Thursday, 6 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (3D) (2017) (Review)


Spider-Man entered his third big-screen reincarnation in a supporting capacity in last year's excellent Captain America: Civil War, but the time to prove himself in his first solo, starring outing is now. The titular Homecoming not only cites the prom at Midtown High School that occurs towards the end of the film, but becomes a meta reference to the webslinger's triumphant return to Marvel after its middling stint with Sony. Alongside the new deal (which sees Sony maintain creative control over the character but allows Marvel to infuse him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and control the merchandising output), a new actor takes the reigns: Tom Holland dons the red, black and blue spandex suit following his cameo in Civil War, this time utilising the feature-length to get the ball rolling for the already planned franchise and to set the stage for his prominent feature as an Avenger. 2017 has already given us three good-to-great superhero films (Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Wonder Woman) and suggests somewhat of a revitalisation after 2016's uninspired efforts - so does Spider-Man: Homecoming continue that trend?

Bypassing the origin story (after all, we have already seen two in as many decades and we all know that Uncle Ben dies by now), Homecoming concerns itself with Peter Parker trying to find a balance between his real life and his time as a 'friendly, local neighbourhood superhero' come 'Stark Intern'. Itching to join the Avengers following his part in the Berlin mission, Parker eagerly awaits contact from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) for his next task - but Stark and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) are eager to shield him from the danger that comes with being an official member of the Avengers. One part superhero blockbuster, one part coming-of-age tale, Spider-Man: Homecoming has been praised for its light tone and rather simple story, representing much required rest-bite for the increasingly complex Marvel Cinematic Universe. How successful is Homecoming and is it worthy of its position in the most consistent superhero cinematic universe?

First and foremost, Tom Holland is terrific as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker, fulfilling the promise and potential he granted audiences with during his minor role in Civil War. My heart is still with Andrew Garfield's interpretation of the webslinger but Holland is a worthy and talented individual who brings so much to the role of Peter. With ease and enthusiasm, he handles the humour, with his excellent comedic timing providing some genuinely hilarious moments, as well as more than ably delivering the heavier, darker moments of the plot - which are notably few and far between in comparison to MCU's other chapters. More than successfully, he embodies both Spider-Man and Parker, understanding the difference between the two and allowing that to shine through to us. It is a tremendous performance and instills excitement within me as we head towards Infinity War next year, to see how he will fit into the character dynamics and bounce off the other Avengers. As a matter of fact, the film features solid performances all round; Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau utilise their supporting turns effectively and one familiar face making a return towards the end of the film is a complete joy; Zendaya, Laura Harrier and particularly Jacob Batalon present promising characters that will hopefully play more significant roles moving forward; and Michael Keaton delivers a menacing performance as the film's villain even if, once again, motivations prove to be somewhat sketchy and the film, to my recollection, passed up on making a Birdman reference. C'mon guys, lazy, lazy, lazy...

Jon Watts takes the director's seat with decidedly mixed results. Everything is shot and directed in a capable fashion but it never approaches anything overly impressive; it is evident looking back into his thin filmography that Watts does not have the experience with action - or with a mammoth budget like he is contending with here - to craft or create anything special or memorable with these scenes. The moments are fine (the Washington Monument and the ATM robbery are among the better set pieces) but do not come close to the Airport showdown in Civil War, or the falling city in Doctor Strange, or the Battle of New York in The Avengers, or... you get my drift. Admittedly, Watts has a firmer control and displays his talent more so in the quieter moments of the film: the opening video diary segment is a genius way to introduce this character all over again, playing with that youthful angle superbly, while many of the scenes set within the school are full of energy and life. Those emotionally-driven moments are never flashy or loud, but rather subtle and astute, representing a strength in both the script, the performances and Watts' direction. Emotion (and intensity, of course) is further emphasised by Michael Giacchino's score, a bold and exciting collection perfectly suited to the moments it underpins. Watts, by no means whatsoever, does a bad job directing Homecoming, and for a man helming only his fourth feature-length, it is quite the result - but with the high bar set by previous Marvel pictures, it cannot help but feel somewhat underwhelming. 

Homecoming's script is a both a source of immense strength and disappointment. It is certainly riddled with fun, featuring colourful developments and despite its unneeded, extended runtime, it does fly by in a whirlwind of charming dialogue and refreshing revitalisations - but it all feels somewhat inconsequential on reflection. Even as the film plays out, it rarely achieves the momentum required to drive the film forward to a place of great emotion, or meaning, or weight. Many have praised that as a welcoming breath before we step into the Age of Ultron sequel (and Thor: Ragnarok) but it strands the first MCU Spider-Man feature-length as an incidental stepping stone to the next chapter in the story. What should have been a crowning moment for the series, a 'welcome home' coronation of sorts, ultimately turns into a passing fanfare that struggles to amount to much in the grand scheme of things. That is not so much a criticism as it is recognising what worked for me and what did not and the film does introduces characters effectively and lays the foundations for the new franchise - but it cannot strike you as disappointingly empty. One prime example of the script's success is during a twist leading to the film's third act finale, that elicited an audible gasps and jaw-dropping excitement from the crowd, demonstrating how nimble the script can be when it is firing on all cylinders. To say that Homecoming is a failure is completely unfair though, as the film does feel like a revitalised and fresh take on the franchise that had begun to feel like stale goods. As a Spider-Man film, Homecoming is a success; as an entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is less secure.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun (and surprisingly meaningful) film that lacks the stakes of Marvel's latest releases: how that rests with you will entirely influence your enjoyment of this film. Homecoming's fresh and youthful energy allows the Marvel/Sony blockbuster to feel like a refreshing and vibrant new take on the series, with the film benefiting from the coming-of-age narrative it considers; the balance of Peter and Spidey's life is something Homecoming nails and allows this new incarnation to shine. Considering the biggest complaint surrounding the two films that made up The Amazing Spiderman franchise was its complexity, Homecoming plays it safe - something that, unfortunately (in my eyes anyway), results in a film too inconsequential for its own good. While you cannot deny the fun you have with Homecoming, and there are numerous elements that distract from its comparatively minor flaws, it feels like a stepping stone to the next bigger, bold chapter. It is not the success I hoped it would be; but it is far from the failure I expected.

UPDATE: On second watch, the film's flaws become less pronounced and the film moves at a quick and breezy pace, making the adventure a fun and refreshing one to experience. It struggles with a lack of consequences and the 3D hinders some of the action sequences but the comedy shines through even more so and can actually be appreciated for putting on the brakes somewhat. This 2D rewatch (seriously, the film is so much better in 2D than 3D, which I'd argue actually takes away from some of the action sequences) pushes it up to the same level as Wonder Woman and Guardians, confirming that the 2017 superheroes are on a role. Thor: Ragnarok next - what have you got for us?

✬☆
(7.5/10)

Summary: Spider-Man: Homecoming is a refreshing, breezy and fun take on the famous webslinger, assembling an impressive cast led by the fantastic Tom Holland and generally avoiding the pitfalls of franchise-building - but the wider-stakes are considerably low, making the first entry in Spider-Man's second reboot feel oddly inconsequential.

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