Tom Holland’s feature-length debut as Marvel’s most famous wallcrawler is a fun romp bolstered by excellent performances and characterisation.
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Laura Harrier
The original comic book Spider-Man was hailed as innovative and inspirational. A teenage superhero who is not a sidekick, has no mentor, and must navigate the discovery of his powers alone – all while tackling the more earthbound tribulations of being an orphan and going through adolescence.
Yet, despite being such an iconic figure, in the past Spider-Man has not enjoyed on-screen glory in the way many of his fellow Marvel creations have. Tobey Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s incarnations were met with positive-to-mixed reception, but they never left an enduring mark on the superhero world in the way that, say, the Avengers have.
Cue: bring in the Avengers.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a burgeoning success, and it makes sense to finally bring Spider-Man into the fold of box office domination and action figurines galore. Where Spider-Man: Homecoming both succeeds and falters is in its deigning to the wider MCU – it allows Spider-Man an established foundation, but also strips him of some of the independence and self-discovery that made the inaugural comics so relatable.
Homecoming begins, aptly enough, with a homecoming, as high-schooler Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns from superhero training with The Avengers under the guise of “the Stark internship”. The lack of an origin story lets the film charge up its pacing right away – by now almost every viewer familiar with Spider-Man knows the story of the radioactive spider bite, and omitting it altogether permits Homecoming to delve straight into the action. We watch as Peter takes to the streets at night, initially tackling smaller crimes like mugging and bike theft, yet swiftly becoming embroiled in far more dangerous machinations.
Much of Homecoming’s appeal is thanks to Holland. While Peter’s earnest monologues can be a bit grating at first, Holland suffuses the character with enough sincere enthusiasm that it’s difficult not to be swept up. Holland’s performance may be the aspect of the film truest to the comics; he is evidently still a child, possessing all the keenness and naivety that comes with it. Yet we also see Peter’s loneliness in pursuing a double life unbeknownst to his friends and family, most vividly portrayed in his willingness to begin conversing with the disembodied AI voice of his powered-up superhero suit (Jennifer Connelly). Holland’s own voice, frenzied at times and measured at others, match his physical movements, and deftly convey Peter as the complex, layered character he is.
His performance is matched by other talented actors, from heavyweights like Donald Glover and Marisa Tomei to new faces such as Jacob Batalon and Laura Harrier. Meanwhile Michael Keaton, always an accomplished performer, seems to be having the time of his life as snarling, bitter arms trafficker Adrian Toomes.
In fact, every performer seems to be having a great deal of fun, distinguishing Homecoming from the sometimes gloomier tones of its Spider-Man predecessors. Part of this comes from the firm grasp of Peter’s identity – while conceptualising a teenager superhero could lead to copious angst, Peter is simply not that sort of kid, and it’s a refreshing relief to see.
The characterisation is matched by Michael Giacchino’s soaring, heroic score, and stark, bright cinematography by Salvatore Totino. Though Jon Watts’ direction is occasionally clumsy, with pivotal action developments happening too fast to make out, it is generally assured, and coasts after Spider-Man’s leaps and bounds fluidly. While the stakes are often high in Homecoming, and there is palpable danger at many turns, the film is fundamentally a joy to watch.
The perilous situations Spider-Man finds himself in indicate his brashness. Despite warnings from the Avengers and his best friend Ned (Batalon), Peter will often delve headfirst into an altercation he is not ready for. This generally results in some form of reprimand from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who either dons his Iron Man suit to rush in and provide help, or else lectures Peter on the vagaries of power and responsibility.
While this “Iron Man ex machina” approach does let us see Peter’s developing maturity as he learns to both trust his mentor and believe in himself, it feels a bit of a betrayal of the original Spider-Man. In the comics, Peter had no choice but to go it alone, and this often made his adventures all the riskier. For a lot of Homecoming, it seldom feels as though Peter is in mortal danger, as an Avenger may swoop along to save him at any time. Peter is learning the valuable lesson that being Spider-Man is nothing to do with gadgets or costumes, but the moral is slightly cheapened when it’s essentially being bleated at him by an older, wiser superhero.
Being a part of the MCU means no matter how lonely Peter feels, he is never really alone. This is both a blessing and a curse; it allows for the excitement and novelty of an Avengers team, and almost permits Peter to quantify his learning curve. Yet the original Peter Parker never had such a luxury, and this approach yields the introduction of a markedly different Spider-Man.
For those who love the Spider-Man of the comics, the MCU heralds an altogether different approach – practically no Marvel superhero is permitted to fight alone anymore, and this can detract from some of the original amazing Spider-Man’s revolutionary youthful independence. Regardless, Homecoming is a fast-paced, thoroughly entertaining film. Excellent acting and a confident command of atmosphere mean it is never dull, and the MCU’s team-driven ethos can look forward to spawning future successful instalments.