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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) - Review

Spider-Man solidifies his homecoming to the MCU.

Following the creation of two separate Spider-Man film series, the Sam Raimi trilogy staring Tobey Maguire that ran from 2002 - 2007 and the two Amazing Spider-Man films starring Andrew Garfield from 2012 and 2014, Sony Pictures struck a deal in early 2015 with Marvel Studios to co-produce a new iteration of the iconic Marvel Comics character following the less than stellar critical success of the Garfield films. Sony have owned the film rights to Spider-Man since the late '90s after they passed between various studios and production companies. Whilst the first two Raimi films were a huge success, the third film was something of an overstuffed mess and although financially successful, Raimi and Maguire wanted nothing more to do with the series and it was left dead in the water. Sony tried to successfully create a wider Spider-Man universe with other planned spin-off films branching off the two that formed the Andrew Garfield reboot but the poor critical and fan reception they received, especially the second one, put paid to this.

Sony Pictures simply weren't making films that were anywhere near the quality of those that were part of its rivals, Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) headed by Kevin Feige. Following the deal pushed forward by Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal and welcomed by Feige at Marvel Studios, the two companies set out to reboot and reimagine and much younger Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter-ego. As a litmus test of sorts the new iteration of the character was cleverly and successfully introduced into 2016’s huge ensemble superhero epic Captain America: Civil War. Whilst a relatively brief appearance, fans, this one included, were blown away by how well Parker’s wit and savvy humour played in a mostly serious film giving it some much needed levity. Tom Holland, only 19 at the time, was decried by many as giving the best portrayal of Spider-Man on film thus far, a worthy accolade considering how well received Tobey Maguire's performance was in the first two Sam Raimi films.

Following the character’s successful reintroduction in Civil War, Marvel Studios pushed on and re-jigged their slate of forthcoming productions to slot in the first Marvel/Sony standalone Spider-Man film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Sony would retain marketing and distribution rights as well as some creative control but the bulk of the production would be handled by Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios. So, a new and bold joint venture by two studios looking to take advantage of certain assets to the mutual benefit of each party and for fans, a much needed hole plugged in the MCU given how central a character Spider-Man is in the books. Was this pairing a success? Were Marvel Studios given sufficient freedom with the character to make a film that both fits the style and continuity of the larger universe it’s been building for the past 15 films as well as making a fulfilling standalone reboot of the webbed wonder? The answer to both of those questions is a firm “yes”.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is successful on a number of fronts. Firstly it’s significantly different from the two most recent film iterations in that we are given no origin story. Peter had already obtained his powers when we first met him in Civil War and no clumsy and unnecessary backstory is used here to tell audiences something they’re quite capable of working out for themselves. We all know the radioactive spider origin of this character, showing it yet again would be wholly redundant. Several key characters and elements from the longstanding Spider-Man mythos are noticeably absent, Mary-Jane Watson, Gwen Stacey, J. Jonah Jameson and the offices of The Daily Bugle are nowhere to be seen except for one name reveal at the end that may allude to a very different take on one of the characters. Aunt May, already established in Civil War, played by Marisa Tomei is, like Peter, considerably younger than her elderly comic-book counterpart and is the subject of some of the film’s humour surrounding this far more attractive version of May. Mention is made of May having been through a lot recently but this is the only hint we are given of the loss of her husband Ben, uncle to Peter and a key character from every other iteration of Spider-Man. This Peter Parker has no connections to The Daily Bugle and no hint of the aspiring photographer seen in both the previous films and the books is made here. Peter is a high-school student first and foremost and his only official extra-curricular activity is his participation as a Stark Industries Intern, a cover for his nocturnal web-slinging antics. This version of Spider-Man is very much a more grounded, street level hero akin to the likes of Daredevil and Luke Cage and there are some great little moments that fans will lap up such as Peter struggling to navigate quickly in suburban areas where he can't swing from high buildings.

From the opening bespoke Spider-Man IMAX countdown logo replete with the original Spider-Man theme music (and I firmly recommend seeing the film in IMAX, it’s a superbly subtle yet effective 3D post conversion) through to the post Avengers prologue and the brilliant 4:3 aspect ratio, home movie style introduction that takes place before and during a recent big MCU event, there’s a loving attention to detail and knowledge of the best aspects of Spider-Man that permeates the entire film. Without going into too much exposition here, Peter is getting to grips with life post Civil War. Happy Hogan, assistant and driver to Tony Stark has been appointed Peter’s guardian and is pestered by Peter who’s constantly asking as to when his next Avengers call-up will come. He still has the advanced spider suit given to him by Stark and whereas in previous Spider-Man films Peter quickly became adept at using his newfound abilities, here he’s far more of a bumbling wannabe superhero, a teenage boy in way over his head in almost every respect. This aspect of Peter's bumbling is perfectly captured in a later scene between Spider-Man and Donald Glover's character.

Holland is once again a revelation and has solidified what many saw in Civil War. He has an infectious and fully believable charm both in and out of the suit. There is no stark difference between Spider-Man in the suit and Peter Parker out of it. His insecurities are always there and this gives a much needed dimension to the character that marks out this far more carefully crafted version of the hero. The supporting cast of high school students are all spot-on. Foremost is Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned. Ned is the comedic core of a film that puts humour front and centre. Spider-Man: Homecoming is genuinely laugh out loud funny yet the humour is never overdone and few if any of the jokes fall flat. More humour, this time of a refreshingly dry nature is provided by Zendaya as the spunky Michelle who I’m sure will feature more prominently in future Spider-Man films in this series.

