REVIEW: Homecoming is the best Spider-Man movie ever made
IT MAY seem ridiculous, rebooting Spider-Man for the third time in 15 years but after seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming, you'll be glad they did.
The Tobey Maguire Spider-Man of 2002 was fine; the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man of 2012 was also fine. The Tom Holland Spider-Man of 2017 is the best Spider-Man movie ever to grace the screen.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the perfect blend of high school dramedy and superhero antics. This is Marvel's homage to John Hughes, complete with Ferris Bueller reference.
By taking it back to the school setting and ageing Spidey down to 15 years old, it recaptures some of the innocent magic gleaned in the comic pages. It also, for a movie with a flying villain and an altitude-defying superhero, grounds the story.
One of the main criticisms of superhero blockbusters is that they're overblown with ever-increasing, imminent apocalypses and cities toppling over, usually in a stupidly bombastic third act.
Here, the stakes are much smaller, as is the body count with Peter turning off his suit's "kill mode" as quickly as he realised it existed. For this Spider-Man, asking a girl to the homecoming dance is as fraught as stopping the bad guy.
Our reintroduction to this iteration of Spider-Man starts with a home video Peter shot on his phone of all the behind-the-scenes action of his adventure with the Avengers. It's cheeky, fun and a clever reminder of what a big hit the character was in Captain America: Civil War and how Holland managed to steal every scene he was in from much, much bigger stars.
It sets the tone for the whole movie as we join Peter at his science high school where he and his Star Wars-loving friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) aren't the most popular kids in school. Here, Peter has to worry about Spanish quizzes, winning the academic decathlon and keeping his secret identity under wraps from the classmates he saves. In many ways, it has more than a touch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
But all Peter wants to do is prove himself to Tony Stark so he can join the hallowed ranks of the Avengers. He's getting restless stopping bike thieves and giving old ladies directions, so he jumps at the chance at some "real" action when he chances on a group selling alien-powered weapons.
The weapons are being developed and trafficked by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a blue collar guy whose salvage company was run out of business by the one per cent. He took the remaining alien tech his company had cleaned up and started an operation with his former employees.
Toomes is that rare villain who's compelling and a proper foil for the hero. Superhero blockbusters' other Achilles Heel has always been the bad guys were these underdeveloped cliches whose megalomaniac ambitions were just silly. Toomes is relatable. His motivations are something we can understand - bitter at the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots, he decided to get his.
There's something refreshing about a villain whose drive is old-fashioned greed and not world domination - it's part of what keeps Spider-Man: Homecoming small, in a good way.
The other part is the amount of story devoted to Peter's school life, to populating that world with robust characters like his classmates - friends and bullies alike - and teachers. The casting here was excellent, filling out those roles with diverse young performers including Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Australian Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys) and Zendaya while Selenis Leyva (Orange is the New Black), Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr appear as teachers.
But the big ups have to go to the insanely charismatic Holland whose Peter Parker has all the foibles, voice pops and confusion of a teenage boy who was bitten by a radioactive spider.
Holland's Spidey is pitch perfect as the high school hero, balancing the confidence that comes from enhanced powers but also the crushing uncertainty that comes from being 15 years old. He also has the moves but is, realistically, exhausted by the labour-intensive exercise of saving people.
While the trailers have focused heavily on Iron Man and other aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Homecoming is not just another entry in the MCU. This is very much Spidey's movie and director Jon Watts has managed to balance the MCU influence well.
Tony Stark's appearances are kept to a minimum and when he does appear, it's with emotional purpose - Peter and Tony's relationship has an undeniable father/son dynamic that makes for interesting characterisation for both of them because we all know about Stark's daddy issues.
At one point, Stark tells Peter to be the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man and that's exactly what Watts has given us - a grounded hero who has to live in our world. All other superhero directors should take note.
Stars: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei.
Director: Jon Watts
Verdict: 4/5 stars