From the moment the introduction includes that familiar Spiderman cartoon series theme you know this is going to be a more playful take on the web slinger than recent attempts and indeed that is the case. Spiderman Homecoming pivots on two excellent performances from Tom Holland and Michael Keaton and a likeable sense of irreverence that stops short of parody. Plus suitably enough considering the main character, it is essentially a coming of age movie.
Alert! Spidey spoilers past this point!
The great thing about this film is its comparatively low key approach which is combined with the sort of visuals a real teenager would be more likely relate to. Hence the first five minutes or so we see of Peter are largely made to look as if filmed on a phone, the sort of footage that dominates YouTube. Also the narrative focuses on both Peter and antagonist Adrian Toombes’ ordinary backgrounds. The latter is a blue collar worker whose job clearing up after superhero slug outs is abruptly terminated whereupon he and his men appropriate some of the weapons for their own development. Years later he has a pair of metal wings and though he’s not called the Vulture in the film it is this character upon which he is based. Michael Keaton has become even better as he gets older and here he pitches an outwardly casual but internally seething performance as Toombes. There are moments of casual levity, honesty and occasionally chilling menace.
He makes a great adversary for Peter who’s played with more nuance here than in his rambunctious Civil War scenes by Tom Holland. He’s well served by a script that juggles his superhero antics with more down to earth concerns like school, friends and Liz, the girl he’s crushing on. Holland seems to have limitless energy which he pours into the role making this Peter likeable, identifiable and believable, not that easy. There are strong roles too for Jacob Batalon as Peter’s nerdy best mate Ned, Zendaya as eccentric class mate Michelle and Laura Harrier as Liz.
Once again Marvel shows how adept they are at fashioning a different look for each of their superhero character’s films. This is more or less the teen Avenger movie. Peter is often awkward, talks too much and makes mistakes. As if to underline the outlook, the film restricts established Avengers to boring grown up detail - Stark being parental, Captain America shown on public service announcements!
We see a lot of metal, hard surfaces, neon lit alleys and small convenience stores. Often the focus is on the difficulties of what Peter is doing rather than it appearing to be easy. Also, Spiderman’s wise cracking does not always get him through every situation and his naivety is exposed several times. This makes for some funny moments- his `interrogation` of a criminal is priceless and there’s a fun sequence where he’s trying to work his complex interactive Spidey suit. There are more serious results too; when he misjudges a scenario aboard the Statten Island Ferry it almost had disastrous consequences. Even the most heroic moments are undercut with little problems or issues that never seem to bother the older Avengers and this gives the film its character.
It is the case that there are relatively few surprises- except one humdinger that is simply someone opening a door- with the high school beats feeling as if they sometimes overegg homage to their source material of 80s teen films. The female roles are reduced to the sidelines too in what is very much a male film. Yet Homecoming feels satisfying thanks to its quirky take on superheroics and the fact that for much of the film Peter has to learn from his mistakes, improvise and just somehow get through. Just like any teenager.