With five highly successful if not critically acclaimed films preceding it within a span of fifteen years which already included a reboot of Sam Raimi’s 2002 modern-day interpretation of the eponymous web-slinger in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man from director Marc Webb, the (arguably) most iconic of Marvels superheroes need no further introduction.
Thankfully, to paraphrase the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Marvel agrees with the consensus of critics, fans and the wider audience: Origin Stories? We don’t need no stinking origin stories. In fact if anything, it is refreshing to see no introduction for a hero who finally feels like he is back where he belongs as part of the larger and already extensively established Marvel Cinematic Universe, hence the title of Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed and co-written by Clown‘s Jon Watts.
Which is why it feels a little clunky having heavy exposition open the film with a flashback to the aftermath of the “New York Incident” of 2012 to show how Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) inadvertently pushed Adrian Toomes (Birdman‘s Michael Keaton) out of the government contract he held to clean up the debris left by the invading Chitauri. Not willing to take this lying down, Toomes has kept some of the scavenged technology and doesn’t intend to pass up the opportunity this extra-terrestrial golden goose presents him.
Flashing forward to the present day, post Civil War Peter Parker (Pilgrimage‘s Tom Holland) is struggling to adapt back to his low-key life dealing with “beat-cop” duties as Spider-Man as opposed to teaming up with the rest of the Avengers for more grandiose missions and fit those duties around the more mundane obligations of studying.
With Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau reprising his role from Iron Man 3) as his handler in lieu of Tony himself, Peter is left increasingly frustrated by his benching until one of those handy coincidences that film makers so love just so happens to lead when his routine patrol to an ATM robbery carried out by Toomes’ crew with some of their alien-derived weaponry on hand.
Thinking he knows what he is getting into Peter is shocked by the power of their weapons and fails to capture them, but with Happy seemingly not listening and Stark never there in person to help or advise Peter finds himself in an escalating battle with Toomes, now in a winged-suit and calling himself the Vulture, realising he needs to decide what it is he stands for and what he wants to achieve with his life, and here is where the lofty skyscraper ambitions of Spider-Man: Homecoming fall down to street level.
Much like Peter the film doesn’t know what it wants to be, and while it is nice to see this clearly younger Spidey geeking out over his encounters with the Avengers and it does acknowledge his internal conflict as he struggles with wanting to be at their level whilst still only learning their craft there is no real focus on any element, rather it feels more like a series of set pieces strung together and a story briefly woven in as an afterthought.
It seems plausible the Marvel executives were so happy to have their property back they spent more time eulogising over what they could have Spider-Man do as opposed to telling a tighter story, and as a result the pacing suffers and feels a little stilted as the gears crunch in the shifts between fast-paced action and clunky exposition, perhaps the result of the screenplay carrying credits for six writers whose principal background is knockabout comedy.
Consequently it feels like Marvel paint-by-numbers, from the disappointing music which has only the Ramones to save it to the phase three Marvel Cinematic Universe colour scheme seen earlier this year in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and visible in the Thor: Ragnarok trailer. There may be a new villain, or at least one not yet showcased on the big screen, but despite Keaton being a fantastic actor whose best performances have been flight related (bats, birds and now vultures) his potential is wasted, another genius with a grudge as was Norman Osborn, as was Victor von Doom, as was Lex Luthor.
Similarly, Marisa Tomei is a wonderfully talented actress but never really gets a chance to show any depth to the rejuvenated Aunt May, and whilst there is a move away from Peter being a science savant instead it his best friend from high school who is conveniently able to break the built-in security software on the Spidey-suit and reprogram it, stretching credulity; superhero films may break the rules of the real world, but they should still observe internal logic.
It’s a shame that where Marvel could have gone in unexplored directions, for example Miles Morales taking the Spider-Man suit instead of Peter Parker if prior to the success of Wonder Woman Marvel felt audiences weren’t ready for a silver-screen Spider-Gwen, more’s the pity, instead Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like it has no individual personality, merely another entry in a franchise increasingly becoming a commodity.
Unlike the formula-breaking twist of The Winter Soldier or the Guardians of the Galaxy partying outside the box entirely, by playing it safe this seems more like a feature length episodes of a Netflix series which banks on the audience already being invested to get the most out of what little is presented, and it is to be hoped that better is offered in Holland’s next outing as this version of Spider-Man is currently not one who could swap puns and share equal footing with Deadpool.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is currently on general release and also screening in 3D and IMAX