Saturday Features

Welcome home, Spidey

  • The new Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the most enjoyable Spider-Man film we’ve seen in a long time, and the first to really capture the youthful, snarky feel of the comics
- OBIE SHRESTHA
More than a film about a superhero who happens to be a high-schooler, Homecoming is about a high-schooler who happens to be a superhero… The overall tone is lighter and jauntier than that of its contemporaries, and the humor frequently spot on

Jul 15, 2017-

It’s some time after the young Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland) had been called on to be part of that all-star superhero brawl in Berlin we were shown in Captain America: Civil War. Peter had such a blast throughout—his excitement well palpable in the video journal he’s made of the trip—that no sooner is it over, and mentor Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) has dropped him off at his home in Queens, than he’s already looking forward to being summoned for the next mission. Except the call never comes, and Stark aide Happy (Jon Favreau) won’t answer any of his texts or phone calls.

Deciding that as long as he’s being made to wait, he might as well get some web-slinging practice in, Spidey spends his after-school hours going around the neighbourhood stopping petty crime—albeit not always successfully. But, in the course of punching out bicycle thieves and helping little old ladies with directions, he soon comes across something big. Eight years ago, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), owner of a salvage company, had been contracted to clean up after the Big Incident in the Big Apple (re: The Avengers, 2012)—which basically meant he would have his pick ofall the glowing alien whatsitsleft behind—before the site was suddenly taken over, and Toomes’ crew unceremoniously dismissed, by Stark’s people. 

In retribution, Toomes had stowed away some of the stuff he’d already found, and used these to make super-powered weapons that he has since been selling off to various parties for a tidy profit, along with creating an alter-ego in the form of Vulture, a metal-winged scavenger, to pilfer even more interplanetary scraps. But Stark and Happy are oblivious to Peter’s warnings about Vulture’s activities, refusing to take him seriously. Frustrated at being treated “like a kid”, our hero makes up his mind to take matters into his own hands. But for someone who can barely keep his secret life that much of a secret—it didn’t take long for best pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) to find out, for instance—and has trouble even forming sentences around the girl he likes (Laura Harrier), this could prove a very tall, potentially career-ending order.  

I can’t say I’d been particularly excited by the prospect of another Spidey reboot, especially not after the two most recent [none-too-] Amazing Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield in webbed spandex. And though Holland had certainly made an impression in Civil War—his uber-chatty, ultra-cheery persona offering a welcome contrast to the relative solemnity of the rest of the super-gang—it was hard to tell whether he had it in him to helm his own series away from the others. Turns out, he does—in spades. Because Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the most enjoyable Spider-Man film we’ve seen in a long time, at least not since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 more than a decade ago, and the first to really capture the youthful, snarky feel of the comics. Thanks to a script that has its ears to the ground and an eye for nuance, and some great casting, the film breathes new life to an old story, and while not flawless, is still miles in improvement over the last attempt to usher in such a revival. 

Homecoming could be taken in the literal sense of the word: It’s the first film that welcomes Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe following an agreement between Sony Pictures—who since 1999 had exclusive rights to the character—and Marvel Studios under Disney to share Spidey, which means we’ll have plenty of crossovers to look forward to (or dread, depending on where you stand) in coming sequels. In this era of franchise film-making, it’s become increasingly difficult for directors to give installments a distinctive stamp as a standalone, while at the same time ensuring they tie into the larger brand universe—the prospect of seeing popular characters coming together, what used to be a treat for viewers, is now routine, more a compulsion. 

But Watts and his gang of writers have managed that balance a lot better than one could’ve expected, primarily by keeping the focus narrow and stakes small, allowing us the chance to get to know Spider-Man’s heart and mind more intimately, rather than just as a perfunctory piece of a wider puzzle. Indeed, for once, there is no grand threat to humankind as we know it—just a small part of New York, if at all—and big action set-pieces, though not absent by any means, are comparatively toned down; the script is more interested in Peter’s actual life, his dynamics with fellow teenagers at school and adults at home. 

And that’s what primarily separates this installment from the chaff in the genre: More than a film about a superhero who happens to be a high-schooler, Homecoming is about a high-schooler who happens to be a superhero. Of course, it can’t fully shed the trappings of the superhero flick, and does fall victim to CGI excess every now and then, but the overall tone is lighter and jauntier than that of its contemporaries, and the humour frequently spot on—watch out, in particular, for Captain America’s hilarious PSA cameo and a brief but memorable appearance by the impossibly quirky Martin Starr. Contributing to the flippancy is the fact that Homecoming thankfully avoids the previous emotional touchstones of the character’s origin story—capped by, you guessed it, Uncle Ben’s death and that whole great-power-great-responsibility spiel that’s been repeated to the point of parody. None of that here, though. There isn’t even a spider bite. Though it’s hard to say whether those elements will resurface in later films, for now at least, we’re only to give into the simple pleasures of watching our boy try out his new powers, screw up miserably, pick himself up and try again—all while attempting to wrangle a date to the school dance. 

It also helps that Holland, unlike his predecessors in the suit, actually looks and acts like a teenager; although that overly-bouncy all-American pitch he touts can get a bit much sometimes. But his general awkwardness and the occasional swing into immodest self-mythologising is exactly what you’d expect from a young ‘un trying to come to terms with life-changing powers. Marisa Tomei, who plays his Aunt May, feels a touch underused here, like most of the female characters—a common complaint in such films—including the wonderful Zendaya as Peter’s friend. Batalon is reliable, but it’s an over-familiar character with predictable lines and reactions, and the naiveté feels calculated. That brings us to the show-stopper, Keaton, who is absolutely on point in a role that gives a cheeky little nod to his award-winning stint in 2014’s Birdman. Toomes is probably one of the most effective superhero movie villains in recent times—at least compared to all the generic, world-destroying, interchangeable riff-raff we’ve seen in other films—someone who, angry at the way the rich have rigged the system, perceives himself as striking a blow for the working class with his antics. So that, despite the outlandish gear, he still feels real, realer in any case than that glowy blue eel-thing Jamie Foxx played in the last Spider-Man film. 

With Logan, Wonder Woman and now this, 2017 has been a pretty good year for superhero films so far. Let’s hope it stays that way. 

 

Published: 15-07-2017 08:47

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