|Well, it was a struggle, but I managed to find a poster for this film, that didn't look like it was put together by the Graphic Designer's 12 year old kid.|
Spider-Man: Homecoming is so called, not because of the Homecoming Dance that features briefly in it; nor is it so-called because the story features a major “there’s no place like home” revelation. It is called Homecoming as a knowing meta-narrative nod to the audience, that the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man has returned to the Marvel fold after decades in the wilderness.
Spider-Man is their Mickey Mouse, he’s their Superman; he’s the flag-bearer for their entire business and, anachronistically, because of difficult financial decisions made decades ago; they haven’t been able to use him. But now they can. This was the chance for Kevin Feige to roll up his sleeves and say “Right, this is how you’re supposed to do a Spidey movie!”
What’s at stake, then, is whether Marvel can weave its magic over its own characters, when they have been damaged whilst on loan. Fox keeps managing to pull the X-Men’s asses out of the fire. For every desperately poor Wolverine (2009), there’s a surprisingly rich First Class (2011), for every Apocalypse (2016), there’s a Logan (2017). And then, of course, there’s Deadpool! But The Fantastic Four, bless them, they have enjoyed no such success; each of Fox’s FF films has dug a deeper hole in the affections of the audience than the one before it. But, despite that, it has become abundantly clear that Fox will never return them to the fold. So, Marvel is moving on without them. Ramping up The Inhumans as replacements for the X-Men; going cosmic without the need for the Negative Zone and Galactus.
But Spider-Man is different. Apparently, so the story goes, Raimi wanted to continue his old-school approach to Spidey by having his third film feature The Vulture. Along with Doc Ock and Green Goblin, he was one of comic-book Spidey’s longest serving adversaries (first appearing in issue 2), and one that the fans were desperate to see brought to the screen. However, this decision was overruled and, instead, Sony decided to go with Venom - a character from a very different period in Spidey’s history, with a very different fan-base. Well, we all know how Spider-Man 3 (2007) worked out. But that was nothing to the delights which lay in store when the franchise went ‘Amazing’. I gave a fair and balanced viewing of that debacle, here.
So, Sony realised that its (galactically stupid) decisions were losing it profit. Years of back-room shenanigans ensued and, finally, they struck a deal with Marvel to return the character, at least in part, to the MCU (that’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, in case you haven’t been keeping up with your Three Letter Acronyms). This complicated process has led to no fewer than twelve credited producers and six credited writers.
So, what we have here is what’s now referred to as a soft re-boot. We don’t get Uncle Ben again, we don’t get the spider bite (although it is mentioned), we don’t get the Spider Sense, or J. Jonah Jameson; but we do get Peter back at school, navigating the corridor politics of bullies and girls and tests. We also get The Vulture. Point made, Kevin; point made!
|The 'If This Be My Destiny' story (it's not actually called The Final Chapter) is one of the most famous episodes from the early Lee/Ditko comics, and is now brought to the screen, as are many other careful references to the source material.|
The film heaves with smart acknowledgements to the original 60s comics; for those who are familiar enough to spot them. It still irks, mind you, that the creators behind a lot of these moments, aren’t credited among those six writers. Lee and Ditko are, but the others, John Romita, Don Heck, Brian Michael Bendis and the rest, they have to wait for a ‘based on characters created by’ acknowledgement at the very end of the credits. ... After Robert Downey Jr’s Hair Consultant. But then, I suppose they can’t all have cameos.
Like the original Lee/Ditko comics, this is as much a High School coming-of-age story as it is a superhero adventure. Yes, Tom Holland is 21 playing 15, but he actually gets away with it. Unlike Andrew Garfield’s turn in ‘Amazing’, I can actually buy Holland as a kid. Not too nerdy (not as socially inept as Tobey Maguire’s version), but not obviously too fit, too tall and too cool for school (as Garfield was).
Holland’s Spider-Man is clumsy and confused and over-excited and sometimes scared. He is, in other words, a teenager! That works for the demographics of the Marvel movie audience, but it was also key to the character from day one. As a comic-reading friend of mine once noted ruefully, back in the 90s: I remember a time when Peter Parker was older than me. But the key to him is that he’s a kid, a kid given extraordinary powers that shift his entire world. And he isn’t a billionaire or a god or a world-renowned scientist, he’s a kid. How does a kid deal with the powers of a superhero? That has always been the dilemma at the heart of the Spider-Man story, that’s the story that this generation of kids deserve to experience.
These early scenes fairly echo with the footsteps of John Hughes. I’m grateful they resisted the temptation to put Don’t You Forget About Me on the soundtrack during the detention scene, and it is forgivable that they give in, briefly, to a Ferris Bueller gag. But it isn’t all levity. There is one moment in the movie, above all others, when Peter is alone and in peril and he panics. He screams for help and, right there, we are forced to confront the fact that, however cocky and sophisticated and knowing and cynical our kids are ... They’re still just kids.
|High-School Avengers Assemble: Iron Man (top), Scarlett Witch (left), Bruce Banner (middle), Black Widow (seated), Captain America (right)|
This also informs Peter’s desperation to please Tony Stark. He’s subconsciously looking for a father figure. Shame he picked a globe-trotting billionaire narcissist egomaniac who has serious daddy issues of his own.
