Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Michael Keaton
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: July 7
The real hero in Spider-Man: Homecoming is whoever stood up in a boardroom meeting, slammed their fist on a huge ornate table and bellowed to the heavens, “NO MORE ORIGIN STORIES!” Okay, we’ll definitely get another haul of seen-it-all-before establishing adventures that serve as trailers for the much more significant rounds to follow but good goddamn it is sweet to just dive right in for a change.
That said, Spider-Man: Homecoming is curiously languid for a summer blockbuster aimed at a youthful fan base – those eye-wateringly busy posters had to have been designed to bring in the kids, right? – though that approach works in its favour. Mostly. The film follows on from its titular protagonist’s action-packed cameo in Captain America: Civil War, which marked Spider-Man’s return to the Marvel family – in association with Sony, who finally waved something of a white flag after the critical mauling that accompanied Andrew Garfield’s turns under the mask. Spidey cuts a frustrated figure here, longing for something more challenging than retrieving stolen bikes and helping people with directions. His mentor Tony Stark and glorified babysitter Happy Hogan have other plans, keeping a watchful eye from afar and encouraging him to stay in school.
Oh yeah, this iteration of Peter Parker is a 15-year-old, and though he’s typically intelligent and appears to boast the heart of a champion, there’s still familiar teenage stumbling blocks, like bullies and exams and crushes, to navigate. Enter a villain with purpose if not a terrific deal of menace in the form of Michael Keaton’s Vulture, never named as such but sporting the mantle in the form of a feather-lined jacket and a jet-powered wing-suit that comes in handy for his criminal operation.
Keaton’s antagonist fits neatly into proceedings as a frustrated blue collar worker who takes advantage of his dismissal from the clean-up crew initially tasked with sorting out the mess left behind by the Avengers, following a climactic battle that Transformers: Dark of the Moon executed better a year prior. Having stolen alien tech and developed weaponry that he and his crew – boasting great character actors Bokeem Woodbine and Logan Marshall-Green, no less – now sell on the black market, business is good, but there’s an eager web-head inbound…
That’s a hefty enough chunk of narrative, and director Jon Watts does a good if workmanlike job in presenting a script with six credited writers attached. The plot also makes for an odd contradiction; low stakes are hugely refreshing in event pictures such as this – there’s no beam in the sky, for a welcome change – but given we’ve been conditioned for regular razzmatazz, the pacing and payoffs feel a touch small-time. The least ruthless editor in the game could have easily found a good 20 minutes to lop off, and Marvel still haven’t solved their third act problem, despite coming very close with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Nonetheless, the character work is strong and the diversity on display feels natural rather than cynical. As for the performances, Tom Holland owns the role of a hyperactive teenager whose impatience is justified even if he really does need to take time to focus. At times, the young actor (six years older than his onscreen charge, incidentally) comes across mildly irritating but you sense that’s sort of the point. Robert Downey Jr. thankfully doesn’t overstay his welcome and Stark’s presence is organic enough to work, though the film could use about 95% less Jon Favreau. Meanwhile Zendaya, playing one of Peter’s classmates, is yet another wildly unrealistic human being, bordering on Manic Pixie Dream Girl status. Yaaaaaaaaaawn.
It’s The Michael Keaton Show for the most part, really, and though the script ultimately underserves him – the devil never has the best tunes in Marvel movies – it’s a pleasure to watch an actor of his calibre add new strings to his bow.
Spiderman: Homecoming is all about the hard reset, a last ditch attempt to revitalise an iconic superhero and encourage people to leave the cinema with a smile on their face. As corporate mergers go, that’s almost admirable.