Review: Spider-man — Homecoming (cinema)

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Well, that’s Blitzkrieg Bop stuck in my head forever now.

I was pretty ambivalent about seeing this beforehand, but I need to get better use of my cinema membership, and I want my local cinema to be used more so it stays open, so… it appealed more than Cars 3. And it bucked the trend regarding my waning interest in Spider-man movies! I only saw Sam Raimi’s 1 and 2; one Amazing Spider-man was enough for me; and despite everyone telling me he was the best thing in Civil War *whispers* I still haven’t see Civil War. But I’m actually quite keen to now, which is an outcome that way outstrips my expectations for how much I’d enjoy this movie.

Right, sorry, enthusing, yes!

The first sentence was my way of saying this has a great soundtrack. I don’t need to reiterate what everyone’s already said about Peter Parker actually being allowed to be a kid in this, but it does make the movie much more refreshing, not least when it manages to combine his unpopularity with a believable level of nerdiness. It was about time we ditched the skateboard, frankly. And it probably helps that we don’t need to see his transformation from unhealthy super-nerd to … super-nerd with a six-pack. Nuance — shock! — is brought to the dynamics of the American high school (well, the academically prestigious New York high school anyway), because the love interest is also a nerd; the weird outsider is a nerd; the bully is a nerd … and I’m getting sick of the word ‘nerd’. Nerds are great anyway. Basically, Spider-man — Homecoming builds on some of the successful alterations of The Amazing Spider-man but casts a guy who can plausibly play a teenager in the main role. And — praise be — Uncle Ben didn’t even need to die onscreen or within the narrative timeline. Not even the man with the nice sandwiches needed to die!

In fact, no one died!

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The Day Today – in 1975, no one died…

I really wanted Michael Keaton as Tooms not to be Michael Keaton, but to be Doug Hutchison, who played Eugene Tooms in two of the creepiest X Files episodes ever. Anyway, I guess Michael Keaton was pretty good. His Tooms was the kind of antagonist you’d expect from this movie: a cross between the archetypal Spider-man antagonist (surrogate dad figure, is confused about his priorities, thinks he’s just helping his family but is in love with Mad Science) and the archetypal Iron Man antagonist (Tony Stark killed his family/dog/job/blew up his country/stole his science etc etc). It was a combination that worked surprisingly well, and Spider-man — Homecoming isn’t here for any of your usual Spider-man déonouement clichés: the set of scenes in which Peter and then Tooms recognise who the other is is done brilliantly. The atmosphere is claustrophobic from the moment Tooms opens the front door, letting us suspect (along with Peter) for a good while that this is a set-up, that Tooms has restrained the house’s occupants and brought Peter into a trap. But then a supremely awkward feeling takes over as it’s revealed to be the cozy family home of the villain. And normally this kind of thing is done in such a tired way that it really bugs me, but Tooms’ daughter* and wife keep the lightness of domesticity about it, particularly in the car journey where teenage exasperation meets sinister scheming. In the end, Peter’s not made to have the weight of anyone’s death on his hands, and complications are avoided because Tooms’ family moves away, with no suspicion of Peter’s involvement.

Avoiding creepiness as a male is a recurring theme in the movie too, and Peter treads a believable line between longing after Liz but not wanting to be a jerk about it. From Stark’s early ‘wait, that was creepy, wasn’t it?’ — his usual brand of admitting problematic behaviour out loud as though all he has to do to make amends is acknowledge that it’s wrong, without doing anything about it — to Peter’s baffled rejection of ‘suit lady’ Karen’s advice, Peter Parker shows he’s a hero without a sense of entitlement. Marissa Tomei’s Aunt May is also a refreshing take on the character, both relaxed in a New Age-y kind of way, and yet clearly worried about her ability to single-handedly raise a teenage boy. The scene where she and Peter try to figure out how to tie a Windsor knot using Youtube says it all, really.

Of the other MCU movies the one it most resembles is Ant Man (which I also thoroughly enjoyed). It skirts the big stuff, doing another nice job of showing the fall-out of the Chitauri invasion and, like Ant Man, it’s a story in which the new hero, manipulated by an older hero (even one with good intentions) needs to learn how to define themselves and to stand up for their own position in, or around, the team. Peter starts off on the outside, longing to be on the inside, but this is about the Avengers, not about who he hangs out with at school. Along the way he misses out on the kind of formative teenage experiences that previous Spider-men have pined over, and the ‘tough love’ that Stark tries to claim as the making of him as an Avenger is ultimately the making of him as a more rounded, normal teenager. That Stark still doesn’t understand what it entails to ‘be better than [him]’ is clear from the scene in which Peter surprises him, Happy and even Pepper.

So, a feel-good Spider-man movie; a Spider-man who longs for something, but who is mature enough to realise when it’s handed to him that it’s not something he needs right now. For his own sake, it can wait. There’s no great self-sacrificing moment where he must interalise his angst in order to protect a Gwen or an MJ; by the end of the movie quite a few people know his secret and he’s much better off for it.

*Referring to her as this to avoid getting too spoilery.

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