7 Jul 2017

Screen Time: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau
Director: Jon Watts
Runtime: 133 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: 5th July 2017

Matt C: 'Studio interference'. It's a phrase that gets bandied around a lot these days, usually as a way of explaining why a film hasn't exactly turned out in the way that was expected, and while it's an easy excuse to fall back on, in many cases it is entirely warranted. Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man trilogy hit an exquisite peak with the second movie, but the dreaded studio interference saw the third instalment scuppered (Rami's displeasure with having to include Venom is well documented) and then the reboot series from Mark Webb saw an enormous amount of (again, well documented) studio tinkering that not only neutered many of the positive attributes, but seemed to lead Sony down a path where they were genuinely considering an Aunt May spin-off. Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was charging ahead at an unstoppable pace, the only drawback being that Marvel Comics' most high-profile character was leaving a spider-shaped hole in the hugely successful series of movies, his inclusion nothing more than a pipe dream at best. Until, miraculously, Sony and Marvel somehow agreed a deal to bring Spidey into the MCU, highlighting that - whaddya know? - studio interference can sometimes be a very good thing!

Because - as if it's a surprise to anyone following the extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War - Spider-Man: Homecoming once again displays how Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige have an implicit understanding of what makes these characters tick, what's made them so popular over the years, but also how to contemporize them without losing their core appeal. And, wisely, we avoid another stab at rehashing the famous origin story in favour of implied knowledge of the basics but taking a slightly different approach, one that nods towards J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man, practically giving us a riff on the Iron Spider, albeit with the classic costume. And it works. It works because it retrofits the familiar elements, giving them a new sense of purpose and direction, slotting nicely to the MCU but not being overwhelmed by it (although the trailers indicated otherwise, it's essentially an extended cameo for Robert Downey Jr). Spider-Man: Homecoming offers up a rites of passage superhero tale which gives its hero a choice of direction to take, allowing him his mistakes on the way towards making the right decision.
John Hughes movies are clearly an influence, right down to the soundtrack choices (Flock Of Seagulls!), and director Jon Watts acknowledges this through several neat visual gags but also the way he handles the dynamics of the engaging young cast, contrasting with older crowd (Downey Jr and an excellent Keaton, channelling some fine blue collar resentment). By leaning into the teen movie clich├ęs - they're only clich├ęs because of their inherent truths! - it means the movie can differentiate itself from the pack, skewing towards a more fresh-faced demographic but still feeling genuine, with the angst-ridden threads that propelled the previous Spider-Man movies (to varying degrees) largely absent. We never forget that Peter Parker is a kid; sure he screws up fairly regularly but he never lapses into self-pity. The youthful buoyancy Tom Holland brings to the titular character is infectious, his drive and determination brilliantly defining his journey into superheroism. One of the best near-throwaway scenes in the film has Spidey thwarting a crime, and then trying to appease bickering residents - always trying to do the right thing, even when it's all stacked against him.
So studio interference is often a cause for alarm bells and frequently leads to a tarnished final product but occasionally the right studio with a vice-like grasp of their icons' appeal can bring things back from the brink, drilling down into a character's fundamental appeal to remind everyone why they fell in love with him the first place. And, just like Peter himself, we can learn that a Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man may not have been what we realised we wanted but it's most definitely what we needed. 8/10

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