The previous “Amazing Spider-Man” movies showed us that Spider-Man’s most implacable foe was studio interference and while I personally enjoyed what Marc Webb and Andree Garfield were trying to do, there’s no denying “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was a convoluted and overstuffed mess of studio-mandated world building which makes “Iron Man 2” look streamlined and focussed. This time, Spidey’s brought some friends with him and with Marvel in his corner, things are looking up for our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
Following his adventure with the Avengers in Germany, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) finds himself back in Queens, New York, balancing his school days with nights spent patrolling the neighbourhood as Spider-Man. Mentored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), Peter’s reluctant to return to the small-scale crime fighting he’s confronted with in his own neck of the woods. When he interrupts a bank robbery by a gang using powerful, high-tech weaponry, it seems his big break may have presented itself, revealing a weapons dealing programme based on alien technology. But Peter still has a lot to learn, and school is definitely in session.
By coincidence I was watching “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in the morning before I went to see “Spider-Man: Homecoming” but I really should have been watching “Avengers Assemble” because it’s in the aftermath of that film that Homecoming’s story actually begins. It’s a smart move, seamlessly and retrospectively enshrining this version of ol’ web head into the MCU way before his show-stopping ‘debut’ in “Captain America: Civil War”. The film begins in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of New York, showing Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his salvage crew being muscled out of their city contracts by a new Stark-funded government ‘Damage Control’ agency. Concerned for the survival of his business and his employees who depend on him, he manages to hide some of the Chitauri technology, using it to start his black-market operation. Toomes’ motivations are one of the film’s key strengths; the Vulture is no one-note MCU villain thanks to smart writing and a malevolent yet sympathetic performance from Michael Keaton. The Vulture is a very Trump-era bad guy, a blue-collar working man who feels trampled and forgotten by the elites in their shining Avengers towers.
Another strength is in how it handles Peter and Spider-Man: this is a film which is not afraid to let its hero fail – repeatedly. It’s more than content to show him as over-confident, clumsy and completely out of his depth. There’s a rich layering of the personal trials and tribulations of Peter Parker’s life that have always been at the heart of the character’s appeal. Raimi’s take on Spidey’s domestic struggles was a heavy-handed though effective focus on Aunt May’s financial struggles whereas The Amazing Spider-Man movies preferred the tediously high concept story of Peter’s parents’ secret lives, but in Homecoming the problems are the everyday ones of a high school student. He worries about his schoolwork, a date for homecoming, building Lego with his friends and finding time to be Spider-Man. Holland’s Peter Parker has friends who aren’t love interests, classroom acquaintances, even frenemies. He’s the same loveable loser we’ve always rooted for but he has a rich web of connections to his world and surroundings in a way neither Maguire or Garfield did. The origin of his powers is deliberately left vague and there’ no mention of Uncle Ben, leaving room to explore who he is now. It’s a smart move, there’s no need to replay how Peter Parker became the hero he is yet again. He’s not Batman.
In filling out Peter’s wider life, there’s a confidently diverse approach to casting. It’s done without virtue signalling though, it simply provides a real-life authenticity that helps sell this new middle-ground of the MCU: brighter and happier than the grimy, crime-ridden shades of Hell’s Kitchen but not quite the glass and chrome towers of the highfalutin’ end-of-the-world domain of the Avengers.
The Avengers aren’t as prevalent as you might have suspected from the trailer and even Iron Man’s appearances are fairly light touch. Not that the film is afraid to tweak Tony Stark’s foibles, though and by the end, both Parker and Stark end up wiser for the events.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” easily achieves its primary goal of justifying another Spider-reboot so soon after the last one. The MCU connections strengthen rather than smother the story and it’s a more cohesive and courageous film than you might be expecting from a screenplay with six credited writers, even managing a couple of really good twists. It’s a fun, character-driven slice of super-hero action that gets closer to the source comic books than ever before, pulling off the big set-pieces with aplomb even though it’s in its smaller moments it really shines. Even when they’re having to carry the burden of another studio, Marvel have managed to pull it off and the MCU’s run continues. Coming out of “Captain: America: Civil War”, Mertmas’ favourite character was Spider-Man. “Homecoming” has cemented that position, at least until Hulk resurfaces in “Thor: Ragnarok”.