With the inclusion of Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, comic-book and superhero film fans gather with heaving breaths for reassurance that the web-slinger is finally put in the right hands, having suffered two franchise cancellations with overblown entries (2007’s Spider-Man 3, and 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Perhaps it comes to no surprise that Spider-Man: Homecoming provides these fans, as well as the non-dismissive summer popcorn crowd, with exactly what they’re looking for.
The story takes place a few months after the events of Civil War. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is still in high-school. No time for dead uncles, spider-bites and discovery of powers here; this Spidey is keen on building LEGO Star Wars figures with his best pal Ned (Jacob Batalan), graduating high-school, avoiding bully Flash (Tony Revolori of The Grand Budapest Hotel), asking crush Liz (Laura Harrier) out for prom, and facing the awkward adventures of growing up in high school while making sure his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) doesn’t get too worried. The filmmakers have mentioned the works of John Hughes as a template for the look and feel of the film – indeed, a scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off makes a cameo here – and to that I say it is an inspired choice. Holland strongly reminded me of Richard Dreyfuss in American Graffiti with a little bit more innocence. The fellow’s also very adapt with the comic timing, I might add.
Before he faces his homecoming prom, he also must balance out his time as the super-powered, friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, as he hounds both billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) for a shot with the Avengers Initiative. In particular, he has to deal with a nasty group of thieves led by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a former salvage worker who, with the help of stolen alien technology (whose shape gives him the moniker Vulture), is out to get even with Stark for basically putting him out of a livelihood following the cleanup of New York in the aftermath of 2012’s The Avengers (gotta put that Cinematic Universe easter-egging in). There’s even some nice additions Stark adds to Spidey’s modified suit; the funniest of which involves a built-in female computer voice named Karen, to whom Peter briefly consults for love advice.
The whole thing is grand and goofy, and indeed a lot of recent comic book movies seem to follow that trend. No doubt most of the film’s target audience will be around Peter’s age and will have faced similar growing pains situations in their own lives, minus the crime-fighting (hopefully) I assume. This is key to the film’s success – whereas previous MCU films get bogged down by their breezy tone, Homecoming profits off it by wholeheartedly embracing its high-school spirit, from its colourful cinematography by Salvatore Totino (Ron Howard’s Da Vinci trilogy), to its jovial score by Michael Giacchino, down to its playful use of eclectic pop music. It’s hard to fault a film that knows its audience to a T. Director Jon Watts (of 2015’s overlooked Cop Car) and his six-writer team get the gist of the characters, specifically when young innocuous heroes face off against potentially deadly senior enemies, and all in good spirit, too. Though I have to say he has a knack for making the bland intense, specifically with quite the bombastic finale involving Coney Island – and a particularly nice twist near the film’s climax. He is also very wise to center the movie purely around Spidey, and not add in a Spidey/Iron Man team-up moment for the hell of it.
A word about Michael Keaton as the Vulture. He’s a great actor who can promise lots of malice with just the twitch of an eyebrow, and he has probably given me my favourite MCU villain to date with his work here. To think, he was once the Caped Crusader (still my personal favourite) in Tim Burton’s Batman movies, only to send himself up with 2014’s Best Picture-winning Birdman, which satirizes the struggles of a has-been A-list superhero blockbuster actor proving himself as a serious artist. Now, he has come full circle, as a winged villain. Life-imitating-art-imitating-life-imitating-art. Guess Birdman won after all.
[★★★½] out of [★★★★★]