Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Exciting, adorable and intelligent, Spider-Man: Homecoming weaves an excellent Marvel adventure. Tom Holland is magnificent.

Long-term comic books readers will be aware that occasionally alternate universes collide. Heck, even age-old competitors DC and Marvel have merged their worlds before, creating DNA-spliced versions of their caped crusaders. That’s before you get into their convoluted history of passing off suspiciously similar analogues of each other’s characters – here’s looking at you Darkseid/Thanos.

As crowded as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is becoming, joining forces with Sony to rope in everybody’s favourite neighbourhood web-slinger Spider-Man, long off the table, was an inspired move.

To say that I was hesitant about a second Spider-Man reboot in rapid succession would be an understatement, especially given it’s only three years since Andrew Garfield’s underwhelming though not Spider-Man 3-terrible second outing, but Tom Holland as Peter Parker brings a spunky and recognisably teen energy to the franchise.

Introduced briefly in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, his youthful zest and nicely timed dorky comedy usher in an irresistibly sweet, P-plates version of the wall-crawler that comes closest to his original comic book adventures. A high school teen thrust by radioactive bite into the role of fledgling superhero, he has nary a clue what he’s doing, but he’s shooting for the greater good.

Thankfully that origin story is unseen in Cop Car director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, relegated to a running gag with Peter’s over-excitable best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) who struggles to keep his trap shut after inadvertently busting his mate’s moonlighting gig, regularly querying how this empowered crime fighting caper came about.

Essentially, he’s Peter’s only confidante. His technical boss Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) is reluctant to bring Peter fully into the Avengers fold, locking the fancy new suit he bestowed on the lad locked in training mode and palming him off on handler Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), who is just as uninterested.

Unsuccessfully attempting to balance everyday stuff like his crush on science club captain Liz (Laura Harrier) with his unchecked forays into heroism, Peter soon winds up in deep water.

The second genius move of this reboot is ditching the twice-played Green Goblin arc, as well as the Gwen Stacy/Mary Jane Watson dynamic. Instead they bring in the big acting guns in the shape of former Batman and Birdman Michael Keaton as the Vulture/Adrian Toomes. Depicted here as a scrap merchant whose blue collar team just about get by on salvaging alien tech left over from the assault on New York at the end of the first Avengers movie, things take a turn for the worse when a shadowy government organisation working alongside Stark steps in and shuts him down.

An aggressive kind of guy, desperation doesn’t mix well and Toomes’ turns to crime as a way to survive, abusing the tech he and his now goons (geeks will spot the proto-super villains) finagle, including creating his terrifying sharp metallic wings. As Peter takes it on himself to defend Queens from their violent intrusion, it’s a clever way to fold these new Spidey films into the greater universe while also allowing plenty to air to breathe for the ground-level world-building in this freshest Marvel movie since the first Guardians of the Galaxy.

This is a gorgeous film that keeps character at its heart, with Holland and Batalon brilliant as they awkward Lego-loving teens who suddenly find themselves dragged disbelieving into the hero business. Harrier is also excellent, as is actor, singer and dancer Zendaya in a much smaller role as a taciturn loner with a smart mouth hovering on the edges of the science quiz group. It’s thoroughly refreshing to see a New York that properly reflects the true diversity of the city.

Keaton brings his A-game and the film benefits immeasurably from having a heavy hitter in the bad guy seat, giving the Vulture the depth and complexity that’s so often missing from even the best of superhero movies. Downey Jr also gets to flesh out another angle of his character as a reluctant father figure and there’s an interesting call back to his arms dealing past.

The humour is spot on, there’s a couple of fun surprises and the best use of a post-credit sequence yet. If there’s one niggle with the stellar cast, Marissa Tomei, endearing as she is as the new Aunt May, could have a touch more to do.

Even the action set pieces have more weight to them than usual, including a thrilling Richard Donner-like lift disaster in a capital-set segue in the Washington Monument and also a terrifying plane sequence with shades of 9/11. Packed with big-hearted adventure and leaving audiences with tantalising avenues for future instalments, this is the best Marvel movie in years and a brilliant film in its own right.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords