For those of a certain age, the hype surrounding Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie is a fond memory of waiting to see the biggest superhero event since Christopher Reeve made you believe a man could fly, but not being able to see the final product because you were too young. But then the 12A certificate was introduced into UK cinemas, and Spider-Man was the movie of 2002, spawned a thousand imitators and became a classic of modern blockbusting cinema.
The mix of state-of-the-art special effects, big name actors and respect for the comic mythology (and a ton of great cameos) made it a benchmark for all summer films. Then, Raimi took his billion dollar dick out and swung it around for Spider-Man 2, a much more confident, more stylish and ultimately better film with a stronger emotional core, better action sequences, a cooler villain and just enough subplots to make the life of old Peter Parker complex. Admittedly, Raimi crapped the bed with Spider-Man 3, a terrible mess of too many villains, silly subplots, unlikable character arcs and WTF moments that made it a modern flop. Even the Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield movies weren’t great; The Amazing Spider-Man felt like a boring re-tread of the Raimi original but with none of the earnest love and affection, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was even worse; too many villains, over the top acting, more subplots than a network TV series and desperate attempts at a shared universe killed the film stone dead.
So here we are, one year after swinging into the Marvel Comics Universe, and Tom Holland’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man is on our screens with the MCU fanfare to prove it. Having stolen Captain America: Civil War with his five minutes of screen time, this is Holland’s first solo-MCU outing, and he is ace in the role. It’s probably lucky that he’s a pro dancer, a nice person and just baby faced enough to look like he’s fifteen. The casting in the MCU is almost always flawless, and here they have the best version of Spider-Man yet.
It helps, also, that Marvel hired Jon Watts to direct. Watts, having cut his teeth with horror movie Clown, and then the frankly brilliant indie movie Cop Car, this sees him take an indie sensibility to the Spider-Man story. Much like how Iron Man Three was a Tom Clancy techno-thriller, Captain America: The Winter Soldier an Alan J Pakula-style political thriller and Ant-Man a heist caper, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a John Hughes movie that has a superhero element. From overt references, to tone, to the issues it tackles, it’s writ large across the movie.
Take the set up, Peter Parker wants to prove himself an adult and a proper super hero to Tony Stark, desperate to do so while also trying to keep his only friend Ned from revealing his alternate life, his strained relationship with his Aunt, and courting the girl of his dreams. The fact that he wears a onesie and fights a giant bird is the only element that doesn’t make this a John Hughes film.
In fact, as far as stand alone Marvel films go, this is probably one of the better ones, up there with Iron Man and The Winter Soldier, this slots into the continuity without being reliant on it, despite an opening that shows us the aftermath of The Avengers. Here, is where we meet our villain: The Vulture. Unlike previous Marvel villains, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is probably the most relatable. He’s not a corporation man out to get rich, nor a member of a one hundred year old Nazi death cult, he has no super powers, is not occupied with ending creation or starting a new world order. He wants to make a bit of money. He’s a working class, blue collar guy who feels that the elite have done him wrong and wants to even the scores. In this respect, the film marks a bridging point between the Marvel Comics Universe movies and the MCU TV shows, taking the same street level crimes that Netflix deal with, but putting them on the big screen.
The supporting players are all great too. The comic support from the likes of Donald Glover and Hannibal Buress juxtapose brilliantly with the old-school beauty of Laura Harrier’s Liz, the love interest of the film who stops short of being Mary-Jane annoying, or Gwen Stacy arrogant. Zendaya is underused, but clearly there for sequel reasons as Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club dead ringer Michelle, who gets the biggest laughs by busting Peter’s balls all the time. Tony Revolori, brilliant in The Grand Budapest Hotel, is the right kind of bully as Flash Thompson, an arrogant rich kid you want to punch in the face, and Jacob Batalon pulls out a Jon Favreau level performance as Peter’s best friend Ned, being a supporting character but also funny.
Of course for all it’s John Hughes-riffs it is an action film and while Watts is clearly not completely comfortable with action right now, he shows promise mounting impressive chase sequences: a great set piece around the Washington monument, a better one on a ferry, before he sort of loses the plot with a by-the-numbers climax that manages to stop short of some of the MCU’s lesser finales, but in following on from the brutal three-way fight in Civil War and the Time Reversal ending to Doctor Strange ends up a bit of a let down.
Naturally it’ll be compared to previous Spider-Man films and on that front it probably ranks as the second best, failing to secure the top spot for one reason. With all it’s talk of character-study and so on it lacks the emotional intensity of Spider-Man 2. The Vulture doesn’t have the emotional arc that Doc Ock has, nor is there the gut punch of Peter quitting his hero antics, or the Aunt May “I believe there’s a hero in all of us” speech. A late in the game romantic fumble lacks the pain of Peter leaving Mary Jane in the graveyard, though Watts does make a reference to the legendary upside down kiss.
In the end the film works because it loves it’s subject, it’s jukebox soundtrack, the fantastic score by Michael Giancchino, and the writing that keeps the films as an upbeat, light experience. Hopefully this heralds more great MCU-Sony stuff because the film felt like the next logical step. Watts proves himself a director to watch, and as a result, this just might be the Spider-Man movie we’ve wanted since 2004: friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man? Yes. Box office success Sony Man? Almost definitely.