) pulls it all off fabulously. He obviously “gets” Spider-Man and by keeping the action street level he manages to keep the movie’s feet figuratively on the ground while simultaneously flying high. Michael Keaton’s winged, blue collar tech thief isn’t trying to rule the world, he’s only trying to make a buck after being put out of business after yet another Stark venture accidently steps on the little guy. Not everything in the Marvel Universe has to be about saving the universe…
The plot is deceptively smart with a truly stunning plot twist involving Keaton’s involvement with another character drawing legitimate gasps of shock every time I saw it at the cinema and as well as being very funny, is packed with nifty character beats; Peter has his own suit A.I. which allows him to mimmick the same, chatty inner monologue the comics version is famous for and his final act suit upgrade fuels the whole power and responsibility deal through the frickin’ roof. Watts also packs the film with cameos (Donald Glover! Captain America doing PSA’s) and neat little details which will require numerous viewings to absorb but thankfully don’t overwhelm the main action.
But undoubtedly the movie’s MVP is Tom Holland as Spidey himself. He’s actually perfect, nailing the Queens accent and pumping out a nervous, hyperactive energy that echos Michael J. Fox in Back To The Future, he centres the whole film being nerdy and appealing enough to make a more likable Peter Parker than Garfield but also has enough of a presence so he doesn’t get utterly swallowed up by the costume like Tobey Maguire sometimes did.
Best Spider-Man yet? Probably.
Best Spider-Man movie yet. Very nearly.
Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is arguably more operatic but Homecoming matches it when it comes to pure quirkiness and freshness.
Speaking frankly for a moment, as a lifelong Spider-fan, the film still manages to put an emotional lump in my throat no matter how many times I watch it (Michael Giacchino’s full orchestral rendition of the 60’s cartoon theme is pure Spidey nirvana) and everyone involved should have statues made of them as thanks for keeping a character that’s 60 years old as fresh as newly spun web.
After years of drilling this franchise into the ground, Sony really need to be applauded for sucking up their pride and going to Marvel for some much needed help and it’s this that could very well be the greatest Marvel Team-Up in the history of the MCU.