Monday, 31 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Quick Review) - "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Does Whatever a Reboot Can"

It's coming home. It's coming home. Football Spider-Man's coming home. Such was the hype leading up to the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first full-length Marvel Cinematic Universe film to feature the web slinger. A significant move as, up to the mid-Noughties, Marvel had the habit of selling off their properties to any movie studio that offered to buy them a drink. They were a bit like your slightly senile granddad who tries to give you all his money whenever you see him.

Marvel will forever be haunted by the likes of Captain America (1979/1990)Fantastic Four (1994/2005/2007/2015), Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1998), Blade: Trinity (2004), Elektra (2005), and Punisher: War Zone (2008). Those films aren't going away; but, as their Cinematic Universe has shown, Marvel are slowly attempting to rectify these mistakes. Homecoming, therefore, serves to mask the bad taste left behind by the pitiful Spider-Man 3 and lacklustre The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Unfortunately, Marvel doesn't yet have sole control of the Spider-Man movie rights and consequently they have to share with Sony. You know, the very same studio which signed off on emo-Peter Parker, and an Electro who resembled a cold bollock. This is like when you had to work on a poster project at school, and the other kid just ate glue but got to share the credit all the same.

So it's another fucking reboot. It seems that superhero movies are rebooted more often than my desktop after it gets bricked by the ransomware from porn sites. Fortunately, Homecoming is what is known as a 'soft' reboot. So whilst the events of previous Spider-Man films can largely be considered not to be a part of this continuity, they serve as a cheat-sheet of sorts.

Most people seeing Homecoming already know Spider-Man's origin story better than they know what a girl sounds like. For the uninitiated among us, Spider-Man is about a teenage boy who is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains the ability to shoot-out webs during inappropriate moments. Such is puberty. He gains all the powers of a spider - including the inability to get out of a bath - and, after his uncle is murdered, he dons a red/blue latex suit and decides to use his powers to help his fellow man. Fortunately, we don't have to watch Uncle Ben die again; poor bloke's been killed more times than Sean Bean.

Homecoming largely ignores all that, and immediately picks up after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is returned to his life by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and essentially told to "git gud". Considering that Parker just went up against half of The Avengers and came out alright, I'm not sure why this was necessary. But then again, Peter Parker is something of a doofus who can't even stop a bike theft properly in this film, so maybe Tony Stark has a point.

What I really don't understand though is why Stark sends Parker on a journey of self-development and then gives him a tech-powered suit which can do everything from combat enhancement to dishing out relationship advice. Fucking hell, when I was captive for five years in secondary school the only help I got was having a less shit haircut than my friends.

Meanwhile one Adrian Toomes, (Michael Keaton) - having been involved in the clean-up from the carnage during the battle of New York in the first Avengers movie, discovers tech left behind by the Chitauri. In a move that rivals Jeff Goldblum and his mac from Independence Day, this normal labourer is somehow able to adopt a wholly alien technology for use in criminal enterprises. Specifically, so he can become winged death. Yes, Keaton goes from Batman to Birdman the Vulture. He gets a five-minute origin story at the very beginning of the film, and it's worse than the Sandman's in Spider-Man 2 as it essentially boils down to him wanting to build a tech-powered wingsuit to support the massive chip on his shoulder. This must be how Apple started.

Being neither a Spider-Man origin story or a direct continuation of a previous film, Homecoming is somewhat difficult to 'get into' initially. The film's story leaves out the spider bite and Uncle Ben's death, so it just begins with Peter Parker as Spider-Man, but he's still wet-behind-the-ears. I appreciate that the idea behind this was to rein in the Spider-Man story and focus on what is surely the best aspect of the character - the duality of Peter enjoying his new-found powers and trying to find his place in high school/super hero pantheon. But the whole set-up is rather dodgy, surely Civil War was as big a superhero developing moment as was needed.

Don't worry if you haven't seen Civil War, however: it only gets referenced about seventy times throughout Homecoming. For me, Homecoming's servitude to previous MCU films is an egregious misstep. This franchise-weaving is at its most obnoxious during the opening sequence which sums up the events of Civil War from Peter Parker's perspective, and he's gushing about how everything is 'awesome' and 'cool'. And other words studio executions think teenagers use from their brief encounters with them at the soul stealing machine.

With the opening following up on previous Marvel films, most of Homecoming's first act is an absolute mess. Toomes' entire motivation hinges on the viewer having seen The Avengers - a film released five years ago. Otherwise, without all the good guys behaving recklessly stuff, he just looks like a guy who really hates his job and decides to go renegade. Which is a feeling most can relate to on a Sunday evening admittedly.

Homecoming also pulls an Ultimate Spider-Man by changing the setting from college to high school, and as a result does away with many traditional aspects of Peter Parker's formative years. There's no Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy or Harry Osborn. Even Aunt May, as played by Marisa Tomei, has gotten younger and hotter. What we're left with are a bunch of dullards who are presented to us as though we're supposed to already have investment in them. There's Fat Spice, Peter's nerd friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who encapsulates the Marvel fanbase by gushing over every little superhero detail in this film. And there's also SJW Spice, played by Zendaya who is best described as misery-guts MJ, and Love Interest Spice - Liz (Laura Harrier).

In many ways Homecoming reminded me of Kick-Ass: specifically the light-hearted tone coupled with a highly dangerous antagonist grounded in real-world style villainy. Keaton's Vulture is threatening in a way that the likes of Thanos will never be - he's an ordinary guy turned rogue who will do anything to protect himself and his family. Just contrast his brooding savagery with Holland's performance as a fun-loving goofy kid.

Peter Parker's playful youth comes across most noticeably in the action sequences: in which Spider-Man engages in acrobatic combat with the effortless tenacity of a bouncy ball. And yet Homecoming is able to achieve the rare feat of being a blockbuster superhero film with a genuine sense of threat, as this young Spider-Man's inexperience repeatedly weighs him down. There's a great sequence in which he's climbing up the Washington Monument and his lack of confidence shines through and makes the entire scene tenser than it should be for a character known for spending more time atop tall buildings than fucking Quasimodo.

But the absolute standout scene in Homecoming is the one in which we discover the Vulture is Liz's dad, and when he's driving Peter and Liz to their prom he figures out Peter is Spider-Man. I can't imagine many superheroes being threatened by a normal guy armed with veiled threats and a gun, but it works here because of the focus on Peter as an average kid coming to terms with his gift.

All in all, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in a good while. You can put that down largely to Holland himself: he's a lot more fun than Tobey Maguire's melancholic Peter or even Andrew Garfield's awkward hipster. Sure he's initially irritating, but his youthful energy helps to carry Homecoming, keep it refreshingly light, and give it teeth when it decides to get serious.

But the film's heavy reliance on lore is what really lets the experience down. Iron Man shows up no less than four times throughout Homecoming, and on two of those occasions he plays a pivotal role in the scene - such saving the day during the bisected ferry sequence. Like many MCU films Homecoming offers no ideal entry point for a casual audience. The way the writers insert the audience into the film's world is so careless and heavy-handed I felt like Daenerys Targaryen being introduced to Khal Drogo's cock on her wedding night.

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