Film

‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Review: How Great Is Friendly Teenage Spider-Man?

It may be the sixth Spider-Man film in just 15 years, but this film feels fresh and fun.

“I’m nothing without the suit,” Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) tells Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in Spider-Man: Homecoming — the sixth film about the web-slinger in less than two decades. “If you’re nothing without the suit, you shouldn’t have it,” Stark replies.

Since Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3) and Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2) put on the spandex, both in their late twenties when cast, it’s easy to forget Parker is Marvel’s biggest teen superhero. For once we have an actor close to Parker’s age; when you see Holland’s face drop after revealing he feels like a nobody, it hits close to the malaise of associated with being a teenager.

Youth is the strength of Spider-Man: Homecoming, a film that’s grounded by Parker’s search for an identity in the shadow of his alter-ego and the explosive life of a superhero.

Training Wheels

Spider-Man: Homecoming ditches a re-tread of Spider-Man’s origin story — worthy of a sigh of relief — and picks up where he was introduced in Captain America: Civil War. Sony and Marvel now share custody of the character so he’s free to roam in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a lot of faith placed on audiences to know the character’s history.

After an prologue establishes the villain — Adrian Tooms/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), a salvager who strips parts form the alien technology from The Avengers and turns them into weapons — we see Parker’s point of view of the airport battle from Civil War shot on his smartphone. By opening the film with what looks like a series of Instagram stories, director Jon Watts (Cop Car) set the youthful tone by wedging the film into a 1:1 aspect ratio and you’re locked in the modern teenage mindset of Parker.

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With the help of a new gadget-filled swiss army Spider-Man suit, Parker sets out to be a superhero with aspirations of joining The Avengers with help from his mentor (Stark) while being reminded he’s a zero in the halls of his high school.

While they’ve ditched Spider-Man’s origins, the training wheels are still on in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Parker is scrappy and reckless swinging around Queens trying to help people with mixed results. Spider-Man is still a street-level hero and spends most of his time web-slinging around suburbia, which shows that he hasn’t graduated to dangling off skyscrapers yet. In one of the major action sequences, Spider-Man tries to rescue people trapped in the Washington Monument during a school field trip. Before swinging off the top of the spire he stops to say he’s nervous because he’s never been that high before.

Parker growing into his confidence as Spider-Man has a little hubris to it. He spends most of the film thinking he’s doing the right thing without understanding what it means to be a hero, and that’s why the time he spends outside the costume matters the most.

This Isn’t Emo Spider-Man

Marvel’s comic books have always excelled at presenting superheroes burdened by real-world problems and it clicks perfectly in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The film does everything it can to set Parker on the right moral path without uttering the iconic phrase associated with his journey to becoming a hero: “with great power comes great responsibility”. You can hashtag most of what Parker does in this film with: #epicfail, but it’s the scrappy version of the character that blends with the mindset of a teenager.

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And it’s not all gloomy; this isn’t Emo-ManSpider-Man: Homecoming is meant to be a welcome home party for Marvel and they maximise the fun. Parker’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), is a constant reminder of the awesomeness of superheroes with an endless number of questions and ideas for his buddy. From under the mask, Holland manages to nail Parker’s quips and relentless positive vibe as Spider-Man with only his voice and the eyes on his mask that move like a camera shutter as he reacts to things.

Zendaya gets all the great zingers playing cynical classmate, Michelle, and Tony Revolori is great as the preppy pest, Flash Thompson. Spider-Man: Homecoming also posits the adult characters, most of them teachers at Parker’s school, as oddballs. The divide between adults and teens is reminiscent of the way adulthood was presented in John Hughes’ teenage movies like Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (at one point the latter is even referenced).

This is a coming home party thrown by Marvel.

The action is a blast, albeit, a little too repetitive when it comes to the big showdowns between Spider-Man and The Vulture toward the finale. The Vulture is an okay bad guy with a working-class grudge against superheroes and the government when it comes to the collateral damage their battles have caused in previous Marvel movies. Keaton does a lot with very little when it comes to The Vulture and his best scenes are when he’s face-to-face with Parker once the film drops a few great twists. Anytime Watts shoots Keaton in a close-up, the sinister magic of his eyes and upper brow bring the terror.

Spider-Man: Homecoming puts Peter Parker the teenager first, and piles superhero woes on top of him, but it never loses its sense of mirth. After all, as the title suggests, this is a coming home party thrown by Marvel and it’s a really fun time out with the web-head.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is in cinemas now.

Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. Co-founder of Graffiti With Punctuation and The Popcorn Junkee. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.

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