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Movie Review
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING:A heartwarming coming-of-age film!


Screen Story: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley 

Screenplay: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers

 

Co-produced by Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios and distributed by Sony Pictures, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Directed by Jon Watts, with a screenplay by the writing teams of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, Watts and Christopher Ford, and Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, Marvel appears to have pulled out all the stops for Sony’s third attempt at everyone’s favourite webslinger.

Spider-Man: Homecoming dives right into it, recounting the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) through Peter Parker’s eyes. Audiences are spared the traditionally thirty-minute long origin rehash through creative vlogger-style shots that offer a summary of the Battle of New York. Soon enough, one finds Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in the present day, riding in the backseat of an Audi with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr).

Parker’s earnestness is convincing right from the start, and one can tell that Holland’s honest delivery is going to provide an enjoyable interpretation of the character. When he asks the inevitable: “When can I join the Avengers again, Mr. Stark?”, his mentor waves off the possibility with a glib: “We’ll call ya,” and a fifteen-year old Peter Parker is left to figure out the superhero shtick on his own whilst waiting for the call that will clearly never come.

As the third live-action iteration of Spider-Man (created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko), Tom Holland proves himself and then some. He is brave, trusting, passionate and boyish, and is quite possibly the most endearing Spider-Man to have crawled onto the big screen. Parker’s innocence hits home from the get-go, and Holland sprinkles some convincing teenage awkwardness and uncertainty for good measure. It is easy to root for a character that has so effectively balanced a sense of purity with well-placed defiance, especially when this is dotted with light humour and an amusing supporting cast.

Instead of bounding into the intergalactic wars and universe-wrecking havoc of previous MCU installments, Homecoming takes a step back to focus on the basics: Peter Parker struggling to balance academics, teen romance, and his secret identity.

Under Watts’ gifted direction, Holland conveys a refreshing, relatable take on Spider-Man the high schooler rather than Spider-Man the superhero. Scenes involving Parker staring longingly at suburban house parties and teenage rule-breaking effectively convey the lonely double life he is about to lead, but this film is far from brooding. As viewers watch a young Peter Parker attempt to navigate the superhero world by saving cats from trees, catching bicycle thieves and stopping a man from breaking into his own car, one cannot help but enjoy the easy pacing of Homecoming’s first half.

If it weren’t for Michael Keaton’s villainous Adrian Toomes/Vulture, however, Spider-Man: Homecoming could have easily slipped into a dull, comfortable trap of its own making. Thankfully, Keaton’s character bounces right off Holland’s Spider-Man to create an intriguing equilibrium of contrary forces. Through the creators’ decision to forego a stereotypical ‘badness’ in favour of a more sympathetic, circumstantial evil, Homecoming’s Vulture is the best Spider-Man cinematic villain since supervillains Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin. Keaton exudes a raw human quality that other villains in the MCU lack, and even without the suit, he possesses a chilling intensity that one cannot help but appreciate.

Costume (Louise Frogley) and CGI animators (Ironhead Studio/Legacy Effects) have not only kept the original Vulture metal wings and furred collar, but have also added some terrifying green eyes and a well-designed helmet. The new spider-suit, with its high-tech upgrades, drones, vacuum-fit and holographic maps, is an impressive improvement.

It is frustrating, however, to observe how the screenwriters have worked so hard not to produce a well-rounded Spider-Man story, but a calculated attempt to integrate their new Spider-Man into the Avengers’ lucrative world.

One the one hand, Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t rip off Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) or Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) by regurgitating the origin storyline. On the other hand, while Homecoming is very much about a teenager in high-school, it is also – for the hundredth time – about Tony Stark zooming in to save the day. The all-encompassing ‘Avengers’ element overshadows a few key action scenes, distracting viewers from the web-slinging superhero’s character development. Sideplots into the Avengers universe come off as forced and, unlike Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), do not focus on the protagonist. Worse still, Spider-Man’s iconic web-shooters are attributed to Stark’s genius, thus robbing Parker’s character of the intellect that fans cherish him for.

It is encouraging to see racial diversity in Homecoming’s supporting cast, though Michelle (Zendaya), Liz (Laura Harrier) and Flash (Tony Revolori) are simple plot points. Jacob Batalon, on the other hand, shines in his role as Ned, Parker’s quirky best friend and Spidey’s designated ‘chair guy.’

As one might expect, Favreau’s Happy is only around to serve as a punchline, and Captain America’s (Chris Evans) cameos feel unnecessary and unfunny. Unlike Rosemary Harris’ memorable performance in Raimi’s Spider-Man, Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May only seems to exist to fulfill the ‘hot older woman’ trope. Her bond with Parker feels flat and meaningless, and the writers fail to grant this character depth.

Tony Stark’s presence spawns one stirring moment that effectively sums up the MCU’S Spider-Man and Iron Man, when Parker exclaims: “I just wanted to be like you!” and Stark responds: “I wanted you to be better.” Another memorable line – “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it” – becomes the new “with great power comes great responsibility” for 2017’s Spider-Man.

Watts builds on Parker’s sincerity and inexperience with such focus that when the gradual crescendo finally tips, Peter Parker’s fated transformation into Spider-Man is nerve-wracking and emotionally stirring.

Unsurprisingly, Homecoming does not hesitate to drive in formulaic MCU elements such as colourful characters, well-rounded punchlines, realistic swooping camera shots (Salvatore Totino), impressive visual effects, light PG-13 humour (which of course was bowlderized for Indian audiences), Easter eggs, cameos, carefully placed side-villains that could lead to spin-offs, gaudy product placement, and well-choreographed stunts (Ilram Choi).

Unlike Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, however, Homecoming’s action scenes lack a sense of intense urgency that are essential to movies of this genre. There is a moment that is reminiscent of Raimi’s Spiderman 2 (2004), when Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker attempts to stop a speeding train full of passengers from going off the rails, yet Holland’s version of this in Homecoming is pale and uninspiring in comparison. Similarly, even the music (Michael Giacchino), while fitting, does not quite measure up when compared to Danny Elfman’s 2002 soundtrack.

And yet, in spite of these inescapable comparisons, it cannot be denied that Tom Holland has won hearts the world over and is now, effectively, the Spider-Man. With Watts’ ardent focus on making Homecoming a coming-of-age film rather than another origin story, Homecoming stands to become one of the most successful superhero reboots yet. While this transitional take may be off-putting to some, the new Spider-Man is no doubt going to be a key player in the Avengers’ cinematic world. Most importantly, unlike Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man or even Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Spider-Man: Homecoming brims with optimism, good story-telling, and above all, heart. It does not lose sight of its protagonist's integrity and eventual transformation into the much beloved, friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.

Indeed, the film is aptly named, for webheads the world over are – finally – home.



   Tina Mohandas

Tina Mohandas is a songwriter, musician, tattoo artist, vintage motorcycle collector, and animal rights activist. Currently writing her debut science fantasy novel, she is also the co-founder of the non-profit Bikerhood India initiative, and hopes one day to free every caged animal in the world.

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