After two film series – totalling five movies in fifteen years – and a celebrated Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) reintroduction in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming is aptly named.
Directed with ‘80s teen movie vigour by indie filmmaker Jon Watt (Cop Car), this Spider-reboot depicts Tom Holland’s 15-year-old polymath Peter Parker as he negotiates the pitfalls of juggling web-slinging superheroism and American high school life (albeit suspiciously bereft of metal detectors) in the 21st century.
At a heroic loose end after the rush of teaming up with The Avengers, Peter has been frustratingly sidelined by mentor and erstwhile father figure Tony Stark (AKA Iron Man, played by Marvel universe linchpin Robert Downey Jr).
As a bashful “loser” during school hours, Peter has a crush on classmate Liz (Laura Harrier) and – along with bestie Ned (Jacob Batolon) – is bullied by nemesis Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori).
After hours, Parker takes to the rooftops of his native Brooklyn as Spider-Man, foiling petty crime, giving directions to seniors, dodging his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and desperately longing to be called back into the fray as an Avenger.
Unexpectedly, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes – AKA The Vulture – swoops into Peter’s relatively hazard-free superhero-ing existence.
Toomes, boss of a New York salvage crew, has had his business (cleaning up after superheroic battles) destroyed by a government intervention, in the form of the Tony Stark-endorsed Department of Damage Control.
So Toomes and his crew have gone rogue and developed a black market arms business based on the alien technology scavenged from The Avengers’ first New York battle (2012’s Joss Whedon directed The Avengers).
Operating beneath the god-like radar of Stark’s team, Toomes has also constructed a nifty, lethal flight suit, modelled after – you guessed it – a vulture.
It’s not long before Spider-Man is being sorely tested by Toomes and his alien weapon-toting thugs, an escalation that highlights Tony Stark’s assertion that the teen hero is woefully inexperienced in the high stakes world of global superheroism.
Spider-Man: Homecoming ditches the dour, operatic flourishes of the preceding film series, instead embracing its hero as a dorky, exuberant kid who’s eager to do the right thing.
Director Watts’ film has no time for final act damsels in distress (a trope heavily favoured by previous entries), and injects moments of wry, surprisingly subversive political satire into the narrative.
Vulture/ Toomes’ villainous plot, for example, is ostensibly to stick it to the one per cent, here embodied by Tony Stark. Played with malevolent charm by former Batman and Birdman Keaton, The Vulture would almost be a sympathetic antihero were it not for his homicidal desire to protect his criminal enterprise no matter the cost.
Elsewhere, Peter’s friends and classmates are a refreshingly diverse ensemble, Aunt May hardly bats an eyelid at a semi-clad Peter alone in his room with Ned, and there’s a particularly pointed behind-the-play reference to the construction of the Washington Monument that made this reviewer marvel at the film’s audacity.
Happily, the familiar tropes of Spider-Man’s origins are only fleetingly alluded to, and there are cheerful nods to generations of Spider-fans – keep an ear out for a certain cartoon theme from the 1960s, for starters.
Abandoning angst for joy, this Spider-Man is – finally – a kid-friendly role model, a superhero learning the ropes and imparting a few values of persistence, patience, friendship and community in the process.
Spider-Man: Homecoming offers viewers a truly ‘amazing’ Spider-Man, living up to the character’s earliest four-colour appearances whilst also evolving into an authentically 21st century superhero.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in cinemas now.