US (2017) Dir. Jon Watts
Well, I was wrong. When the full trailer arrived for this film it appeared to give away the entire story in two and a half minutes. The truth is it didn’t show half of what goes down inside this latest 133-minute addition to the Marvel Cinema Universe – a smart and cheeky move on Sony’s part.
Unlike previous Spider-Man films this one is directly connected to the Avengers timeline, picking up from Spidey’s cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Actually, the story begins during the aftermath of Avengers Assemble as Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is relieved of his contract to clear up the debris. Understandably miffed, Toomes decides to pilfer a few bits of the alien technology he found in the wreckage and has a little play around with it.
Eight years later Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to high school after teaming with the Avengers and awaits further calls to arms from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). In the meantime he patrols his local community, foiling a bank raid by a group (wearing Avengers masks!) using advanced technology. When Stark refuses to follow this up Peter takes matters into his own hands.
The third reboot in thirteen years for everyone’s favourite web-slinger caused a lot of eyebrows to be raised among comic book and film fans alike. Was this another shameless cash-in on the superhero blockbuster boom, a continuing sign of Hollywood’s lack of imagination and fresh ideas or might they possibly get it right this time?
It’s probably a bit of all three if we are to be honest but the smartest move was to forego the played out origin story and cut straight to the chase, made simpler through the Avengers connection. It is a slight detour from Stan Lee’s original vision but it works and makes more sense in the long run vis-à-vis such minutiae as developing the suit and the web fluid/shooters.
Even skipping the formative years this is still a coming-of-age story for young Peter, a sprightly 15 years-old (and the oldest looking 15 year-old too, along with all of the typical Hollywood “teens” featured). The fundamental timeless message of “great power and great responsibility” is still the driving force behind Peter’s escapades but told in a different, subtle and modern way, with the same mistakes made and the same personal results.
One area that had many fans up in arms was casting Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, making her a forty-something MILF as opposed to the 80 year-old she was before. Let’s be realistic, a 15 year-old boy is unlikely to have an aunt three generations older than him, so this makes sense. And it is played up to in the script, with May getting free dishes at a Thai restaurant or Peter fielding amorous enquiries from the local deli owner.
Elsewhere this film is very ethnic heavy which is a progressive move in light of the calls for more diversity in Hollywood, but at the risk of courting controversy, as admirable and reflective of modern society as this is, it may be seen as little forced with almost every other character being either black, Hispanic or Asian.
For example, long time arch-nemesis Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) is not a muscle bound jock but a smug Indian rich kid; Peter’s best friend is tubby Hawaiian nerd Need Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and his love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) is black. This is not a critique, just an observation that some may not enjoy such radical changes whilst others will embrace it.
Another significant development is the Spider-Man costume, a creation of Tony Stark thus runs on his technology. It is currently on basic mode as Peter is still a junior but he and Ned hack it to unleash its full capabilities. I’m sure some will baulk at this making Spidey being Iron Man-lite with his interactive costume but it serves as huge part of his learning curve, reflecting his impetuosity as a teen and posits Stark as the male influence Peter lost with Uncle Ben.
Something that has blighted Superhero films of late is weak antagonists but in Toomes – aka the Vulture – we have a villain who is neither alien or intent on world devastation. He is an honest, hard working man shafted by those with money and initially tries to compete by using the illicit technology at his disposal, which in turn leads him to lose his moral compass.
Thus there is a grounding to Toomes and his perspective that makes sense even if his methods are questionable, delineated through Michael Keaton’s quiet charisma. As askew as Toomes’ vision becomes this is paralleled with Peter’s childish glee at having unimaginable powers which he wants to use for good but insist on running before he can walk, a spirit Tom Holland captures with vibrancy and occasional pathos.
Of course most people will be watching this film for the usual explosive bombastic SFX laden thrill ride the genre specialises in and it doesn’t disappoint. The ever moving camerawork relays the dizzying first person perspective of the exhilaration of swinging through the air, coupled by gravity defying aerial shots of Spidey climbing up the outside of Washington Monument.
In between the noisy battles and frantic action sequences there is plenty of humour in both the interactions between Peter and Stark’s driver Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and the numerous Easter eggs, taking in many a homage to classic films – including Keaton’s Batman – as well as references to the Marvel universe past, present and future. Stick around after the end credits for a very funny one in particular.
The balance between sticking steadfast to the comic book source material and updating it for modern audiences in a live action scenario is often hard to achieve but Spider-Man: Homecoming defies expectations by doing just that. Hugely entertaining, surprisingly affecting and well crafted, this might already be the film of the Summer.
Rating – ****
Man In Black