The subtitle Homecoming should give you a clue, if you’ve watched enough American movies – this is a high school prom flick as much as a super hero film.
But it’s also about Spiderman the character coming home to Marvel, following the unusual truce/deal between Sony and Marvel (i.e. Disney) that has brokered the sharing of this singularly popular super hero, one who has always had unique teen appeal.
Next up, you might notice the absence of that great old TV Spider-man theme tune, my favourite – “is he strong? listen bud, he’s got radioactive blood,”- but there is an orchestral version of it playing over the Marvel opening theme credits (most of the music is by Michael Giacchino, the Oscar-winning composer of Up and Inside Out).
Following that deal, this is thus the first Spider-man movie, since they began rebooting it in 2002 under Sam Raimi with Tobey Maguire, to take place in the Marvel Comic Universe, which means all the characters now pop up in each other’s movies – indeed, we’ve already been introduced to this new iteration of Spidey in Capt America: Civil War, which was a right old superhero mash-up.
It’s some relief, then to find this Spider-man, now played by London’s own Tom Holland (and son of comedian Dominic Holland, who must be chuffed his kid’s just earned more in two hours than he has in lifetime of quips), more or less taking centre stage on his own.
But this isn’t your usual reboot/origins story – if you didn’t know, Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider – but our boy’s already dealt with his powers and is now itching to become part of the Avengers team. As his whole high school knows, Peter’s got an internship with billionaire Tony Stark, but they don’t know the full secrets.
Except Peter’s nerdy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who is too excited to discover his mate’s ability to crawl up walls yet, barely containing his neo-pubescent shrieks, thrilled to be entrusted with the “helper’ role, or “the guy in the chair” as he calls it. He has a lot of questions, like a fanboy would, such as: “What does Hulk smell like?”
In this episode (if 130 mins can be called that), Spidey’s school crush, is Liz, head of the quiz team (Laura Harrier) whose favourite hero is Spiderman. Everyone in this movie knows about the existence of superheroes. They’re the pop cultural icons of this world, as real as pop stars.
Can Peter prove to Tony Stark that he’s ready to step up and join the band, or should he just stay a friendly neighbourhood Spiderman and continue helping old ladies across the road in Queens?
There are good set pieces here, including one of those great runs through suburban back gardens (stumbling over fences, around pools, bbqs, barking dogs, a hockey goal); a school visit to the Washington Monument that requires Spidey’s help; a battle on the Staten Island Ferry.
The main driver of the plot between the big moments, is Michael Keaton as the Vulture (good casting, as he was of course Batman and then Birdman) though here he’s a rather vague villain, not sure really what his end-game is or beef with the Avengers.
Still, the film swings along, buoyant with good quips, a nice school setting – quiz teams, prom, house party, crushes, detention – with comic cameos from Robert Downey Jnr who’s Tony/Iron Man is becoming a sort of M figure in charge of all super hero activity, while Jon Favreau plays Happy his assistant, a kind of Q.
There’s the suit, too, which like some mad Premier League marketing department, feels it has to change frequently. This time, as invented and upgraded by Tony Stark, there’s a talking suit lady, voiced by Jennifer Connelly – if you really know your movie universes, she’s married to Paul Bethany, who’s the voice of Tony Stark’s Iron Man servant, Jarvis.
So, there are connections and references (Ferris Bueller, Breakfast Club – they used to just plant jokes for the adults, now they keep them happy with sly references to some of their favourite old movies) and Tom Holland makes a good job of a kid wrestling with his super powers and the maelstrom of prom.
Where will he go next, though? To college? Is the next one a campus comedy, Spidey in a frat house? Could work. We do know Spidey will be back – but he’ll need to grow up fast.