Director : Jon Watts
Year Of Release : 2017
Principal Cast : Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Garcelle Beauvais, Voice of Jennifer Connelly.
Approx Running Time : 133 Minutes
Synopsis: Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man when a new threat emerges.
The journey of Spider-Man onto the MCU banner is one that will understandably go down in cinematic history as one of the most convoluted and extraordinary events of our time. With the critical failure of Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the subsequent fan derision of the direction the franchise was headed, and the rampant success of Marvel’s own stable of heroes (to that point both X-Men-less and Spidey-less), coupled with an astonishing hack perpetrated by… well, somebody… that resulted in some substantial industry backlash, Sony were in a bit of a pickle. They owned the rights to Spider-Man but successive attempts to build an ongoing franchise around the property had met with a surfeit of increasing dissatisfaction – and Marvel knew it. Sony and Marvel brokered a truce, an amazing feat in this modern age of rigid intellectual property rights, and both studios formulated a scenario in which Spider-Man would return to the screens under a Marvel banner, with Marvel having creative control and Sony retaining ownership: fans rejoiced. And here we are, with our first Marvel-ous Spider-Man adventure and the character’s first official solo film in the MCU.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is your average high school sophomore – average, that is, unless you could his amazing spider-like abilities and association with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and the Avengers. Parker’s identity as Spider-Man, last seen in the infamous airport battle in Civil War, has made him a home-grown New York hero, although his obsession with joining the ranks of the Avengers puts him directly into harm’s way. Parker is drawn to fellow high school student Liz (Laura Harrier), while his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovers his secret and obsesses about helping the young hero in his adventures. Elsewhere, illegal weapons supplier Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who once worked salvaging Chutauri technology until he was removed by newly the formed Department of Damage Control, seeks to make his fortune delivering a deadly arsenal to criminals who pay his fee; known as the Vulture, Toomes is trying to steal Stark property and that brings him into direct conflict with Spider-Man.
There’s a lot of what made Tom Holland’s performance in Civil War work here in Homecoming. A lot. The film absolutely nails the “teenage Peter Parker” aspect, with Tom Holland’s youthfulness and squeaky-voiced performance capturing the awkwardness and ineffectiveness and “nobody understands me” of adolescence. A key element to the comics (at least the ones I remember reading) was the balance between the normal life Peter tries to lead when he’s not Spider-Man, and the utter insanity of being Spider-Man. Homecoming gets that right, better moreso than Tobey Macguire’s version or even Andrew Garfield’s. The geeky, awestruck wonder Holland imbues his Peter with is always delightful, contrasting against the rapid growing he must do when faced with decidedly adult problems like trying to stop Keaton’s Vulture from doing the wrong thing.
The film also finds a nice patter to Peter’s high-school life, from his friendship with overly enthusiastic Ned (a terrific Jacob Batalon, it must be said, who rapidly became one of my favourite ancillary characters with this performance), his eye-fluttering romance with Laura Harrier’s Liz, and his struggle to balance education with his “Stark internship”. When the film focuses on this aspect, it positively sings, so much you can almost feel the acne and rampant hormones surging through the screenplay. Holland’s chemistry with Batalon and Harrier throughout the film is sweet-natured and chucklesome when required.
Homecoming’s other main interest is Michael Keaton’s Vulture, Adrian Toomes, the villain of the piece. Unlike many MCU villains of late, Toomes is a largely sympathetic three-dimensional villain, offering motivation that’s believable for his recalcitrant ways. Keaton’s performance isn’t edgy or particularly grim but he brings substantial weight to an otherwise B-level character and the film’s the better for it. Bit-parts to Donald Glover (who I didn’t know was in this one but was pleasantly surprised to see) as a small-time crook, Marisa Tomei as Peter’s Aunt May, and Jon Favreau’s fan-fave Happy Hogan, the latter serving as a poor conduit between Peter and Tony Stark, bring plenty to enjoy about Homecoming that mould it into yet another MCU product that will continue to be enjoyed for years to come.
Director Jon Watts brings enthusiasm and rock ’em sock ’em sound design to Homecoming that elevates even the most subdued scenes. Peter’s contemplative moments are wonderfully subtle, while action sequences (such as the much hyped Staten Island Ferry attack featured in all the trailers) are agreeably coherent and not at all lacking in excitement. A bravura moment featuring several of Peter’s classmates trapped in a falling elevator inside the Washington Monument is particularly well staged. Watts keeps the momentum going throughout, albeit not without some moments of plodding exposition (a lengthy sequence in which Peter and his upgraded costume find themselves trapped inside a government storage facility is funny but will have “chapter skip” written all over it come BluRay time), and while the film runs a touch over two hours it feels substantially shorter than that.
Homecoming strives in every aspect to be fun, to capture the exuberance of youth and bring a teen slant to the Avengers carry-on. It strives…. but never rises to greatness. Homecoming is a film marred by a single element that has become all too common a complaint levelled at the MCU; it’s entirely risk averse. Homecoming doesn’t take any chances, it doesn’t develop the Spidey mythos beyond established canon and the occasional fan service moment. It feels too safe; despite all the disdain levelled at Zack Snyder’s DCEU for perceived lack of faithfulness in representing DC’s stable of stars, at least he’s taking a risk with the property, pushing the envelope and seeing what the audience will accept. Homecoming plays things well safe indeed, and despite the laughs and fun and zany antics of Holland’s enthusiastic performance, you get the sense it’s just another homogeneous MCU entry designed to usher in Infinity War, where the real battle is.
Engaging, fun, brightly directed and featuring all the nonchalant hip-cool swank of a big-budget MCU feature, Spider-Man: Homecoming will satisfy almost everyone for what it brings to the screen. Loathe as I am to compare it to previous modern films, the inevitable “which franchise is better” arguments would rightly put this film somewhere between Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and the original, and leave Marc Webb’s valiant but inneffectual efforts in its wake. It’s a genuine popcorn entertainment without really pushing the envelope for the MCU; undoubtedly focus-grouped beyond exception, Homecoming is the product of a coporporate regime intent on being as inoffensive and unremarkable as can be to obtain the most box-office return and it shows.