Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Length: 2hr 13m
There’re a lot of comic book movies being made today. Obviously this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if they’re all of good quality (as many have been) and appealing to a wide market (which they clearly are) then there’s no reason for anyone other than utter-arthouse devotees to start ranting about ‘the death of cinema’. The one inevitable effect of this however is that it’s quite simply getting tougher to be excited about yet another film in this heavily-saturated genre. Unless there’s a clear hook in the form of an interesting concept (ie: Logan) then they risk joining an alarmingly homogenized group of films that are becoming alarmingly frequent in the Marvel and DC universe. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017’s fourth superhero movie and the third incarnation of Spider-Man in
just a decade) is a fun, energetic film with hints of real charm and heart that sadly falls short of being anything all that special.
The set-up gratefully swerves clear of being too bombastic as we are introduced to a young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) trying to navigate the normal trials and tribulations of school life whilst also keeping up his part time job as the titular web-slinger; it’s a stripped down, effective premise that’s gratefully free of too much city-levelling mayhem. Holland fits seamlessly into the role and premise as if he was born to play the character, providing a real sense of innocence and relatability that thankfully makes him easily one of the strongest aspects of the film; he pulls off the rare cinematic feat of being a character whose immature sensibilities never feel even in the slightest bit annoying.
Watching Peter at turns being embarrassed at high-school parties and field trips has a lovely sense of authenticity that’s normally reserved for the filmmaking indie-scene (the recent domain of the director Jon Watts), and it’s cringe-worthy, heartfelt and hilarious by turns. If only this wasn’t a film with a budget in excess of 150 million dollars and over 10 credited writers then perhaps we could have enjoyed a more consistent, low-key high school flick that the film promises in the opening thirty minutes.
A set of fairly uninteresting circumstances that frustratingly involve elements from other Marvel studios entries (sorry if you were expecting a complete stand-alone film) bring us a villain in the form of Michael Keaton’s Vulture, and a disapproving father figure manifested as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). It’s here that the film starts to drift into infinitely less interesting territory. Keaton injects his ostensibly nefarious character with some much-needed humanity but his scheming is never given the gravitas it needs to become truly compelling and when Peter must inevitably set in to foil his non-specific plans it all feels a bit bland. The cute high school antics of the first half of the film are traded in for large doses of fairly uninspiring CGI action that don’t quite feel in keeping with the director’s initial vision; you can’t help but wonder whether this just might have something to do with the billion dollar studio backing the film.
Downey Jr. is as good as ever but serves little role in the film other than to remind the audience of the film’s connection to Marvel’s wider cinematic universe and his relationship with Peter feels like simply another iteration of something we’ve seen in countless other films. It’s perhaps because of the presence of our baddie and generic mentor figure that we’re denied an out-and-out high-school action comedy in the vein of Ferris Bueller (a film literally played onscreen at one point) and instead given a film that feels a bit too factory-made; our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man feels less relatable the more the film verves into the routine blockbuster territory that recent Marvel outings Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 dodged so effortlessly.
It feels harsh to judge Spider-Man: Homecoming so closely against other films in the genre, but when that genre is one of the most prolific and profitable of the current era, then maybe it’s warranted. In spite of its flaws the film still has moments of real likeability and humour that will make it well worth the time of many cinemagoers (especially kids). What it’s lacking is the uniqueness that the film seems so close to touching with its brilliant initial premise. It’ll likely please many with its loving portrayal of an iconic protagonist and some frustrating glimpses of a great high-school pic; it’s just a pity it couldn’t give us something more than that.