13 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming review

Between the love still held for Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man trilogy and the damage done to the brand by Marc Webb's abortive Amazing Spider-Man rebooted franchise, Spider-Man: Homecoming was always going to find itself in something of a difficult position, culturally. Even ignoring how unlikely it was to live up to Raimi's Spider-Man 2, a film that's still arguably a genre high-point over a decade after release, Spider-Man: Homecoming is tasked with offering a fresh take on a character already well-established in pop culture while also delivering on the promise of finally seeing Peter Parker exist as part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe - maybe more than any other MCU film to date, Spider-Man: Homecoming is burdened by some heavy expectations, to the point where it would have been far too easy for it to end up disappointing.

Fortunately, that simply isn't the case. It may not reach the dramatic or emotional heights of Spider-Man 2, but by giving us a Peter Parker who looks and acts like a genuine teenager, avoiding any hint of an origin story and maybe most importantly delivering hard on the comedy, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to avoid retreading the same ground as previous films without leaning too heavily on its links to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, in short, exactly what it needed to be, and the result is a film that's simply delightful.

Following his inclusion in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Peter Parker back home in New York and continuing his "Stark Internship", which has him spending his evenings practicing his superheroics in an attempt to impress Tony Stark and become an Avenger. He starts off small - giving directions to old ladies, preventing bike thefts - but after stopping a bank robbery involving extremely high tech alien weaponry, Peter takes it upon himself to find and shut down the group making and selling said weapons, all while attempting to juggle his school work, social life and extracurricular activities at the same time.

Even after his relatively small appearance in Captain America: Civil War, people (myself included) were already proclaiming Tom Holland to be the best live-action Peter Parker to date, and Spider-Man: Homecoming only further proves that the person who cast him deserves an immediate and substantial pay rise. Peter Parker has always been something of a complex, contradictory character - awkward yet charming, naturally heroic yet deeply conflicted, deadly serious yet constantly quipping - but Holland embodies all that with such ease that it seems like the most natural thing in the world. On top of that, his young age brings a real sense of vulnerability to the role that previous iterations of Peter Parker have lacked, helping him sell a number of big emotional moments that wouldn't have worked with an older actor in the costume - it's a genuinely great performance, and it's clear now how lucky Marvel Studios are to have found him. Seeing Peter being pulled in ten different directions at once as he struggles to balance his real life with his superhero double life is effectively the quintessential Spider-Man story - so good, then, that we also have the perfect Peter Parker to lead it.

In much the same vein, Spider-Man: Homecoming's entire supporting cast (particularly those playing Peter's schoolmates) are excellent throughout, lending its high-school drama a degree of authenticity that films set in high-school rarely achieve. As with Peter, these characters aren't just written to act like teenagers, they're played by young(ish) actors who genuinely look and sound like teenagers too, and some of the films best moments come from simply watching them interact with one another in the way that teenagers would. Director Jon Watts spent a lot of time comparing Spider-Man: Homecoming to various John Hughes films in the run up to release, but in a way he needn't have - it's clear throughout where Spider-Man: Homecoming's inspirations lie, and that's only to the film's credit. Marvel Studios seem to be well-aware at this point that "superhero" isn't really a genre unto itself, and Spider-Man: Homecoming's foray into the world of coming-of-age films makes it a stronger and more unique movie.

But that isn't to say that the superhero side of Spider-Man: Homecoming suffers in response. I've never particularly agreed with this, but an oft-repeated criticism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it doesn't have any strong villains, and in a way Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like a response to that - main antagonist Adrian Toomes is just as well-developed and three-dimensional as Peter Parker, driven by understandable motives and undergoing is own character arc over the course of the movie. Naturally, Michael Keaton is brilliant in the role, ramping up how intimidating he is over the course of the film without ever becoming too cartoonish, but what really makes Toomes work as a villain is how his relationship to Spider-Man progresses as the story develops. To go into details would be to enter spoiler-territory, but believe me when I say that the relationship between them results in not just the single best, most intense scene in the whole film - you'll know it when you see it - but also maybe the most dramatically satisfying hero/villain dynamic that I've seen in a very, very long time.

Ultimately, Spider-Man: Homecoming only falters during its action sequences, some of which are uninspired at best and rendered virtually incomprehensible by downright poor CGI - a real shame considering that Spider-Man has one of the most potentially visually interesting power sets of any superhero. Around that though, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a hilarious, well-written and expertly directed movie that nails the character of Peter Parker in a way that no previous Spider-Man film has, and while it might not be the "best" Spider-Man film to date, it's almost certainly going to end up being my personal favourite.

4 stars

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