Film review | Spider-Man: Homecoming: Netting the youth audience in its web

Spider-Man: Homecoming is an overstuffed superhero franchise concoction that delights as much as it frustrates • 3/5

Overstretched and overstuffed: young British actor Tom Holland is our new Spider-Man
Overstretched and overstuffed: young British actor Tom Holland is our new Spider-Man

There have been far too many reiterations of the Spider-Man story on the silver screen over the past decade-and-a-half: this much we can all agree on. The jump from the early-noughties Sam Raimi-directed, Toby Maguire-starring trilogy to the more recent Mark Webb/Andrew Garfield aborted franchise appeared to happen in a timespan that is roughly equivalent to the webspinner’s own trademark leaps from one downtown New York skyscraper to another.

But now, what with Marvel Studios finally reaching a compromise with Columbia Pictures over the use of the character in their ‘shared universe’ of films, the new and younger Spidey (Tom Holland) can play in the same sandbox as Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and the rest of the Avengers – and has in fact already made his debut in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. That film had poor Peter Parker/Spider-Man drawn into an internal ‘disagreement’ with the Avengers – the titular ‘civil war’ – after being coaxed into it by Stark himself. Now, we find Peter – still living with a much-younger iteration of Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) than we’re used to – waiting by the phone for the call from Stark, or at least his assistant Harold ‘Happy’ Hogan (Jon Favreau), to grant him a more permanent position with the Avengers... a job opportunity whose details he keeps secret, referring to them an as ‘internship’ with Stark when speaking about it to May and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). 

While standard high school angst plagues Peter too – he is in love with his talented and beautiful classmate Liz (Laura Harrier), who prizes extracurricular activities as much as Peter feels the need to go out and fight any attempt at petty crime that he sees happening on his improvised, webslinging ‘beat’. 

But stuff suddenly becomes a lot less casual when he encounters a group of thugs robbing an ATM with highly overqualified (read: alien) weaponry. The trail leads him to an operationally underground but practically avian criminal Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) – a wronged building contractor who has taken it upon himself to steal from the rich and give to himself, by any means necessary. 

Working class villain: Michael Keaton
Working class villain: Michael Keaton

Directed by Jon Watts, this iteration of the Spider-Man story has Marvel shrewdly skate past yet another retelling of the ‘bitten by radioactive spider’ origin narrative – leaving Peter to simply recount it to Ned in a truncated, funny exchange – and cuts straight to the action. Or more precisely, where ‘Civil War’ left off, the highlights of which are ingeniously retold for the uninitiated through mobile phone footage that a star-struck Peter takes while on his maiden journey as an erstwhile Avenger. The film maintains a healthy humorous streak throughout, and makes itself somewhat distinct from other Marvel movies by very clearly taking the side of its younger audience – a good thing too, seeing as this is the first time we  get an on-screen Peter Parker who actually looks and feels like a high-school student.  

But the enterprise is somewhat compromised by an undisciplined approach to storytelling. At two-and-a-half hours, what should be a lean and zippy variant on its more lumbering superhero counterparts misses that particular boat, and by trying to cram in as much quality time for both the high school AND superhero antics, it often ends up feeling like two movies in one.

Which, at the end of the day, isn’t too bad a thing when you have a good amount of jokes to keep the beast afloat, and when the villain – often the Achilles’ heel of the Marvel Studios franchise – both looks cool (the ‘Vulture’s mechanical wing get-up, coupled with a perfectly-judged aviator jacket, makes for a killer frame) and is played with rugged aplomb by Michael ‘Batman AND Birdman!’ Keaton. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming is an overstuffed superhero franchise concoction that delights as much as it frustrates. Giving a ‘young adult’ wash to Marvel Studios’ trademark upbeat humour and action-packed set pieces, it is also overlong and baggy, dedicating far too much time on both the superheroics and the high school antics without striving to achieve the kind of fine-tuned balance that would have made it a truly worthwhile summer blockbuster.