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Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming – “The best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far”

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There’s no denying that after Sony’s embarrassing debacle with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and especially its 2014 sequel, the idea of rebooting the franchise once more with such a quick turnaround, had left us skeptic, to say the very least. Our perplexity, however, stemmed from the studio-generated PR mess rather than the lack of box office traction – the utmost confirmation that Hollywood blockbusters have little to do with a filmmaker’s artistic vision.

Frankly, I didn’t find the Marc Webb-directed Spidey starring Andrew Garfield, the kind of disaster that many critics lamented. Sure, wasting time on a well-known origin story yet again wasn’t the best idea ever and the darker tone didn’t always work but Garfield surely had provided the character with his unique charm and fresh energy.

It’s pointless to dwell any further on the past though because Peter Parker is back better than ever and allows us to say, thanks to the infusion of Marvel’s power blood. The way Sony dug their way out of their PR and box office mess in fact owes a lot to the auspicious deal they made with Marvel Studios, allowing them to share the cinematic rights to the character they’ve actually created.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is exactly everything that a summer blockbuster and a superhero movie should be: pure entertainment built around well-rounded characters, grounded in reality in spite of eventually transcending it with its sci-fi/fantasy set-pieces and cleverly plotted across a set of solid stakes that are consistently raised to surprise the audience in a compelling way. The secret of such a successful outcome lies all in the script. Despite counting six names in the writing credits – which is usually sign for trouble on such films – the new team behind the franchise has indeed crafted a screenplay that does all of the above an does it really well.

No need to worry if like me you’ve missed the introduction of the new Peter Parker, played by Brit wunderkind Tom Holland (The Impossible, The Lost City of Z) in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Homecoming in fact kicks off with a cleverly and hilariously conceived recap of his debut in the latest installment of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).

After helping out Tony Stark (the always wittily entertaining Robert Downey Jr.) in Civil War, Parker is back in New York to start the school year, hence the homecoming in the title which refers to the traditional American high school ball (whilst at the same time nodding to the character returning to his original creative home, at least partially). However, the restless boy has a hard time returning to his regular teenage life having tasted the superhero life alongside the Avengers and who could blame him?

As he hangs in there, waiting for a call from Stark to get back into the game, Peter tries to fill the action void by patrolling his neighborhood but as he tries too hard policing small time crooks, he winds up overdoing it, getting himself in ridiculously funny and often embarrassing situations. That’s why one night, when he bumps into a gang of thugs robbing an ATM with some out-of-the-ordinary, high tech weapons, our boy gets excited for real action again as he’s obviously dealing with something way beyond his regular city crimes.

The problem with Peter’s zeal towards his civic duty isn’t just the fact he soon finds himself in dangerous scenarios beyond his means but that he has to balance handling his secret enterprise with being a teenager, which includes hanging out with his nerdy BFF Ned (hilarious newcomer Jacob Batalon), win the attention of his school crush Liz (Laura Harrier) and not disappoint his aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

Given his eagerness towards officially becoming an Avenger, yet being ignored by Tony Stark, Peter justifies his frequent disappearances by allegedly doing an internship at Stark industries. But as he wanders off to investigate the contraband of alien technology-based weapons, his solo ventures soon turn into risky business he can’t handle on his own. When things go awry, Stark puts the brakes on the boy’s shenanigans by retrieving the high-tech Spidey suit he’s created for Peter, claiming that if you can’t be a hero without the suit then you’re not worthy of it… or something like that.

As simple as it may sounds, the film’s main theme is what makes it tick on a storytelling level: the writers have basically crafted an extremely entertaining coming of age teen comedy disguised as a multi-million dollar blockbuster. The cast is perfect, the visual effects and action sequences are thrilling but the character development is what wins you over.

Tom Holland does a marvelous job at capturing Peter’s arc organically and believably whilst former Batman Michael Keaton delivers a different kind of “Birdman” with his measured, realistic and intimidating villain whose threat is cleverly tied to our protagonist and the story’s themes. No matter how mindless the entertainment is supposed to be, there’s nothing else that can make this kind of film remotely compelling than constantly raising stakes and a non-caricature villain.

I’m not one of those fanboys who have hailed the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the long-awaited Messiah of Nerdom, worthy of standing ovations and Oscar nominations. I have mildly enjoyed their films for what they are and have surely appreciated their ambitious plan to have them all connected. However, I’ve usually been underwhelmed by the antagonistic forces at play, which tend to be cartoonish and often risible, with stories usually headed towards mind numbing and never ending battle sequences.

Despite retaining some of those tropes, Spider-Man Homecoming actually defies most of them and that alone makes it in my eyes the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is out on 5th July 2017 in the UK and 7th July 2017 in the US.

The poster below is by Martin Ansin.

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