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Spider-Man: Homecoming

Cover Media logo Cover Media 07/07/2017 covermg.com

Spider-Man: Homecoming marks Tom Holland’s second appearance as web-slinging superhero Peter Parker, but his first as a lead after his brief cameo in Captain America: Civil War.

As such it’s our first opportunity to really get to know how Holland’s Spider-Man will fit into Marvel’s bombastic hero-filled Cinematic Universe.

In a brief prologue which takes us back five years to the destructive aftermath of the first Avengers movie, we meet Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), the owner of a salvage business, tasked with cleaning up alien wreckage. After government officials intervene he steals the alien technology left after that film’s final battle.

As for Peter, in the present, he’s a geeky 15-year-old schoolboy with a secret that only exposes him to further ridicule.

Having boasted about gaining an internship with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the cover for his secret identity, his schoolmates tease him about the fact his special status hasn’t led to any of his Avenger friends visiting him. His lack of popularity especially hurts as he’s desperate to impress his crush Liz (Laura Harrier), a fellow member of Peter’s academic decathlon team.

Tony may have gifted his protege the Spider-Man suit, but he's ignored him since, and the youngster’s texts asking to be a part of another mission have piled up without reply.

In his absence, Peter busies himself as Spider-Man by foiling minor crimes and helping passers-by out with directions. Although he manages to keep his activities secret from his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovers his alter-ego.

Peter’s petty vigilantism morphs into something more dangerous when he happens upon a gang robbing a bank with advanced weapons. Determined to find their source and prove himself to Tony Stark, he investigates and crosses paths with Toomes, who as the supervillain Falcon has built himself a lucrative criminal enterprise supplying crooks with alien hardware.

Holland is a delight as the character - portraying the angst felt by teenagers while still capturing the joy of being at an age where new experiences are as plentiful as hope for the future. His interplay with Batalon, Harrier and Zendaya, who plays MJ, Peter’s most cynical classmate, is as convincing as it is enjoyable.

Some of the recent Marvel movies have lacked the pizzazz of the early films. They’ve still been fun, action-filled rides, but haven’t had the wit that drew even comic book sceptics into the first Avengers movie.

That wit is back in Spider-Man Homecoming, as director Jon Watts’ film takes its cue from irreverent and intricate depictions of what it’s like to be the extraordinary kid in high school like Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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In 2017, that means social media and technology come to the fore, and among the film’s many funny moments, Peter’s video diary of his one and only mission as an Avenger stands out. His interplay with the “suit lady” he dubs “Karen”, the Siri-style control system on his Spider-Man suit is also immensely enjoyable.

One criticism is that there is so much talent on screen that a lot of it is underutilised. Zendaya is consistently hilarious and cutting but is restricted to a few scenes of comic relief. Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr is a deadpan delight as the kids’ academic decathlon coach, but he, Donald Glover and Hannibal Buress are only used in a few short but perfectly pitched scenes.

For much of the film, the same could be said of Keaton. However the interplay between Falcon and Spider-Man in the final act, including one of the best and understated scenes in any superhero movie ever, more than makes up for his sidelining early on.

The action set-pieces are by no means substandard, as Watts delivers the inevitable explosions and peril you expect from a superhero blockbuster. What makes Spider-Man; Homecoming stand out though is what it delivers over-and-above that - an at times hilarious exploration of what it’s like in high school to be different but unable to express it.

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