‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ defies expectations as a surprising pleasure

Jonnie Barrow finds the new Marvell instalment provides a fresh take on the stale Spider-Man character

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It seems that the omens for Spider-Man: Homecoming couldn’t be much worse. This is the third on-screen incarnation of Peter Parker (and his sixth movie) in 15 years, as the creative team at Sony repeatedly struggled over the last ten of those years to create a Spider-Man movie that was widely liked. Now he’s back in the Marvel fold, fresh from his scene-stealing introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War last year, with a brand-new solo movie that has the difficult task of introducing an entirely new version of a character most people aren’t just familiar with, but are now tired of seeing rebooted. Couple that to the fact that this new movie is penned by six screenwriters, and has the most spoiler-filled, unconfident trailers in recent memory, the signs all point to this film being an absolute turkey.

Fear not, Spider-Man fans – a turkey this is not. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a genuine delight, consistently buoyed by smart writing, a brilliant (and pleasingly diverse) cast, interesting action scenes, a brilliant score (thank you, Michael Giacchino) and a knowing awareness of what an audience for a Spider-Man film has already seen, and what they want to see.

For a start, the film is pretty clear about what needs to be shown and, more importantly, what doesn’t. The filmmakers know that we’re already familiar with Spidey’s origin story, so we don’t have to sit through it again. Instead, the focus is clearly on integrating Spidey into the MCU; you need to have seen both Avengers movies and Captain America: Civil War to understand a lot of what’s going on, especially given that the film picks up two months on from Civil War. But the pay-off of this franchise baggage is a Spider-Man who is both brand-new and yet instantly familiar.

The influences on this film are also abundantly clear: this is a John Hughes-esque high-school teen comedy, featuring a cast of teenagers whose struggles and joys feel believable even amongst the mechanics of a tentpole superhero movie. There’s a great explicit reference to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but shades of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Risky Business can easily be seen throughout.

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This Spider-Man is the first one to actually seem like a teenager, thanks almost entirely to Tom Holland’s infectious enthusiasm in the part. Holland’s springer-spaniel attitude is one of the film’s major differences to previous incarnations of the character – his Peter Parker is positively scrappy, constantly bouncing back and desperate to prove that he’s got what it takes to be an Avenger. Robert Downey Jr.’s attempts to take the wind out of his sails make for a brilliant relationship between the two, which I can’t wait to see explored further in Avengers: Infinity War next year.

Because being Spider-Man is portrayed as something Peter actually wants to do, the clash of high school life with being a superhero, which is characteristic of Spider-Man movies, feels more engaging then it has done previously. Many of the action sequences are also lightened by Parker’s youth and inexperience, mining comedy from moments where he’s unsure how to proceed, or doesn’t quite come off as cool as he intends to. The new high-tech suit, courtesy of Tony Stark, is also responsible for many of the films funnier and cooler action beats.

While the one-liners in the film are pretty great, the real strength of the script comes from its villain. Michael Keaton is, as always, absolutely fantastic, but the writers go a long way to correcting Marvel’s ‘villain problem’ by opening the film with the villain’s perspective. He’s as sympathetic as he is tangibly menacing – and though the film follows the now-familiar trope of the villain and Spidey being somehow related to each other, the connection this time around is pleasingly nebulous.

I grew up on Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man films, so they will always have a special place in my heart, but ‘Homecoming’ is probably my new favourite Spider-Man film. The trailers are absolutely the worst thing about the movie – avoid seeing them if you can, or put them out of your mind, so you can best enjoy the most outright fun movie of the summer.