Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Director: Jon Watts
Screenwriters: John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Jonathan Goldstein, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey, Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Hannibal Buress, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Martin Starr, Jacob Batalon
Spider-Man is back (again… for the third reboot of the franchise in just 15 years) as Tom Holland returns to the red and blue morph-suit turned gadget-clad go-getter we first saw him don in Civil War for perhaps the most grounded presentation of any Spider-Man yet. It’s fair to say that Marvel Studios learned the lessons that predecessors seemed hesitant to heed.
The three strikes and you’re out rule certainly seemed to apply to Sony who surrendered the Spider-Man character back to Marvel Studios in 2015 following their tremendously misjudged incarnations of his story in Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 between 2007 and 2014. Thankfully, for fans of the character and for Sony who remain involved in all aspects of Spidey’s cinematic representation, Marvel may well have sprinkled enough of their magic dust on their friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to resurrect him from his fate worse than death: his unfortunate place as the poster-child of creatively cheap, money-grabbing, merchandise spinning, superhero sequels and reboots.
“Just stay close to the ground” is a line Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark repeats to Holland’s Parker throughout the film when the hero of the piece becomes insistent upon fighting battles too big to fight alongside his high-school education, and it seems that the screenwriters used this line as inspiration for their own work, collectively writing a well grounded MCU micro-story that ticked the boxes of enhancing investment in the titular character and being hugely entertaining, yet not demanding that the world comes to an end or that time portals be opened up to alternative realities (the sorts of things that would demand the entirety of the Avengers). Much like Ant-Man, Homecoming was an example of Marvel carefully constructing localised stories within their greater universe, allowing space for “lesser” (or new, as is the case here) MCU characters to be introduced via stories of fighting crime that, as Stark claims in this film, is “below the Avengers’ pay grade”, something that certainly lessens the stakes but is creatively masked here courtesy of a number of personal arcs playing to different levels of importance. The screenwriters understood that the character had already been introduced 3 times before (including in Civil War) and therefore jumped straight in to developing the story points and overarching themes that would come to define the picture and separate it from its lesser contemporaries, assisting the development of the arcs that became central to the stories emotional impact.
One of the central concerns of would-be fans of this franchise ahead of the movie’s release was whether Tom Holland would live up to the high expectations set during his impactful yet brief appearance in Civil War, and whether Marvel’s risk at casting such a young actor (21 in 2017) in the role for the sake of a realistic teenage portrayal would pay-off in terms of drama considering his fellow Spidey actors were considerably older (Maguire was 27, Garfield was 28) at the time of their respective debuts. With Spider-Man: Homecoming, those concerns have surely been laid to rest, for Tom Holland’s incarnation of the character is not only the most accurate portrayal of Peter Parker turned Spider-Man ever seen on the big screen, but also the most likeable.
Holland excelled at being the nerdy kid looking to impress his pears, and his interactions with Stark, who was the perfect overly cool mentor character who seemed just as dismissive of Parker’s desired credibility as many of his high-school classmates, was a triumph in terms of the movie’s screenwriting and the acting that brought it to life. This was also an example of the relationship between Holland’s Parker and the majority of other characters in the movie that was never overplayed, nor unrealistically portrayed via high-school movie tropes of overtly bullysome fellow students or nobody knowing who Parker even is, and was enhanced greatly by how identifiable Holland played it. Never was he so much of a loser that he was embarrassing, as was the case with Maguire’s Parker, and never was he so seemingly confident in his quips that he was actually cool, as was the case with Garfield’s Parker, as Holland established a very reasonable middle ground much more representative of the modern middle-america intelligent kid than we have previously seen, quite clearly attempting to create someone identifiable to the legions of comic book fans who may have felt unfairly tarnished with the same brush.
Michael Keaton’s Vulture was also, somewhat surprisingly for an MCU movie, a well developed villain. Much of his backstory seemed glued on to the film in much the same way that many a big-budget blockbuster attempts to gain a source of empathy for a character, but the movie’s focus on more comedic elements of the central story arc meant that Vulture was able to develop from being a typical would-be villain into a very real threat to Peter Parker’s personal story while going under the radar as a probable bad-turned-good character courtesy of his comedic timing and sometimes unrealised threat. This fed his character into MCU-lore seamlessly and Keaton himself was also very good in the role, transforming from his usual likeable self into a somewhat monstrous (and particularly gangster) version of the character in a manner that provided drama yet didn’t darken the overall up-beat tone of the picture.
Visually, Homecoming was about as great as you’d expect from a modern superhero movie with the techniques of its director and cinematographer doing the best job possible to stay out of the movie almost entirely, and while its score did fall into the Marvel trashcan of unremarkable soundtracks, there didn’t seem to be anything remarkably bad in this aspect either. In fact, criticism of the film can be found only in how unremarkable aspects of it are as opposed to how bad they are, and the movie has more than enough going for it to cover up these blemishes.
It can be said then, that despite Homecoming’s not quite perfect complexion and the ways in which it doesn’t go beyond expectations on any sort of visceral level, Marvel have certainly put their best foot forward in reigniting the Spider-Man character as a franchise leader with the funniest silver-screen Peter Parker story yet, a choice that has made a star out of Tom Holland and added yet more character dynamics to their overall cinematic universe.
An enjoyable superhero movie…