The marketing of the film had many people wondering if Tony Stark would feature too prominently in a film that really should focus on the titular character and fortunately those fears are allayed. Whilst it’s always a joy seeing Robert Downey Jr. reprise his most famous role, he only appears in Homecoming when necessary and doesn’t dominate proceedings. There’s one overly convenient moment where he saves Peter from a watery demise but every other time he appears fits organically within the narrative. Speaking of which the film is superbly written. There are swathes of perfectly pitched comedic dialogue and having already tried their hands at gritty ’70s style conspiracy thriller (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and comedic heist caper (Ant-Man), Marvel have now struck John Hughes style high-school comedy off their bucket list. As well as featuring a brief piece of footage from Hughes’ 1986 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Spider-Man: Homecoming very much has that same infectiously joyful style and knowing humour that made Hughes’ films so popular in the ‘80s.

As much as the film has a lot of humour it gets serious when the need arises and does a great job of showing how the lower classes are affected by the grandstanding events depicted in films like The Avengers. This aspect of the everyman struggling to make a living in this crazy new world of gods, aliens and meddling governments is perfectly handled by Michael Keaton who plays Adrain Toomes, the disgruntled owner of a salvage operation who loses a lucrative contract to Tony Stark’s Damage Control following the New York incident in The Avengers. Toomes and his team make a living from salvaging and where necessary stealing alien and other advanced technology from the sites of the huge cataclysmic events seen in the likes of Avengers: Age Of Ultron and with the help of Phineas Mason (he doesn’t use the moniker The Tinkerer but it’s him) develops advanced weaponry to sell on the black market. Toomes has a huge and deadly winged suit that he uses to steal technology from Damage Control convoys and there’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing Keaton once more play a winged comic book character after his turns as both Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton’s Batman films and also his recent Oscar nominated turn in 2014’s Birdman. Keaton is brilliant and suitably menacing without ever resorting to scenery chewing villainy. His inevitable confrontation with an unmasked Peter Parker where he slowly pieces together the evidence as to his true identity is wonderfully played by both Keaton and Holland.

Director Jon Watts is probably the least established director that Marvel Studios have used thus far having only recently acquired notoriety for his 2015 film Cop Car but Watts proves to be a more than capable director. The film is a visual feast with a pleasing use of magic hour shots. The Washington Monument scene in particular is jaw dropping and makes some vertigo inducing use of the 3D IMAX photography. Spider-Man: Homecoming has a constant pulse that never ceases helped by some pin sharp editing and a perfectly paced energy and constant narrative momentum that makes the 133 minute runtime fly by. The film never drags yet this is never at the expense of important character development. Peter’s struggle to balance his daily schooling and alter-ego’s responsibilities is at the core of Spider-Man: Homecoming and whilst the film firmly ensconces itself within the established continuity of the wider MCU both past and present, it also feels suitably intimate and grounded. Watts handles the action scenes well and said action is always coherent and easy to follow. Whilst some of the CGI in early shots of Spider-Man leaping around look a little too lightweight in places this is nowhere near being a problem and on the whole the effects and action are superbly choreographed and satisfyingly weighty elsewhere. Composer Michael Giacchino, having composed the music for Marvel’s Doctor Strange, provides a suitably fitting and catchy original score here that Imwas left humming long after leaving the cinema.

Whilst Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t have an overly complex plot, it has a wealth of satisfying character progression and development and we see Peter mature organically as the film leads to a satisfying conclusion that avoids any obvious retread of the Spider-Man/Green Goblin confrontation from Raimi's 2002 film. The way Peter wins through is perfectly in keeping with his character and also works perfectly with the film’s big twist that comes at around the hour and and half mark and elevates things to yet another level and is again evidence of a superbly crafted script that puts character first yet keeps things wholly within the realms of believability.

As an unashamed fan of the universe that Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige have created I still went into Spider-Man: Homecoming with a certain trepidation. I was concerned that the film would have an overabundance of light heartedness and humour at the expense of an emotional core and admittedly the film’s biggest failing is that it does lack the same effective romantic core that made Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films so effective but in almost every other regard Spider-Man: Homecoming is a resounding success and a joy to behold from start to finish. There’s a subversive edge to much of the humour best illustrated by Ned's explanation as to why he's using the school's computers during the Homecoming ball and the hilarious closing line. The obligatory post credit scenes are amongst Marvel’s best and the last one is definitely worth the wait. The film is stuffed full of easter eggs for the more observant Marvel fans to pore over and there genuinely was very little about the film that I didn’t like. Not only has this Sony/Marvel collaboration exceeded my expectations but it ranks amongst the very best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and therefore ranks as one of the very best films in the crowded comic-book genre.

I’m incredibly excited to see where Marvel takes Spider-Man here on in. Given that other characters from the Spider-Man mythos such as Mac Gargan feature rather unexpectedly in Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s apparent that Sony are being more generous than initially reported with regards to how much of what they own is being shared with Marvel. This is a joint venture that 5 years ago would have seemed like a pipe dream for fans but here we are with arguably Marvel’s most beloved character now successfully integrated into the MCU. At the start of 2017 I’d have wagered that Spider-Man: Homecoming would be the weakest of Marvel Studios’ line-up this year based on the initial trailers and my own expectations but I’d have to place it above Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, a film that whilst extremely well made, failed to top the first Guardians film. Next up is Thor: Ragnarok, the trailer for which played in IMAX before Homecoming and if any film could beat Spider-Man: Homecoming this year then that’s the film most likely to do so. Either way Spider-Man: Homecoming is proof that the Marvel Studios machine shows no signs of slowing and is still firing on all cylinders. It’s an incredibly entertaining and well crafted film that takes the character in a somewhat refreshing new direction and avoids some obvious retreading of old ground whilst always remaining respectful of the source material. Spider-Man: Homecoming gets my absolute recommendation and is a joy to behold from start to finish.

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