Making movies by committee rarely works. It’s a lesson Sony failed to realise when they parted ways with Sam Raimi post Spider-Man 3. Hiring a less-ballsy director and cast, and allowing the marketing team to pass notes “Hey Marc, can we get a Sony Vaio laptop in this shot?” was a plan far more shocking than Electro, and equally doomed to fail.
So the idea of Sony working with another studio to reboot Spidey for the third time in 15 years was maddening, save for one key ingredient – Marvel. Or more specifically, producer Kevin Feige.
Rather than seeing the web slinger as a cell-phone salesman, Feige has done precisely what Spider-Man required and hired a writer or six, whose script takes the character back to his high school roots, without repeating what we’ve seen before.
We catch up with Peter soon after the events of Civil War. Back in school and yearning for more Avenger adventures, he’s reduced to stopping bike thieves while juggling science quizzes. Dealing with crushes and (mild) bullying.
When a bank robbery catches his eye, Peter stumbles across a nefarious plan involving a perturbed villain (Keaton) and his underground arms sales (he’s been adapting the alien weaponry left over from the first Avengers outing).
But Peter’s well-intentioned efforts to intervene only serve to create more problems than solutions…
Marvel movies often trip themselves up with the studio’s insistence on feeding into the over-arching, episodic, long-term plan. Be it Ant-Man’s momentum-halting diversion to the Avengers HQ or Thor’s underground pool party, these are narrative diversions that cynically sell the next movie or three.
But not here. It feels self-contained for a change, and while Tony Stark makes his presence known, and the Avengers set-up is blatant, his role as a flawed mentor is fully justified, an example of how tight the script is. Despite a two hour plus run time, there’s no fat on the bones. Parker’s arc is brilliantly realised.
Sure, a shorter run time might be welcome, but it’s hard to pick a scene that shouldn’t have made the cut.
And it’s not just the plethora of set-ups and pay-offs that earn the writers credit – it’s funny. Very, very funny. Arguably the funniest Marvel movie to date, with the kind of comedic beats Ant-Man enjoyed, delivered by a hugely talented cast.
It helps that Holland’s Parker is so relatable. It’s wish-fulfilment stuff that inevitably feels good, without the emo self-doubt of the not-so Amazing Spider-Man double bill.
Michael Keaton sneers and leers his way way to the top three Marvel villain pantheon (not a hard feat, admittedly), chomping on scenery with abandon, yet still well painted. He’s not quite Spider-Man 2’s Otto, but he comes pretty close.
But this is Holland’s show, and he might be the best Spidey-Parker combo yet, and he’s well supported by his best mate Ned (Jacob Batalon), Stark’s sidekick Happy (Jon Favreau) and a series of small-part, big impact players from Donald Glover to Chris Evans.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a high school comedy disguised as a comic book adventure, rather than the reverse. It’s a movie that focuses on the little things, not allowing the character to bite off more than the story can chew (and precious few buildings fall down in the grand finale).
And for as long as the Sony committee keep their marketing team out of the equation, we might just be getting the Spider-Man franchise the character truly deserves.
5 out of 5