Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Certificate 12A, 133 minutes

Director: Jon Watts

Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.

Spider-Man: Homecoming opens shortly after the Battle of New York during The Avengers, during the clean-up operation. In the area below Stark Tower, a salvage operator is stripping down the Chitauri tech. This is a big deal for him, and he has bought new equipment and hired new employees, so he is rather less than happy when the government steps in and pushes him aside under an Executive Order. All alien technology needs to be handed over, and all clean-up operations will be done by the Department of Damage Control, a joint operation between the U.S. government and Tony Stark. One of his crew says it’s a shame that they can’t keep the technology, and he certainly appears able to actually retro engineer it to a degree. They do still have a load from the previous day which hasn’t been handed over, so it’s decided to keep it and go at things from another angle.

Eight years later and the operation is manufacturing weapons out of alien technology – weapons which are not sold through regular channels, instead ending up in the hands of criminals. The man, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), has built himself a set of wings using alien technology, and they are still stealing various bits; reference is made to what happened at the Triskelion in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

It then turns to Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in the backseat of a car being driven by Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). He’s being taken to Berlin for the events of Captain America: Civil War – with some of these events being given a rather different perspective, as Peter is filming them through his phone’s camera – and during which he is given a new costume. Peter is ecstatic when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tells him that he can keep the outfit afterwards, and that if he’s needed again, they’ll contact him, with Happy being his specific point of contact. Happy does not seem to be, well, happy, about this last bit. Tony tells Peter not to do anything that he would do. Or anything he wouldn’t; just to operate in that tiny grey area between.

Spider-Man: HomecomingTwo months pass and Peter is still waiting for contact, to no avail. He’s dropped out of a number of things, such as the finals of the Academic Decathlon in Washington, D.C., so that he can be on hand for a call from Happy. Or Tony. Or anyone, frankly. He’s keeping it a secret from everyone, but his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), finds out by accident. Ned is really excited about this, and wants to tell everyone – including Liz (Laura Harrier), who Peter has a crush on – but Peter manages to talk him out of this. Several times; it crops up more than once in the film. There’s also the odd Michelle (Zendaya), who keeps hanging around Peter and Ned, despite saying she has no friends and knowing quite a lot about what Peter is doing.

Peter, as Spider-Man, is still fighting crime, but in his new suit. Spider-Man has always had quite a few gadgets, but Peter has always had a limited budget. This time he has a costume designed by Tony Stark of all people, so the gadget count goes up significantly and the suit is capable of much, much more than any other suit – probably including the Venom symbiote – more than even Peter realises.

During one of these, Peter stumbles across robbers using some of the equipment derived from alien technology that Toomes and his cohorts are selling. The bank in which they are carrying out the robbery gets badly damaged as a result, as does some of the surrounding neighbourhood. Peter, disturbed by this, tries to get Happy interested, but is seems to no avail. When he spots something that looks like another use of such technology, he follows up on it, causing quite a bit of incidental property damage as a result.

This eventually leads to a confrontation on a Staten Island ferry which results in said ferry being chopped in half. Only the arrival of Iron Man prevents outright disaster, and Stark is not happy with how Peter has been behaving (it is important to note that Peter is, at this point, only 15; hardly surprising that he makes some poor decisions). Stark takes back Peter’s suit, leaving him to make do with his original costume. Tony asks why can’t Peter simply be a “friendly, neighbourhood, Spider-Man” (a catchphrase description of the character, but coming from a third party).

For many years, Sony has owned the character rights to Spider-Man, when it came to films. After The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was not the success that Sony had really hoped for, an agreement was made with Marvel Studios which resulted in Spider-Man being incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Vulture (Toomes) did appear as if he was going to be a villain in the originally planned sequel. With Spider-Man’s first appearance being in Civil War, this isn’t an origin story, unlike the first film in the two previous reboots. This does work to its advantage; the audience doesn’t have to sit through an hour of how Peter got bitten by a spider, gained his powers and started to use them, instead going straight to the action. There have been a few too many origin stories recently, and they do slow the film down – and most watching are probably quite familiar with how Spider-Man came to being. It’s simply mentioned in passing between Ned and Peter that Peter was bitten by a spider.

