‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ (2017)
Dir: Jon Watts
Will it be third time lucky for everyone’s favourite web-slinger to finally find casting and story-arcs that could lead to a fully satisfying trilogy? This is a promising start for sure, partly as it doesn’t fall into the traps of giving us the same character or story we may have come to expect.
After tussling with the Avengers in ‘Captain America: Civil War‘, teenage Peter Parker (Tom Holland, ‘The Impossible‘) returns to his neighborhood better-equipped thanks to his new mentor Tony Stark and impatiently awaiting a call to join Earth’s mightiest heroes full time. Busying himself with low-level crime-fighting, Spider-Man makes enemies of an alien-tech salvager (Michael Keaton) and his crew, while still having to deal with all the highschool experiences typical to his peers.
Amazingly this film doesn’t make the mistake of feeling like it needs to retread the origin story yet again, in fact it hardly even alludes to any of it. From what I noticed it leaves Uncle Ben unmentioned and only conspicuous by his absence. It’s a smart move, we’ve had the origin, done pretty well in Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’, it was even told again with new twists in Marc Webb’s ‘Amazing Spider-Man‘ films, so audiences aren’t in a rush to have all that done again, we’ve seen it done and know it well enough. Instead, we pick up with Peter Parker where he was brought into the MCU for ‘Civil War‘, briefly recapped from his millennial point of view as he was recruited by Tony Stark.
Early on in production, the producers said they were wanting to recreate the feel of a John Hughes film, something I was skeptical of, yet I must say they do get in that ballpark. This is partly helped through the setting, much in high school or in school-related activities, also a direct reference to ‘Ferris Bueller’ and some smaller nods to ‘The Breakfast Club’. After revisiting some Hughes films recently I can more clearly see the influence and fully appreciate why it’s a perfect foundation to keep in mind when rebooting Spider-Man’.
We’ve never really seen full justice done for a teenage Peter Parker in the previous attempts at this character. Absolutely, he has been written as school age (though played by actors a few years older than Holland), a few scenes took place in school but the films were far too eager to get away from that, putting all the screen time and effort into his escapades as Spider-Man. Here, Peter Parker is far too eager to get away from school and into his masked superhero life, yet the film brilliantly shows us and him why that’s not a good idea, that he has some developing to do and there’s an important place in his life for school and all the experiences that accompany it. In this refocusing on that aspect of the character and his story, this reboot immediately distinguishes itself as a worthwhile endeavor, able to get to the root of the character in a way that the other films never have, the follies of youth.
Marvel’s notorious weak spot, villains, is not a weakness here. Michael Keaton is a great bit of casting paired with a good choice of opening opponent. Vulture is a very human threat, not super-powered or extra-terrestrial. Opening the film with him, we see enough of his life to understand his descent into crime as being an extreme reaction to external forces on his legitimate business, his choices are rational, oddly justifiable. He also retains enough humanity to make his personal motives genuine, noble concerns such as wanting to make sure he and his employees can care for their families. This is what makes the character so compelling so that even when strapped into his suit, we as an audience who are naturally rooting for Spider-Man will have to balance our dislike of his Vulture’s villainy with the empathy extended toward him early on.
That same strength may be seen as a weakness by some others, they may find this a little anti-climactic after the all the world-changing threats we’ve grown accustomed to in films like this. They would be wrong, this smaller scope allows for a more personal story that works with our first proper introduction to this Peter Parker as well as his more humble beginnings as a ‘friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’. I have no doubt these films will vary the nature and potential impact of the villains we’ll see Peter facing in the future, but for now, this is a great way to start.
There are links to the wider MCU, most prominently Tony Stark’s mentoring Peter and at times turning up in the film, though I must say he’s in it far less than the trailers suggest, which is no bad things, he has a tendency to draw attention and that wouldn’t be helpful when reintroducing such a dynamic character as Spider-man into an already complex cinematic universe populated with well-sculpted heroes.
I saw this in the middle of a three-film cinema day and frustratingly the cinema didn’t get the focus sharp on the projector. I find (as was echoed by my friends afterwards), that an out-of-focus image, even slightly, distracts and distances me from the film. So, while I enjoyed my seeing this, I wasn’t wowed by it nor as excited throughout as I was expecting to be. Sadly I then missed the chance to see it again at my local cinema (who always get their focus right) so I’m now waiting for it to be released on blu-ray so I can project it properly at home. I expect then I’ll better appreciate it and hopefully feel the sense of excitement more intensely.
‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ is a lovely welcome home to the MCU, giving us yet another different sub-genre within Marvel’s movies and one that brings out elements of the character that have been previously neglected. If ‘Civil War’ showed the potential for the character, then this is about as close to utilizing that promise in a first solo film as we could ever have hoped for and a great launchpad for what’s to come.