For me, the characters and the small moments are much more impressive than the big set-pieces. The ferry scene, which features so predominantly in the trailer, feels like a mash-up of the bridge scene in Spider-Man 1 (2002), the train scene in Spider-Man 2 (2004) and, inevitably, the ferry scene in The Dark Knight (2008). There’s a similar big moment in Washington that also, for me, felt cluttered and confused and overly-familiar.
A part of this clutter must be put down to Spidey talking constantly to the AI of his suit. Essentially, Stark has engineered the Spider Suit as a more streamlined version of his own Iron Man suit, complete with chatty computer interface. This gives Spidey lots of fun toys to play with, some of which are unnecessary, some of which are just plain dumb; but the main thing is, it gives him someone to talk to. In the comics, Spidey never shuts up. He’s trading witty one-liners with whoever he’s fighting (something we’ve already seen in his Civil War fight with Falcon) but also, when he’s alone, he thinks things through or talks to himself. That’s difficult to do well in a film. Having an on-board AI gives him someone to talk to which, therefore, gives him a platform to externalise all that teenage angst.
|Pfft. And Falcon thinks his wings are all that.|
At the other end of sci-fi tech scale, we have Michael Keaton’s Toomes. He starts the film in a flashback, working as a contractor clearing up the alien tech and devastation after the New York fight from the Avengers movie. He’s a working stiff who gets stiffed by the government, in the form of the all-new Department of Damage Control (how’s that for an oxymoron). This pushes his business over the edge financially. So, what’s he going to do? Well, he has a pile of unrecycled Chitauri tech and an enthusiastic tinkerer on staff; so time to make like Tony Stark and build some weapons.
His weapons manufacture is all very low tech, though, his gadgets seem to be being assembled in, essentially, a garage. He has limited aspirations for his toys; but that’s deliberate, because he wants to stay under the radar. As he says - when the film proper starts - he’s been doing what he’s doing for eight years, without ever attracting the attention of the FBI or SHIELD or The Avengers. He’s strictly small-fry. But, if you push the little guy the wrong way, he can develop big ideas. This is what took the honest business man and turned him into the gun-runner. As Spider-Man repeatedly foils his plans, the gun-runner decides to step up a gear ... After repeatedly refusing the call to get properly nefarious, he finally gives in and does what any business man would do ... He steals from the opposition.
|Psst ... A little bird told me you'll be playing a different kind of birdman ...|
The key to Toomes - and, no doubt, what attracted a heavy-hitter like Keaton - is that he speaks a lot of sense. He has been treated badly by a high-handed military-industrial complex. Tony Stark was a gun-runner before he found he could make more money elsewhere. The American Dream was built on the belief that it is acceptable to do anything to support your family. Toomes isn’t a grand-standing psychopath who wants to take over the world, he just wants to put his kids through college.
There is an electrifying scene where Keaton locks eyes with Peter and calmly explains what he’ll do to stay in business. No shouting, no histrionics, just one guy smiling while he threatens another. That’s why you hire someone as complex as Michael Keaton, to get that intensity from a close-up shot.
Back in the ’80s, when he was best known for his comedies, there was always a dark edge to Keaton. Ron Howard saw it first, when he cast him in Night Shift (1982), Tim Burton saw it when he made him Beetlejuice (1988), and John Schlesinger saw it when he cast him as the malignancy at the heart of Pacific Heights (1990). There was always a recklessness in Keaton’s eyes which made him potentially dangerous. Guess what: It’s still there.
Of course, Toomes is a villain so, however reasonable his argument, however justifiable his cause, the fact that he is prepared to ignore morality and kill people for it, somewhat undermines his point.
And Spidey is a hero so, no-matter that no-one believes in him, no-matter that he’s alone and out-classed and out-gunned; he’s still going to try and protect the little guy. Cos that’s what Spidey always was, back in the early 70s, when four-year-old me learned to read on black-and-white reprints of John Romita and Ross Andru era Spidey .... He was always the little guy, always misunderstood, always struggling to balance the demands of real-life, relationships, work and super-heroing.
|This isn't Tony Stark's happy face. Maybe he's just realised how few scenes he's in.|
The early scenes of Spidey keeping himself busy whilst waiting for ‘the call’ from The Avengers, are very reminiscent of Kick-Ass (2010) but then, they would be; that was Mark Millar’s take on an updated Spider-Man ... This is Marvel’s take on the same thing; it’s no surprise there are similarities.
The film relies too heavily on the Toomes’ henchmen being as ham-fisted as Spidey, initially, is. Otherwise, he’d’ve been killed pretty much at the start, and then where’s your movie? But, because Holland is so likeable, and so endearingly clumsy, you go along with the film when it wanders into cliché or the odd page of lazy writing.
However, there’s one particular plot-twist that is just way too convenient, and stretches the bounds of credibility too far. Nothing like the catalogue of contrivances in the last two Spidey films, though, so don’t worry. It’s just that this film goes so far in making Peter human and fallible, and the world he inhabits, so credible, and the friends he spends time with, so nuanced and detailed and likeable ... That they nearly throw it all away with one plot contrivance too many.
But - thanks to some classy writing and some brilliant acting from Michael Keaton - they bring it back from the edge in the nick of time.
|It's just one of those boy-meets-suit, boy-loses-suit, boy-gets-suit-back-again kinda films|
So, this film isn’t spectacular. It certainly isn’t amazing. It is, however, friendly; and it’s great fun to finally see Spidey in Marvel’s neighbourhood.
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers & Uncle Tom Cobbly
Directed by: Jon Watts
Dur: 133 mins
Directed by: Jon Watts
Dur: 133 mins