With Spider-Man Homecoming, we get the third big-screen incarnation of everyone's favourite webslinger – or the fourth, if you count the rather naff TV version played by Nicholas Hammond in the 1970s (the pilot telemovie was shown theatrically in several countries).The mostly great Sam Raimi/Tobey McGuire films led to a pair of so-so Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield reboots, and now comes the first full film (after a guest role in the most recent Captain America outing) featuring Tom Holland's take on this classic Marvel comic character. And now that Spidey is, sort of, back in Marvel's capable hands we have a film that, for the most part, absolutely knocks it out of the park.
We first met Tom Holland's Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, and this film opens with his phone-shot video diary footage of those events. It makes a nice change from having to sit through another recap of how Peter got bitten by a radioactive spider and developed his Spidey powers and oh no, Uncle Ben is dead again. Pete's feeling a little bored since the events of that film – dealing with petty crims around his home borough of Queens while dealing with day-to-day life as a junior in high school – but as much as he keeps pestering Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) for a place on the Avengers team, it's no dice. But Spider-Man's life gets a little more exciting when a new villain turns up in the shape of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) aka The Vulture, who is using weapons that he developed form alien technology left behind in after the Chitauri attack on New York (seen in the first Avengers film).
Holland is far and away the best live-action Spider-Man we've seen yet. He's certainly the youngest and it's nice to see the filmmakers taking the character back to his teenage origins of the Marvel comic books from the 1960s. And Holland is certainly an engaging and charismatic presence on screen, both in and out of the Spidey suit. Homecoming plays out kind of like a John Hughes-esque teen comedy with a bit of superhero action attached to it. Peter has to deal with the boring stuff of everyday life: the high school crush (for him it's the lovely Liz, played by Laura Harrier), a trip to Washington with the Academic Decathlon team, and keeping the fact that he is Spider-Man a secret from best mate Ned (Jacob Batalon) ... he fails.
Homecoming – a title that alludes to Spider-Man's semi-return to the Marvel Studios empire as well as the high school dance that Peter attends in the film – is fast, fun and very funny. Perhaps it's a little too funny at times, with an often bumbling Peter still comming to terms with his Spider-Man powers. And like the previous five Spider-Man films, it doesn't quite get the character 100% right, at least the character we know and love from the comics. The Raimi films pretty much nailed Parker, but their Spider-Man was not smart-arsed or witty enough, while the Webb films got that part right but Garfield was a little too old and far too good looking to be a geeky Peter Parker. Holland and director Jon Watts get it mostly right, but there is still ... something ... missing. Also missing is the Manhattan skyline, which was always a joy to see Spider-Man swing through; here, the big set pieces take place in Queens or Washington. And another gripe – probably the biggest – is the Spider-Man suit itself. Instead of the home-mad jobby (albeit pretty bloody professional looking) that we've seen in the past, here the suit has been developed by Stark Industries. And it comes complete with loads of gadgets – different settings for the web shooters, a drone built in to the spider emblem on the chest, and more – plus a built in computer, much like the Iron Man suit, voiced here by Jennifer Connelly. It just feels a bit too high-tech, and it's not the Spider-Man that I enjoyed reading about (and watching in cartoon form) as a kid; there's not even a mention of his famous Spider Sense. Still, I am probably not the audience that the makers of Spider-Man: Homecoming had in mind, and that's OK.
Despite a few faults, Homecoming is a vast improvement over the previous two Webb/Garfield movies. It's light and breezy, the action scenes are exciting (especially the scene on the Staten Island ferry) and the filmmakers have learned their lessons about having far too many villains overcrowding a movie. There's just the one here, The Vulture, and Keaton makes a wonderful bad guy – reminiscent of Alfred Molina's Dr Octopus from Spider-Man 2, although not quite as sympathetic. There are a few surprises to be had too, including a twist thatb you really won't see coming. The young cast all acquit themselves well, with Harier and Zendaya as classmate Michelle the standouts. And a nice surprise is upcoming Aussie superstar Angourie Rice as student Betty Brant – who, in the comics, was actually J Jonah Jameson's secretary at the Daily Bugle newspaper, and a future love interest of Peter's. A hint of things to come? And will we see the wonderful JK Simmons return as Jameson in the next film? We can only hope.
When all is said and done, this is Holland's film although the way – he brings genuine youthful zest and enthusiasm to the role; if you liked what you saw him do in Civil War, then you'll love him here. This "team-up" from Sony and Marvel has paid dividends and produced a terrific superhero film that will leave you excited for the sequel. And be sure to stay through the credits for the BEST sting we've seen on a Marvel film yet.