When Spider-Man was welcomed into the loving arms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016, it was cause for celebration. After existing in two separate canons for the entire century to date, his integration into the mainline of Marvel — now home to all of their heroes save for the X-Men and Deadpool (and the Fantastic Four, technically, but they’re now almost as dead on the page as they are on screen) — is the most natural thing that could have happened to him. Who knows how long it will last, but for now, Spider-Man is where he belongs, and in his best outing in 13 years.
After helping The Avengers in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, Captain America: Civil War) is ignored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Captain America: Civil War) for months. Peter patrols his neighbourhood as Spider-Man and, after stumbling on an alien arms deal conducted by Adrian Toomes’ (Michael Keaton, The Founder) henchmen, he takes it into his own hands to investigate the matter and bring it down.
Spider-Man: Homecoming neglects to treat itself as an origin story, which allows for an economy of storytelling that is normally absent in the first film in a series. Oblique references are made to being bitten by a spider, and Peter worries about “all that Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, Captain America: Civil War) has been through”, and that’s the extent of it. Holland is charmingly awkward, and his rapport with Tomei is genuine. Combine that with his friendship with Ned (Jacob Batalon, North Woods) and his crush on Liz (Laura Harrier, Fourth Man Out), and you have a well rounded film teen.
Then you add the superhero element, and the fact is this: Homecoming’s Spider-Man is not a very good superhero. That’s the point: he has no idea what he’s doing and he’s the victim of malign neglect. This is funny for us, as we watch him fail to understand precisely what to do with his skills; it also highlights precisely how bad a person Tony Stark is capable of being. One thing that you can say for Homecoming is that it is not an Iron Man film in disguise: his absence doesn’t define the movie, but it is a catalyst for much of the drama.
Peter and Stark butt heads, but Keaton’s calculating pseudo-compassionate Toomes remains the true villain. Without any smug nods to Keaton’s history as either Bat- or Birdman, he is able to fashion a believable villain who thinks he’s doing the right thing for an incredibly petty reason.
Three separate teams composed the film, which is smooth enough to not feel like it was built by committee. With a story by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Vacation), and a script by them, director Jon Watts and Christopher Ford (Cop Car), and Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (The LEGO Batman Movie), the experience is remarkably cohesive. Apart from the titular Homecoming being ultimately insignificant — it truly is a metaphorical title — there are no loose ends or ideas that were abandoned partway through production that still have vestigial digits attached to the finished project.
Watts, who got the job through the combination of a relatively well received low-budget earlier effort and getting Spider-Man tattooed to his chest, knows how to direct an effects-driven comic book film. That Marvel has a house style guide undoubtedly helps, but it would be wrong to say that all of these films are alike. The film shares Peter’s joys and frustrations with us on an almost visceral level, which is why the more analogue version of his experience jives best both with us and himself; it’s when we get excessive HUD shots that we are reminded of the worst stylistic excesses of the Iron Man franchise. The action is communicated cleanly, logically, and with high enough stakes to make the audience care but low enough as to never risk becoming purely abstract.
It’s ironic that Spider-Man: Homecoming is about fighting a villain who profits from cannibalising the offcuts of the Avengers’ adventures, but for the most part it works. The film gets away with using “Blitzkrieg Bop” twice on the soundtrack, and that’s not even the most miraculous part of the experience: it has one of the only times on record that cut-off profanity has ever been funny. Spider-Man: Homecoming justifies the existence of a sixth Spider-Man film in the character’s third continuity in fifteen years. It is a film that shows that cohesion of universe, a clear vision for a character, and a whole lot of money can make something of lasting value, and not just an eyesore that fizzles out after a single weekend.
Spider-Man: Homecoming opened in Australian cinemas on July 6, 2017.
Directed by: Jon Watts.
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.