Dir: Jon Watts
The modern mythology that infuses much of Western cultures these days includes a character called Spider-Man. His is a ubiquitous presence in a way, just like Wonder Woman and Batman. People from all walks of life have at least some idea of who he is and what he gets up to, what his powers are and how he gets around. In the last 15 years there have been six live action movies featuring him, with two reboots, a host of iterations since 1962 in animation, games, TV and, of course, his origin location: comics. So can this movie do or say anything new? The answer is …yes.
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the character in 1962, they tried something fresh: a superhero who is also a teenager, with associated problems and dare I say, hang-ups. In his secret identity as Peter Parker he wouldn’t always get it right, would have difficulties in most of his relationships and be bullied at school.
Previous film adaptations have played with this formula, trying to reinterpret it for audiences. The last outing, Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014 made it hard to see Parker as nerdy with tall handsome Andrew Garfield in the role. But, in wonderful casting, the character played by Tom Holland in Spider-Man Homecoming probably hews closest to the original formula and does one thing best; locating Peter Parker as a high school student. In some ways this is almost a teen high school drama and brings a John Hughes Sixteen Candles vibe with it; one hilarious scene explicitly references the wonderful Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Yes, Peter Parker is clearly 15 years old, with all of the associated problems. That he is also Spider-Man is central too, but his character arc in this film syncs with the adolescent task of determining, (or discovering) his own identity. Previous outings have made much of the aphorism, “with great power comes great responsibility”. That idea is only referenced implicitly here; more important is the question of what it is to be selfless. The film explores whether the motivation to act in the interests of others comes because one has a super-powered suit, or whether it is a choice made anew every instant. As well, one super-powered act clearly echoes Jesus crucifixion, though that’s not new for fans of the genre.
This is heady stuff for a Hollywood blockbuster. Fortunately this philosophical musing is housed in one of the funniest films to be released this year. No chance is missed to identify the lunacy of the central concept but this is done in a loving, rather than cynical or ironic way. Early scenes of Spidey’s heroic actions are hilarious and self-deprecating, often more about heart than brawn, though that comes too.
Homecoming pulls off another feat by situating Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That might seem obvious but up until now the character has been involved in a real-world legal battle only resolved by some nifty negotiations between Sony and Marvel. Now Tom Holland’s lead character is mentored by Iron Man’s Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr), Captain America features in a number of funny high school personal development videos and the Avengers are name-checked a number of times.
With a wonderful supporting cast (Michael Keaton as superbly motivated Adrian Toomes, Marisa Tomei at Aunt May), a crew of script writers have pulled together a number of threads of produce a three act drama that is true to the source material, feels fresh, packs laughs and deals with some deeper issues. Whether you are new to the world of superheroes or not, this might just be your chance for a homecoming.