Spider-Man: Homecoming director: Jon Watts
Spider-Man: Homecoming cast: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier
Spider-Man: Homecoming rating: 4 stars
He has been saving the world alright, but never before has the world seemed so much a part of Spider-Man’s life. In his immediate radius are mixed-race couples, a Filipino, a Korean, a Guatemalan, a Tony Stark in sherwani at an Indian wedding, and a villain whose concern isn’t superpowers but cutting corners.
A sixth Spider-Man in 15 years is excessive, and director Watts knows that. It has taken six credits for screenplay (including Watts) and two for ‘screen story’ for this film to fructify, but for all that, it treads with a supremely light touch. And that it does while smartly acknowledging the hallowed ground it is covering. In another smart move, aside from updating Spider-Man to a multi-racial New York, the film places Avengers right at the centre of it. It is but natural that they would be famous by now and popular, and that someone would have made motivational videos where they tell schoolchildren to exercise (that’s Captain America, in a series of hilarious videos).
It’s also natural that a 15-year-old who suddenly discovers his superpowers would be dying to exhibit them, particularly as down the school hall stands a gorgeous girl he wants to ask out. However, Tony Stark (Downey Jr) doesn’t think he is ready yet, despite the blockbuster ending of Captain America: Civil War where he first made his appearance. And so Peter Parker a.k.a Spider-Man (Holland) must wait by his phone, constantly, for “the next mission” from Stark. He calls and calls Happy Hogan (an amused Favreau), Stark’s Man Friday, and is mostly cut short.
So what is a 15-year-old to do? He tries “helping” whomsoever he can — including zapping a man trying to get into his own car. There is nothing funnier though than him helping an old woman find her way home.
He goes to a specialised science and tech school, and so Peter isn’t really having a hard time like in other Spider-Mans. That’s again a clever modification, with it being natural that Peter’s talents would be recognised early on, with a seat at such a school. Frank Thompson (Tony Revolori, who was so, so good in The Grand Budapest Hotel) is a science quizzer here too, rather than a jock, and Peter usually beats him to the buzzer in competition rounds.
Keaton, whose Vulture is so much an allusion to his Birdman/Batman roles that it is the one inside joke that is too much clever in the film, puts in a delightful performance as the villain with the most mundane issues. He does give a Trump-esque speech about the wealthy elite (read Stark) getting away with things the small people like him, who run their factories, drive their cars, water their gardens, have to pay for. It comes out of nowhere, and goes nowhere.
But never mind, you feel for the guy who struggles to control his crew, who clearly are in over their heads. When they go out to make deals on weapons that Keaton has got his scientist to fashion from “alien junk”, which they stole from the last Avengers encounter, there is no telling how it will end. One very effective scene has traffic lights playing across Keaton’s leathery face as a realisation about how his life is about to change flashes across his face.
Spider-Man, thinner and leaner and younger than when both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield played him, stumbles upon Vulture while trying to “scare” his bumbling goons. Stumbles is the right word for, like in another of those clever discoveries, we find out what would happen to Spider-Man should he be called to the rescue in a suburb. In the absence of tall buildings, his web would fall to the ground with nothing to latch on to.
The highly modified suit, coming out of the Stark factory, doesn’t help either. In delivering so many instructions, and so many choices, including on what kind of web he wants — delivered by a Siri-like voice – the suit leaves Peter in a position not unlike what we find ourselves in daily.
So is there just too much tech going on here, swamping out the awkward-kid-trying-to-fit-in that Spider-Man has always been? It could have been, but Holland’s Spider-Man is just too smart, confident and funny for that to happen. He doesn’t hang as well upside down waiting for a kiss from the girl of his dreams, but one suspects, he doesn’t need to. Yes, Zendaya we see you.
Still, what does all the tech amount to? Particularly as the most tiresome scenes involve clashes with clunky machines, which remain a blur in their lack of clarity. Even the Stark Industries’ impressive ‘invisible’ plane is lost in the mish-mash happening between Spider-Man and Vulture below. For all the tinkering Vulture’s scientist does too, all he delivers are big guns with shiny insides, which are dismissed as vague “energy source”. One of them almost fells the Washington Monument, so we fathom it is a big “energy source”, with just too many lying around for the film to take lightly.
Not that the science of Spider-Man is what drives the commerce of Spider-Man, but lesser films than this have put in more effort into making these inevitable showdowns memorable.
So what really drives Spider-Man? It is that he remains a boy in the world of men, an orphan at that who cares for his aunt (Tomei, suitably ditsy and sharp), and a guy who pines for a girl. Holland is that, so far. The question is can he remain so, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ever-bloating empire?
If this film is an indication, he just might, even though an older Holland seems an incongruity.