Spider-Man: Homecoming opens with a quick origin story of its antagonist, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes aka Vulture. With his roots out of the way, little time is devoted to unravelling the genesis of key components of the story. Instead, director John Watts oversees what was promised – a proper high school coming-of-age vibe sporting authentic teen characters in a film that just happened to centre on a kid who was bitten by a radioactive spider.
It all felt enjoyably weird and maybe little too down to earth, especially coming off the Captain America: Civil War, where a 15-year old Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) made his first appearance. It’s almost like Marvel is subbing the peeps who would like to see Spidey in the Marvel TV universe alongside the likes of Daredevil and the Punisher. Over here, Peter, our friendly neighbourhood hero, longs for the day he will be drafted in to do some heavy lifting with the Avengers. But the overbearing Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) would rather Peter kept his ears to the ground of his local borough.
Peter does pretty much that; stopping a bike thief and helping old ladies with directions. But as fate would have it, he crosses paths with Toomes' handiwork when he stops some ATM robbers armed with weaponry enhanced with alien tech. To piggy back to the opening of Homecoming, Keaton’s Toomes was construction guy who scored up a big contract to salvage some post-Battle of New York rubble, which is spiced with valuable extraterrestrial alloys and technology. But, in comes Stark's Department of Damage Control to assume jurisdiction over all Avengers' battlegrounds, thus running Toomes out of business.
Instead of some diabolical plan of world domination or revenge, Toomes seems like he’s just trying to survive, and also stick it to the man along the way, although his efforts involve a pair of massive mechanised wings and some Chitauri tech, which aid him and his gang's raids of salvaged alien hardware which is, in turn, weaponised and sold on the black market. Toomes in full Vulture force sports a cool design and looks quite menacing in parts, with a fur collared jacket and his green-glowing goggles evoking a Splinter Cell operative. He also has a decent arc that features a lot of the film's run of the mill action. Spoiler alert: expect the usual CGI-heavy finale between him and Spidey.
True to the MCU’s template, the hero does all the heavy lifting character-wise. Holland’s Peter Parker was such had such a crowd pleasing MCU debut in Civil War and continues in his charming ways in Watts' film. Over here, we first meet him en-route to the Avengers airport scuffle in Civil War. He is shooting a video diary of his first adventure with Stark and this continues through to the airport fight. Peter’s excitement and enthusiasm is a little contagious, but there is a lot of anxiety and clumsiness as Peter’s cute obstinance and typically adolescent cadence makes you question, for the first time, why he is called Spider-Man.
His maturity notwithstanding (Stark has him on this training wheels protocol), Peter is still our hero and he is afforded moments to showcase some grit and trademark invention. The apex of Homecoming’s heroism actually takes place in Washington D.C., where Peter and some fellow sharks from his high school compete in the finals of Academic Decathlon. Some of the team are up in the Washington Monument when a piece of alien tech along for the ride starts acting up and explodes, compromising the structure of the monument and trapping the students inside an elevator.
So it’s up to Peter. He knows what he has to do but never really seems to have a plan. Just slip on the iconic red-blue spandex (with a Jennifer Connolly voiced AI) and start crawling and web slinging your way up and through the vertigo-inducing monument into the frenzied tension brought on by screams of kids in peril. Nevertheless, the unpredictable and slapdash of Peter’s method is all quite exhilarating. This moment is the turning point for Spidey, who becomes a bit of sensation in New York and even a reluctant Tony Stark calls to give Peter some compliments.
The coming-of-age bits come into play when Peter starts to decipher the line between the confines of a Stark-designed suit, despite the endless enhancements, and the limitless capabilities of heart and self, suffocated by adolescent angst. There is also the interesting motif of Peter doing his best to try and impress Tony Stark as Spider-Man whilst also whilst also trying his best to take his infatuation with his fellow decathlete, Lisa (Laura Harrier) to the next level, who is quite impressed with the YouTube vids of Spider-Man making rounds. It touches on a refreshing aspect of the burden of a double life, but true to fretful nerdy form, you get the sense Peter is over thinking things.
There isn’t an overt gloomy cloud of grief hovering over Homecoming, unlike previous entries. But in critical moments you feel Peter’s personal tragedy fueling his steely resolve and moral code adorning him with some classic merits of valour, much like a certain Captain America who makes some funny meta-appearances, despite, as one character puts it, him probably being an international war criminal.
Watts helmed 2015’s Cop Car, where he successfully laced together a sense of infantile adventure and a taxing crime narrative. He does same here with the superhero genre and a high school comedy. The latter provides the novelty here and is bolstered by a nice young diverse cast providing varying degrees of effortlessly clever humour and sowing seeds for vital future relationships. A lot of time is spent in Peter's school, Midtown School of Science and Technology, and most of Peter's interactions are with his bubbly mates, chief among them his loyal best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon), seen in the trailer ruining a Lego Death Star. The superhero bits did not wow, to be honest. There is only so much web slinging (Seventh Spidey film appearance) within two decades that film fans can be impressed by.
For some reason, Cody Banks kept ringing in my head as some weird nostalgia to accompany the screening. The committee screenplay is well plotted although offering some nice twists as a jolt to audiences. There some easter eggs buried in there that were surprisingly easy to spot, reminding me of a time in my life I rushed home from school every weekday to devour the animated series. It is, however, fair to say a lot of the film is heading nowhere interesting - a two-hour prologue to the Sinister Six maybe. But let's go the glass three-quarters full route and say Homecoming is mostly in service of character and succeeds in that regard. Much like Peter Parker here, Homecoming has its stumbles but we know its heart is in the right place and trust it to be much better, much more rounded and assured the next time we cross paths.