It has such a tantalising start. Spider-Man: Homecoming re-treads Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) cameo steps in Captain America: Civil War. From his teenage, camera-phone perspective, our view on him shifts from the snarky, expert web-slinger to the young, excitable teenager on the brink of superhero stardom.
He’s like a dog off the leash, and he’s realising how much is out there now his talents are put to full use. But director Jon Watt has to keep the momentum throughout, and struggles, but it nevertheless introduces Spider-Man in a memorable manner, and someone who’ll always light up the forthcoming Marvel movies.
Since Civil War, Spider-Man has been left to wait for “the call” from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). He’s working out how to be the hero, but it doesn’t come easy. Leaping across buildings, he helps old women with directions but often fumbles up his crime-stopping. Simultaneously, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) has profited off the alien technology left behind by the events of Avengers Assemble. While Spider-Man is trying to protect New Yorkers, Toomes is aware that his weapons are sold to criminals. While Parker is trying to piece together the connections of Toomes operation, he’s also preparing for his high-school ‘Homecoming’ dance – and has his eyes on his Academic Decathlon team mate, Liz (Laura Harrier). With the help of best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Stark’s Head of Security, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Spider-Man hopes to defeat the villain and get the girl.
Casting ex-Batman Keaton as the Vulture villain seems an intelligent choice but it’s entirely wasted. Apart from an intelligent scene in the final act, as Keaton and Holland verbally spar, the vapid Vulture is a mechanical repeat of other dull bad guys. The first comparison that comes to mind is Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash in Iron Man 2, who’s clad in industrial chunks of metal recycled from older weapons (in Whiplash’s case, it’s Starks older tech). There’s even an effort to clarify Toomes as an extremist anti-establishment figure, but it’s a weak position and feels false. Both Rourke and Keaton are famously accomplished actors and casting them in such roles has enormous potential, but both fail to deliver. Equally, the crew that surround Vulture is a collection of likable actors from Orange is the New Black and Fargo, but offer no more than minor henchmen clichés, toying with bulky electronic weaponry. Even Spidey baddie ‘Shocker’ is created twice, but still reduced to no more than dude-with-a-strong-punch.
Suffice to say, the antagonists in a superhero movie are normally a one-film deal, so if we ignore their shortcomings, there’s a lot of promise. The dream of Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man was always a John Hughes style of romance set among the colourful world of Marvel. Spider-Man: Homecoming convincingly creates this tone, but at a cost. There’s no J. Jonah Jameson, no Uncle Ben is mentioned and the Spidey-sense of old is replaced by a gadget-laden outfit that seems to suit every occasion. But this means that Peter Parker is very-much human, and very-much flawed. Stark doesn’t dominate the film, thankfully, but the gizmos in the spidey-suit and the comedic mistakes he makes when playing with it often feels as if it repeats a lot of the playfulness of the Iron Man series. Voice recognition, a somewhat arrogant superhero and the too-powerful-to-control weapons gags have been seen before.
Crucially, in a series that is bound to squeeze out sequels, the returning characters are great fun to be around. Ned, Flash (Tony Revolori) and, in particular, Zendaya’s Michelle are exciting prospects for the future (As a fan of Little Men, I hope there’s more scope for Michael Barbieri’s character). But the broad strokes are too broad and the romance this time merely fills the “love interest” criterion (it holds nothing to the Emma Stone/Andrew Garfield dynamic) rather than offer something special. We can confidently take-away some excitement for the future, as Spider-Man: Homecoming places Parker at home with Marvel, but he’s not entirely comfortable, yet.