The film is available in 2D and 3D with the 2D version being the one watched. However, there is a fairly extensive use of CGI and Spider-Man has a tendency to operate in three dimensions, so this is probably the type of live action film where this works.

As should be expected from a Spider-Man film, humour plays a significant role, although there are different types. These range from Spider-Man running across a golf course in the suburbs (without skyscrapers, it’s rather hard to swing from them), to motivational videos at his school featuring Captain America (Chris Evans), especially as, according to Coach Wilson (Hannibal Buress), he may be a war criminal now, but the state is apparently making them keep showing the videos, to Toomes shooting someone with what was apparently the wrong weapon. There is also more traditional Spider-Man wisecracking and a scene where Peter, as Spider-Man, is talking to a fairly petty criminal, trying to intimidate information out of him, and does a poor job of it, so poor that said criminal says that he needs to work on that part of the job a bit. When Peter finds out just what his suit is capable of, that creates more humour, as he tries to cope with the (really, really, ridiculously) huge array of features that Stark has built into it.

Purists may not be happy with how much has been changed from the original, starting with the jazzed up version of the “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Can do anything a spider can” theme tune. Spider-Man’s identity is known to Tony Stark and a few others, whilst in the comic books it is generally more secret. Nor is Peter normally mentored by Tony Stark and he especially doesn’t have a multi-million dollar high-tech costume designed by the latter.

Quite a few of the characters have been changed as well. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is usually portrayed as a sweet little grey haired old lady. In this, well, she’s not – one character refers to May as a “very hot Italian woman”. She doesn’t always seem to realise the effect she has either. May isn’t the only change; Flash (Tony Revolori) is still a jerk, but he’s a smart, academic, spoiled rich kid jerk not a jock this time and there’s another character who is rather different to their normal portrayal, as well as the various villains, who this time are ordinary, if perhaps skilled, people who have got their hands on some extraordinary tech. Ned is Peter’s best friend, not Harry Osborne, and is rather more of a comic relief sidekick, but he does have some skills of his own.

These changes should be ignored; the Marvel Cinematic Universe is different to the universe of the comic books and this is simply one more difference, or set of differences.

The portrayal as various supervillains – Vulture, Shocker, Tinkerer – as simply being fairly ordinary people, one who turned to crime after the government effectively forced them out of business, is an interesting twist. Toomes is more of a character than the others, but the others don’t get as much screen time or room to develop their characters. Toomes’ motivations aren’t bad either, even if his actions are – he simply wants to be able to provide for his family. He has no really villainous drives, and he doesn’t see what he does in dealing weapons to be that different to what Tony Stark did, also selling weapons. Consequently, it’s a villain that can be empathised with, and therefore a more interesting one to watch. Peter’s struggles with adolescence, crushes and attempts to gain Tony Stark’s respect are mostly quite common to the character, but in this film we have a Spider-Man who is rather more naive than others. He is constantly trying to succeed, and fails, but then tries again, and again, and again. Peter Parker is still, at heart, just a kid – even if he is trying to be, and wants to be, more; sometimes too much more, going beyond what he may presently be capable of – and it’s this that tends to get him in trouble.

The action works pretty well; there are some major action confrontations between Vulture and Spider-Man, and frequently Toomes’ age and deviousness end up defeating Peter’s youth and strength. We have the usual clips of Spider-Man swinging through the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

There is a mid-credits clip – which may give a hint as to who the villain in the next film will be – and a post-credits clip, which is, in its own way, funny, but it’s likely not what anyone expected. And yes, Stan Lee does make one of his standard cameos.

Homecoming really does benefit from not having to go through all the tedious world-building and origin story that would normally be seen in the first in a series; instead it just plugs in to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a well known character whose story is equally well known. This adds about an hour to the story than would normally be the case in such a film. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a great addition to the MCU and a great introduction to the new Spider-Man.

 

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