Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming adds a revitalising blast of youthful energy to the tired MCU formula

I'll hold my hands up here and be honest: my expectations for this film were pretty mediocre. Marvel rarely put out an actively poor film so I wasn't exactly dreading their take on Spider-man, but Tom Holland's version of the character began to grate by the end of his few sequences in the otherwise first class Captain America: Civil War. If he's starting to feel unwelcome after just a cameo appearance, I thought, how on Earth is he going to sustain his own feature length story? 

What a surprise it is, then, that Spider-Man: Homecoming not only represents a confident, engaging version of such a well worn character, but also makes a solid claim to be one of the best films Marvel have released in their ever growing cinematic universe. Gone is the incessant franchise building, as well as the egotistical characters and consistently over the top action pieces. What we have instead is a film that finds comfort in its own smallness, one that relishes in being quieter and more subdued than anything the MCU has offered in a very long time.

That's not to say Homecoming will be winning any screenplay awards any time soon. The film is still burdened with a lot of issues that crop up in almost all of Marvel's offerings: the villain is uninspired and, frankly, dull; the runtime is bloated to say the least; the final act goes a bit too overboard in trying to ramp up the action scale. Michael Keaton playing a winged character in a superhero movie is ironic for all the wrong reasons - come on, man, Birdman was like two years ago - but even his commanding performance can't save a villain so lacking in motivation, so flat in character and personality.

Yet, away from Keaton's villain, Homecoming is infused with a refreshing youthfulness. There's something truly endearing about Holland's take on the character. Bringing Spider-Man back to school turns out to be one of the film's smartest choices, adding a new kind of sub genre for Marvel to experiment in. The film ticks off almost every cliche on the list, but it does so in gleefully fun ways: Peter Parker's budding romance with classmate Liz (Laura Harrier) should feel tacky, but the film never overplays either of their affections. Instead of trying to force two teenagers into something deeper solely to create an emotional core, director Jon Watts simply plays the subplot as two schoolkids with a shared crush - it's simple, but it's effective.

It also works a great deal in adding some weight to an otherwise lighthearted film. Homecoming doesn't exactly tug at the heartstrings, but it has a softness to it, something gooey in the middle to add tension to its heightened finale. There's a warmness to the film, a beating heart placed perfectly in view but never thrown around to the point of obtrusiveness. Homecoming's script isn't subtle at all, but it gets the job done nicely - and, unlike a certain Marvel sequel from earlier this year, it knows when to cut the jokes and let the soul take over for a bit.

While action sequences aren't really the film's strong suit - Watts fails to make many of them register, showing a basic understanding of how to cover an action scene but never infusing them with any real spark - Homecoming finds solace in its humour. Never cropping up in unwelcome scenes but adding levity to some of the more emotional moments, this Spider-Man is a relentlessly funny film. Jacob Batalon's Ned is a bonafide scene stealer, a character that could have felt forced but instead turns into a real delight on screen. The film's tertiary cast are all on form as well, there are some brilliantly funny moments courtesy of Donald Glover and Martin Starr, and especially Marisa Tomei's inspired take on Aunt May.

At the centre of it all is Holland though. While he rarely gets a chance to demonstrate any real acting chops - bar one brief scene which finds him isolated, desperately crying out for help in a somewhat harrowing way - he proves his knack for pinpoint comic timing. None of his jokes fall flat, whether he's in costume or not he's a joy to watch. The film's script is already clever in how it adds some revitalising youthfulness to the Marvel formula, but Holland takes it a step further - he embodies the role effortlessly, abandoning what made him annoying in Civil War without losing what made him interesting.

Homecoming has no need to clock in at well over two hours, but that doesn't mean the film drags. A tighter edit might help the film a great deal on rewatches - this is one of few Marvel films I'll be returning to, for sure - but it isn't too big of an issue when what we do have is as enjoyable as this. Homecoming doesn't land the intensely emotional heights of Civil War or the awe-inspiring action of The Avengers, but it finds a new tone in the middle of a franchise that's felt stale for a while now, and that's plenty good enough for me.

In A Sentence

Refreshingly funny, surprisingly endearing and well performed across the board, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the MCU's most enjoyably engaging films to date.

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