By James Mackney
Spider-Man: Homecoming signals the second attempt by Sony Pictures to re-boot the Spiderman franchise in 15 years. I admit to feeing somewhat exhausted by the franchise, having seen all bar one of the Spider-Man films, and this latest instalment in the line-up left me cold and frustrated.
Spider-Man: Homecoming has attempted to be a Superhero film as if it were directed by John Hughes. Sadly, there is none of the playfulness of The Breakfast Club nor is Peter Parker as interesting as Ferris Bueller. What Spider-Man: Homecoming ends up being is a film that sign posts classic high school coming-of-age films mixed in with the action set pieces of a Marvel film, and it feels disjointed for it.
Tom Holland does a good job in grounding the character of Peter Parker as a freshman in high school. The film understands that the character of Spider-Man works best when he is seen as a kid, albeit a kid that can shoot giant, sticky webs and swing between skyscrapers. The film does play the naïve card slightly too often, which is grating and in turn doesn’t help the pacing of the film; it does drag in places.
A scene where Spider-Man is locked in a secure facility allows the mischievous side of the character to stand out and allows the character to be fun and energetic, offering genuine humour and vitally and reminding the audience that he is a kid who doesn’t really know what he’s doing. The film struggles with accurately portraying the ‘friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man’ alongside the big action set piece star the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) demands. There are several big action set pieces in the film and although they never slip in to Michael Bay CGI battle porn territory, they are not exciting enough and become repetitive.
Spider-Man has two mentors in the film; Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark and John Favreau’s more paternal, Happy Hogan. Due to these characters consistently telling Spider-Man they are watching him and monitoring his behaviour, as typical adults would over a teenager, you get the sense that nothing bad is going to happen. You almost sit there waiting for the moment for Iron Man to swoop in and save the day. A more skillful film would avert this issue or use the two adult characters in a more intuitive way but sadly this isn’t seen.
The high school half of the film is the most entering and the supporting characters of Peter Parker’s friend group offer some of the brighter moments in the film. The character of Ned, played by Jacob Batalon, is the perfect accomplice for Peter and offers genuine laughs that help ground the film in its reality. A special mention to Michelle, played by Zendaya, who is criminally underused and is the brightest screen presence in the film. She is given far too little to do and perhaps a gender inversion of her and Ned would’ve been better but with the limited material she is given, she makes it sing.
Marissa Tomei plays the role of Aunt May. Yep. This doesn’t make any more sense written down than it did watching the film. Tomei is a fine, glamourous actress and someone who should not be playing Peter Parker’s Aunt. Sod you, Hollywood ageism.
There is an image towards the end of the film where Peter Parker is looking down at his mask in a puddle and you see the mask covering half his face with the other half uncovered. The image sums up the whole film. Lurking inside is a high-school movie with an indie spirit, where a gawky adolescent teenager is trying to impress girls and build Lego Death Stars, conjoined to a character that is completely tied up in the juggernaut that is the MCU. All of the interesting parts of the film happen in school, in Peter’s bedroom or when he is amongst his friends and the rest of it? More of the same blam, blaow, and bluster that Marvel trots out unabated. I wanted to love this film as much as I loved the first Guardian’s of the Galaxy film, instead I’m going to watch John Hughes movies.