Monday, 17 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in NYC while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man when a new threat emerges. 

When Marvel and Sony got together to bring Spider-Man into the MCU, they knew they wanted him to first appear in Captain America: Civil War. A search for the right Peter Parker began. Tom Holland, the young British actor, who was 19 at the time (now 21) had been dancing and acting since childhood, starring in Billy Elliot on the London stage and in films like The Impossible. In him, the filmmakers found a kid who possessed the same infectious enthusiasm as his character.

The movie itself is not that bad, but it is very much down to earth. In fact, there is an aspect of comic-book superhero films that is encoded in the names of the heroes through the age. Like Superman, Batman, Iron Man, or Wonder Woman. They fly, they see through walls, they repel bullets, and they are all grownups. Peter Parker is different, especially in this film, where Tom Holland plays Spider-Man with an anxious deer-in-headlights teen innocence that is so ordinary it seems almost incongruous when he’s referred to as “the Spider-Man.” What he looks (and acts) like is Spider-Boy. Tobey Maguire, who, as far as I can remember seemed boyish at the time, was 26 years old when he first played Peter, but Holland was just 20 when he shot this film, and it makes a difference. It’s almost as if he is his own fanboy.

The film’s novelty is that Spider-Man, though he’s been blessed by Tony Stark an “Avengers apprentice”, barely has a handle on how to use his powers, or what to do with them. To a degree, the film’s novelty works. Though this Peter is such a normal, awkward dude that he is a touch inoffensive. Probably the closest Marvel Universe has come to giving us a superhero who wouldn’t look out of place on the Disney Channel. Holland has a likeable presence, but he is dutiful and imploring rather than captivating.

Though the biracial romance is a step in the right direction, at one point the two are poised in an upside-down kiss that never materialises, which only reminds you of how much the film is feeding off its legacy. It is fine, and true enough to Marvel to make a Spider-Man movie about a young adult, but Spider-Man: Homecoming has an aggressively eager and prosaic Young Adult flavour. Yet coming after the two Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films, which were the definition of super-forgettable skills, the movie is just distinctive enough to connect and become a hit. If so, it could be a key transitional film in the greater cinematic universe of comic-book movies. Homecoming tells its audience: This kid isn’t quite super, he is just like you. Ant-Man did the same thing, but we’ve never seen a character as mythical as Spider-Man portrayed in such a family friendly high school romance way.

Now onto the villain, played by Michael Keaton. He is very much an adult. Keaton brings all the sinister personality you could want to the role, though the movie should have given him more to do. It does, however, provide the character with a good twist, when he shows up where you least expect him.

Finally, midway through the movie, there is a sequence that speeds the picture up in that buzzy spectacular “Hey, I’m watching a Marvel movie!” way. His suit is equipped with devices he is just learning about. Yet the way the movie deals with all of it is strange as it is hard to tell where the suit’s powers leave off and Peter’s begin -  and judging strictly from Homecoming if he even has powers of his own. We all know the spider-bite basics of Spidey’s origin story, but too much rebooting has now resulted in a certain vagueness. As if the film couldn’t be bothered to fill in the blanks. That said, the flying action has a casual beauty in the technicity of it all, and it does get you rooting for Peter. The appeal of this Spider-Boy is all too basic in the superhero world: in his lunge for valour, he keeps falling, and he keeps getting up.

Overall, Tom Holland plays Peter Parker as Marvel’s first Young-Adult superhero. That is the novelty, but also the limitation of this mildly diverting reboot. Indeed, the superhero’s latest outing brings an unfortunate mixture of action and high-school romance. As if somewhere deep within the Marvel laboratories, genetic experiments have been taking place as the DNA of the comic-book action flick is mixed with one of other films. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the labradoodle of Marvel’s breeding programme: part superhero movie, part high-school coming-of-age story.

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