Latest Spider-Man reboot brings Peter Parker back down to Earth.
By Nick Milligan
The collective groans that echoed through movie land when a Spider-Man reboot reboot was announced, this time weaving the web-spinner into the mammoth Avengers cinematic universe, were hard to ignore. For many, superhero fatigue is quickly building. When Marvel and Sony reached a deal in February 15 to bring Spider-Man into their ever-expanding cross-over franchise, it guaranteed a sixth Spider-Man flick in 15 years and a third iteration of character, with Britain’s Tom Holland the young man chosen for the job.
Director Sam Raimi, adored for his cult Evil Dead movies, was the first to take on the Spider-Man story for a big budget franchise, and he did a sterling job. The 2004 instalment, Spider-Man 2, with Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus antagonist, was especially fun, and Raimi was given the freedom to imbue the narrative with his dark humour, visual flair and comic movie reality. The reboot and its sequel, with Andrew Garfield cast as The Amazing Spider-Man, was an attempt to get back to the strict law of the comic books, but stylistically didn’t really surpass what Raimi had already achieved.
Now Spider-Man: Homecoming is here with little known director Jon Watts at the helm. The big question – does this movie need to exist? The answer – sort of.
Our latest Peter Parker is younger than his two predecessors, and Holland actually looks the age he is supposed to be. Having just assisted Tony Stark in the attempted apprehension of Captain America – an action-packed airport fight that plays out in Captain America: Civil War – Parker comes crashing back to the reality of being a high school kid by day and a masked vigilante by night. Stark has his bodyguard, Happy (Jon Favreau) keep close tabs on Parker, who is allowed to help the public as long as it remains on a small scale. Parker, a typical teenager, thinks he’s ready for the big time, and wants to emulate the heroics of the Avengers.
Meanwhile, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) owns a New York-based salvaging company that is brought in to to clean up the devastation that resulted from the Chitauri alien attack in the first Avengers movie. Despite investing a lot of coin into the contract, by way of new equipment and staff, his company is rather coldly kicked off the job by the U.S. Department of Damage Control, an organisation created by the federal government and Stark Industries. Bitter at being put out of business – as he should be – Toomes and his crew keep the Chitauri technology they’ve already salvaged and secretly start developing high-tech arms that they sell on to criminal gangs. Part of the technology includes an impressive robotic winged apparatus that allows Toomes to become The Vulture.
Of the myriad Spider-Man movies thrust upon us, this “official” Marvel Universe offering is the closest to reality. Holland portrays a believable and relatable 15-year-old, dealing with teenage issues. He has a crush on a pretty girl. He’s in a decathlon team. He likes building Star Wars lego. He’s nervous about going to a party with the cool kids. Most notably, he has that feverish impatience for adulthood to begin. He wants to be more than just “your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man”. Holland nails all the tension of being a teenager with effortless charisma and cheek – he’s certainly a talent.
Impressive too is Keaton, whose big screen renaissance continues to go from strength to strength. There’s no one better suited to a devilish villain, his comedic chops again on show. But there’s also a humanity to his Toomes character, who has very good reason to be angry at Stark and the Avengers. His rant about being tired of trodden on by the one per-centers will certainly resonate with the majority of the film’s audience, especially when you remember that much of Tony Stark’s empire is built on money from weapons manufacturing. The Vulture is a villain that speaks to the current socio-economic divide. Newcomer Jacob Batalon is impressive as Parker’s best friend, Ned, the perfect foil who longs to be Spider-Man’s “man in the chair”. Downey Jr. is also on hand to deliver his wise-crackin’ Stark schtick and Marisa Tomei is a suitably affectionate Aunt May.
Six movies in, you might think we’d seen every kind of Spider-Man set piece that Hollywood could conjure. But by bringing this Peter Parker so close to reality, very much a young man working out what he’s physically capable of, it brings an intensity to each of the major sequences. One set piece, in which Spider-Man scales the sheer outside wall of the Washington Monument, evokes genuine vertigo. It’s a tense ascent and the first time in any of these films in which you feel like Parker is in actual danger of plummeting to his death. There’s actually something at stake. Another set piece on the Staten Island Ferry is also a lot of fun.
While Homecoming is surprisingly enjoyable and feels fresh despite its well-trodden lore, it’s really a question of where this new reboot goes next. Holland’s Peter Parker is set to appear in the impending Avengers: Infinity War behemoth as well as a slated 2019 sequel. But is a more capable and mature Parker a more interesting hero?
I guess we’ll have to see if this new Spidey has legs.
3 1/2 STARS