Considering Spider-Man has been with us since 1962, it’s somewhat difficult to understand why he’s never come close to appearing on the cinema screen.
Oh sure, there have been five movies, some more successful in their approach than others, but regardless of how close each of them got to capturing that magic quality which has kept the character in print for fifty-five years something always felt… just slightly off.
Sam Raimi and co. certainly got close, especially with Spider-Man 2, which held the gold standard for superhero movies for some time. But I was never happy with the casting of that trilogy, as good as Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are as actors, I never felt they were right for Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.
Marc Webb swung closer with his stars, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy) but the approach taken to the two Amazing Spider-Man films was just completely wrong-headed. Making Peter Parker a disaffected skateboard kid who ends up swinging into his graduation ceremony to kiss the prettiest girl in school was so far removed from what makes these characters special it was absurd. Sadly these entries also felt like the worst kind of committee-led filmmaking.
And both sets of movies shared a very particular missing quality. In the comic books Spider-Man has always been a vital cornerstone of the Marvel Universe, but in the movies the character has always swung through a New York bereft of other superheroes.
Spider-Man: Homecoming corrects that from its opening moments, as we are dropped into a New York recovering from alien invasion with criminals using stolen alien technology, a world where Avengers tower looms large over the city and superheroes are commonplace in everyday life.
But here is where the new collaboration between Marvel and Sony has really paid dividends, in the understanding that our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man is the contrast to the other characters who fly around seeing off aliens from space and demons from dark dimensions. Spider-Man works best as a street level character, interacting with New Yorkers who cheer or jeer as he goes about his daily web-slinging.
Finally we’re given the opportunity to see Peter explore his newfound powers without the tiresome retread of an origin story, instead following a hero learning from his (plentiful) mistakes. Stakes are kept personally high but distinctly low-key (in superhero terms), from Spider-Man realising just how long it takes to climb the Washington Monument (and suddenly seeing how high up he is at its top) through to the climactic battle between hero and villain.
Speaking of the villain, I’d happily watch Michael Keaton reciting the phone directory and while there are one or two moments I’d like to have seen him given more to chew on, he also manages to bring an interesting, almost political motivation to his character and in one sequence set inside a parked car, a palbable sense of threat and menace in a stand-off involving no costumes, with no powers used or punches thrown. It’s a stand out moment in a film full of them.
The casting is excellent overall, as Peter Parker’s high school friends feel natural and unstereotypical, and director Jon Watts gives the film a John Hughes vibe that’s hard to ignore and impossible to dislike, with a fresh feeling that’s quite distinct from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet completely at home in it. Jacob Batalon’s Ned and Zendaya’s Michelle are particular stand-outs.
As seen in Captain America: Civil War, we’re given a fresh take on Peter’s Aunt May, now played with delightful MILF-relish by Marisa Tomei. She’s not given huge amounts to do in this first outing, but she’s such a fine actress she supports here perfectly and hopefully we’ll see more from her in the already-announced sequel.
Finally, every filmed attempt at Spider-Man stands and falls with its Peter Parker, and here we are given a true representation of the character. Tom Holland simply nails the role, his boyish looks giving Peter an average Joe quality, an awkward, earnest, ordinary teenager blessed, or cursed, with extraordinary abilities, who ultimately uses his powers because he knows it’s the right thing to do.
While this iteration plays loosely with the source material it stays true to the good-natured heart that has seen these characters loved by millions for so long to produce a film that’s as full of charm as it is action set-pieces. It’s a feel-good film about a decent, 15 year old boy, his friends and family and the responsibility he feels to protect them and the world in which they live. It seems like such a simple trick, but it’s been frustratingly elusive.
With their flagship hero returning to the Marvel fold as a result of a studio deal between the company and Sony, we’ve finally been given a Spider-Man who deserves the Amazing adjective.
This is the homecoming Spider-Man fans have been waiting for!