SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is a case of too many cooks. This isn’t surprising considering this is a joint venture between Marvel (who provide the universe the film inhabits, plus that stamp of quality) and Sony (who retain the characters and the profits). Marvel clearly thought this one-sided deal was worth it if it meant their plans for the future of their cinematic universe required fewer lawyers. What we end up with though, is a film with undeniable highlights, but which is trying to be two very different things.
After proving himself pretty useful fighting alongside the Avengers, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) goes back to school and eagerly anticipates his next team mission. But when the next big world-saving moment is not forthcoming, tough love superhero mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) advises Peter to remain a friendly neighbourhood hero a while longer, just as a threat closer to home reveals itself…
Homecoming seems primarily concerned with being an Avengers side-story, and as such it’s a mixed bag. The “Battle of New York” from the first AVENGERS film gives the alien tech-salvaging villains their motivation, but often gets in the way of what should matter more: Peter Parker. As a high school movie it’s far more successful: light, breezy, funny and good-natured, but again you wish more time would be dedicated to Peter’s everyday as a secretly remarkable teen rather than his desire to become a full-fledged Avenger. Director Jon Watts does small-scale well, he’s good at digging into character, but I don’t know whether he’s really an action director. The fiery jet crash at the end of the film is quite impressive, and there’s a funny FERRIS BUELLER-riffing chase through suburbia, but elsewhere it’s a little action-by-numbers.
For those looking there are nods to the comics in background details and name-dropping, even some playful ripping at the Wall-Crawler’s previous incarnations. I’m not a fan of the new gadget-laden spider-suit, then again it does allows for some decent gags as Peter tries to work out what does what. The new design of the Vulture, on the other hand, is very cool indeed – steam-punky sharp edges, deadly and firmly grounded in this world’s reality.
Tom Holland was born for this role, with earnesty, an appealing groundedness as Peter and an eager spring in his step as Spidey. His chemistry with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is charming, the latter given most of the film’s best lines (when he discovers Peter’s secret, the first question on his mind is, bafflingly, “Do you lay eggs?”). The quality of the rest of the young cast is admirable, though not many leave a particularly lasting impression other than unusual outcast Michelle (Zendaya). Michael Keaton takes the working-class reinterpretation of Adrian Toomes/The Vulture and runs with it: he’s tough, he’s scary and he makes sense. For years the cleanup crew for superhero battle sites have remained tantalisingly off-screen, but scavenging for profit here gives the villains their whole reason for being (like a vulture, get it?).
Let’s talk about Robert Downey Jr’s glorified cameo. Because that’s what it is. Chris Evans is in the film about as much as Downey, and Captain America only appears in “stay in school kids” videos (because of course the School Board would use Cap as propaganda). I’m actually pleased he’s not in it a lot, because the Stark-Parker relationship doesn’t really work, unlike Spidey’s dynamic with pretty much everyone else in the film, even the villains.
If you haven’t seen the previous Marvel movies, you will be completely lost. This is not a Spider-Man movie you can just jump aboard. Whereas CIVIL WAR effectively and neatly truncated Spidey’s origin in a single dialogue scene, overall I feel retroactively making this character fit into this universe has made Homecoming unwieldy. Like the last couple of movies, it’s stuck with setting up future events rather than making the story at hand the best it can be. When it’s in the moment, it’s a breath of fresh air, but when it’s more interested in what is to come several films down the line it gets tiresome. SSP