For the third time since 2002, we have a reboot of the Spiderman film franchise, with Tom Holland stepping into the boots that Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield had previously filled. The key difference this time is that Holland’s Spiderman inhabits the established Marvel Cinematic Universe, joining the fold, so to speak (hence the title, ‘Homecoming‘). The arrangement between Marvel and Sony is a great bit of business for both studios, and it also gives fans what they wanted to see – one of the best-loved comic book characters Marvel has ever produced joining the MCU.
Of course, with that power comes great responsibility (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Tom Holland is the youngest of the three actors to play Peter Parker on the big screen, and as a teenager himself, is perhaps best-placed to understand the awkwardness of the age, when you are desperate to fit in, yet completely unsure of how to do it. To add to the character’s worries is the desire to be part of something greater – Parker has his powers, but is not regarded as a member of the Avengers, on account of his youth and inexperience. So naturally, he yearns to prove himself, with disastrous consequences.
Not that these consequences are entirely of his own making. A bit of trust from a key character at a certain time might have been enough to prevent a big problem later on, yet much of what happens through the middle of the film is on Parker’s uncontrolled determination to be the hero he wants to be, even if it means he overextends himself. Something we all grapple with as teenagers – we want to be more than we are, we want to fit in, we want to prove ourselves, whilst lacking the understanding that experience brings. I think we can all relate to Parker in that respect.
We also see other sides to Parker – his determination and his courage. After a pivotal moment where he is stripped of his confidence and the support of Tony Stark, he is unexpectedly thrust back into a deadly situation – or to be more precise, he puts himself back into a deadly situation when he sees an opportunity to step in and correct his earlier mistake. This exposes him to great danger, but he is conscious of the greater danger of letting the situation continue unchecked, and he doesn’t hesitate to put place himself in harm’s way to stop the bad guy. Bravery has often been a key part of the character – just look at the comics – so this is a nice way of honouring the character.
Speaking of the bad guy, Michael Keaton is an Oscar winner and he reminds people as to why here. Adrian Toomes/The Vulture carries a lot of steel and menace as a guy driven to the edge, and he is not (unlike some Marvel villains) a one-dimensional character, but rather, a man who feels that he is doing a service for the little guys against the fat cats. He sells weapons of tremendous power to the wrong people, but acts to protect his family and loved ones, and has a strong sense of loyalty to the little gang he works with. He can be ruthless; he does so to protect the people he loves.
In fact, this brings me to a nice little moment at the end – both hero and villain have the opportunity to let the other die/set the dogs on the other. Both pass this chance up in order to do the right thing. This sets the film apart from many of the other MCU entries, which tend to be quite ‘black and white’ in terms of how they handle their dilemmas.
In terms of the other characters… really, they feel quite incidental. Jacob Batalon is Ned, Parker’s best friend, and he provides comic relief and an outlet for Parker, but not a lot else (though he does have one of the best lines in the movie). Laura Harrier is Liz, Parker’s dream girl, but she doesn’t really have a lot to do. She is portrayed as being very clever, but doesn’t get too many chances to demonstrate this. A more interesting character is Michelle, played by Zendaya, of Disney TV series fame. Michelle is quite a bullish character, speaking what’s on her mind and eschewing the standard narrative of high school culture. Finally, Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man, serving as the main link between this new incarnation of Spiderman and the MCU as a whole, whilst Jon Favreau is back as Happy Hogan, the somewhat beleaguered security chief/administrator for Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a cameo at the end as Pepper Potts, but it’s very brief, and Chris Evans appears as Captain America in some ‘motivational videos’ which are quite funny.
The film is ultimately a vehicle for Peter Parker, and also for Tom Holland. He does an excellent job portraying the confused state that young Parker is in, ranging from his nervous energy, to dejected misfit.
Finally, I feel compelled to praise the length and breadth of the MCU. The last three entries we’ve had Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and now Spiderman Homecoming. One film dealt with mysterious realms and ‘magic’, the other was misfit team space adventure, and this latest film is about teenage angst. Each film weaves part of a complex tapestry and yet manages to be distinctive. The universe Marvel has built is truly amazing.