Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Everybody’s favourite web-slinger has had something of a tough time on the big screen over the past ten years or so. After dancing his way into the bad books of many a fan back in 2007, he was reborn as British actor Andrew Garfield in 2012 in a not-so-bad reboot before being completely ridiculed two years later by one of the most overblown and unnecessarily convoluted comic book movies ever made.
Then something unprecedented happened. Sony and Marvel announced that they’d be teaming up to insert the seminal superhero into the MCU, answering the prayers of countless comic book fans across the planet and reigniting hope for Peter Parker’s future in the film arena. A show stealing appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War ensued, pushing anticipation through the roof for the character’s first solo outing in the Avengers universe and now that the much-hyped Spider-Man: Homecoming has finally descended upon theatres, no doubt the main question on everyone’s minds is, does it manage to outdo its predecessors?
While opinions on the matter will obviously vary, I’d have to say that the answer is both yes and no. Director Jon Watts has delivered a consistently entertaining if imperfect superhero adventure that’s a definite step up from 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. However, it also regrettably lacks the emotional depth of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy.
The plot picks up soon after Peter’s participation in Cap and Stark’s kerfuffle at the airport in Germany and sees the teenage protagonist embarking on a quest to take down the dastardly Adrian Toomes and his nefarious arms trafficking operation in a bid to impress Iron Man and win himself a permanent position among the ranks of The Avengers.
Things get off to a strong start, with a well-edited and enjoyable recounting of Spider-Man’s involvement in Civil War from Peter’s perspective. This ties the web-crawler’s first MCU appearance into the events of Homecoming in a fun and inventive way while simultaneously establishing the film’s relatively light tone. Unlike certain previous contributions to the Avengers continuity, such as Iron Man 3, this movie does a good job of balancing the humour with the heavier moments so that it manages to be amusing without feeling farcical.
There’s plenty of engaging action sprinkled throughout the first two thirds of the proceedings too, with the highlights being Spidey’s heroics at the Washington Monument and his ill-advised confrontation with Toomes’s entourage on the Staten Island ferry. Unfortunately though, Homecoming‘s final battle is considerably less enlivening. Its quick and uninspired conclusion feels incredibly anti-climactic in the wake of all the build-up that preceded it, while its inordinately dark aesthetic makes it difficult to decipher what’s going on at times.
However, one element of Homecoming that’s absolutely above reproach is the actor who portrays its protagonist. The effectiveness with which Tom Holland conveys Peter’s frustration over not being taken seriously by Stark due to his age combined with his proclivity for making rash and rebellious decisions that go against the wishes of his elders makes him completely believable as a high school student, while his quick wit and alluringly affable personality ensure that he’s extremely easy to invest in from start to finish.
Jacob Batalon is also likable as Peter’s best buddy, Ned. He and Holland have good chemistry together and in many ways, their onscreen friendship feels a lot more genuine than that of Peter and Harry from the Raimi films, even if it doesn’t bring as much emotion or drama to the table.
Despite what the marketing may suggest, thankfully this movie is most certainly not the Tony Stark show with special guest star Peter Parker. The self-proclaimed genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist is very much a supporting player here, appearing only sporadically throughout the story. Having said that, Robert Downey Jr. does a fantastic job of demonstrating how much Stark has matured since we first met him in 2008, slipping seamlessly into the role of stern mentor while simultaneously showing that Tony really does care about this kid and wants to do right by him. It might not be his meatiest MCU role, but I’d go so far as to say that it’s second only to Civil War as my favourite Iron Man performance to date.
Sadly, the rest of the cast don’t fair nearly so well as Holland, Downey Jr. and Batalon. Marisa Tomei is entirely inconsequential as Aunt May. Popping up in just a handful of scenes, the movie makes no effort to build any sort of meaningful bond between Peter and his only remaining family member, which feels like a massive missed opportunity.
The same is true of Laura Harrier’s Liz, whose relationship with Peter comes across as more of an afterthought on the filmmakers’ part and injects no emotion into the proceedings whatsoever. Considering how crucial to the plot the romances were in the Raimi and Webb movies, it’s disappointing that Peter’s pursuit of Liz adds absolutely nothing of value to the narrative here.
Unsurprisingly, Michael Keaton is on fine form as Spidey’s main foe, Adrian Toomes/The Vulture. The veteran Hollywood actor is clearly having a great time bringing the antagonist to life and I really can’t fault his performance in any way. I only wish I could say the same about the execution of his character’s arc. The reason for Toomes’s exasperation is made quite apparent, but we’re never given any insight into the sort of person he was before he adopted the mantle of The Vulture, meaning it isn’t clear why exactly he becomes such a murderous maniac. This, along with the attempt to unnecessarily force a personal connection between him and Peter, leaves the villain feeling extremely two dimensional and lazily written.
The only other character worth mentioning is Zendaya’s Michelle, whose incredibly sardonic demeanour is actually quite endearing, but ultimately she also ends up being under-utilised and insignificant to the movie’s main story.
It’s obvious that Marvel and Sony took note of the primary issues surrounding Spidey’s last few excursions on the big screen and made a genuine effort to amend them. And, in many respects, they succeeded. Spider-Man: Homecoming is lot more streamlined and succinct than the final entries in the previous two series, with an admirably firm focus on exploring the toll that having superpowers would take on someone so young and Tom Holland’s impeccable performance alone makes it worth paying the price of admission. It’s just a pity that, Ned and Stark aside, a poorly developed support cast and an underwhelming final act prevent it from being as innovative and affecting as it could have been.
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