A refreshingly low-key teen superhero flick that gets to the heart of Spider-Man's appeal.
July 05, 2017
It may have taken 15 years and two full blown reboots, but the Spider-Man movies finally have a decent villain. Gone are the Green Goblins and anthropomorphic sandpits, replaced at long last by...a guy. Just a guy; a vulnerable, human, salt-of-the-earth labourer trying to carve out a little something of his own amongst the rubble and ruin of a post-Avengers New York City. Played by Michael Keaton, Adrian Toomes is an ordinary character in an extraordinary world, whose bare bones simplicity helps ground this refreshingly low-key entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And low-key is the key to this movie's appeal. Spidey (Tom Holland) isn't a world saver, but a hero for the little guy; intervening in grocery store holdups and helping grandparents with their luggage. The problem is that he wants more. He's fought alongside Iron Man and taken on Captain America, and the expectation of future avenging is what drives his daily routine. Expectation, however, soon falls short of reality, as he's told by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) that which no teenager ever wishes to hear: "you're not ready". What's worse is that Stark is plainly right.
Thing is, gaining super-powers doesn't mean you automatically gain super skills, and Spidey/Peter Parker is a superhero still very much in the training wheels phase. It's a clever device by director Jon Watts, whose hero – like a giraffe attempting its nervous first steps – repeatedly fumbles his landings, misses his web castings and wreaks low-level havoc in suburban backyards while chasing down the bad guys. Paired with raging hormones in a body that's also transforming in a more typically teenage way, and Peter makes for an immensely likeable lead. It helps that Holland makes for a far more plausible teen than either Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield.
The teenage superhero setup has always given Spider-Man an added complexity (one perhaps only shared by Superman), in that his public persona is painfully weak and nerdy. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark get to be billionaire playboys when they're not battling criminal kingpins, but Peter Parker is perceived as a weedy, bookish, scatter-brained dork who rolls over for bullies and can never keep an appointment. His life would be immediately and immeasurably better if he simply revealed his true, courageous self. But to do so would invite sudden and deadly peril upon all those he cares about.
That dilemma, in turn, passes on to the audience, as you find yourself grappling with your desire to see Spider-Man take down the villains but also make his date with the dream girl. Even better, it all comes without another version of Uncle Ben's 'great power comes with great responsibilities' speech, or another retelling of Parker's spider-bite origins. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a film that knows what we already know, and just gets on with telling its story.
If there's a drawback to all of this, it's that the final product feels a little bit childish. Yes, it's a film about a teenage superhero, but plenty of movies have captured the teenage experience without feeling like they were written by teenagers as well. There's far too much 'whoa, awesome, dude, bro, cool' going on here for our liking, although thankfully the adults (Downey Jr, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei and Keaton) provide plenty of counterbalance.
Minor flaws aside, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun cinema experience, and a refreshingly human story amidst the surfeit of superhero movies that continue to flood our screens. Oh, and yes, there are the additional Marvel scenes – so if you're so inclined, remember to stay through to the very end of the credits.