This review contains mild spoliers.
Efficient rather than inspired, Spiderman: Homecoming is solid entertainment. It shows what a studio – its team of crack producers, writers and executives – can do when they all pull together in the service of a mass-entertainment product designed to please the audience and succeed at the box office.
If this sounds cynical, it is because, when you’ve seen enough Hollywood blockbusters, you start to recognise a movie that is a bright, engaging confection of familiar genre motifs, and a movie that is scripted with genuine flair and directed with a discerning, artistic eye.
Don’t get me wrong; Spiderman: Homecoming is made with heart, if not soul. Streets ahead of its two irritating, trivial predecessors, this second reboot since Sam Raimi’s trilogy in the noughties (credited, alongside Bryan Singer’s X-men, with ushering in our era of wall-to-wall superhero flicks) boasts superior casting and classy effects. Tom Holland is as wide-eyed, excitable, clumsy, spirited and vulnerable as any adolescent, and acts as the avatar for every actual or one-time teenager in the audience. Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/Vulture is a casting coup, and is exemplary: charming, sympathetic and menacing as his scenes demand. Robert Downey Junior can play Tony Stark in his sleep, but is, as always, the superlative maverick. His discomfort at playing parent to Peter Parker makes for some amusing exchanges between the two. Jon Favreau as Happy and Marisa Tomei as aunt May give likeable comic turns, while Zendaya as ‘MJ’ stands out in particular, played in this iteration as an awkward, gifted teenager with attitude and adjustment issues – obviously a better match for Peter than Laura Harrier’s Liz, she will inevitably become Peter’s love interest in subsequent movies.
And that’s the problem with this movie. Events that should be surprising, or that should at least raise an eyebrow, feel obvious. Of course Peter’s crush on Liz is superficial, and MJ has more intelligence and integrity beneath her couldn’t-care-less armour. Of course Peter loses his techy supersuit after messing up and getting a roasting from Iron Man. Of course Peter has an overweight doofus sidekick who steps up and becomes his ‘man in the chair’ in his hour of need. Of course Peter finds his inner hero when he is down for the count and only has his grit and determination to draw upon. And of course, wouldn’t you know it, Toomes/Vulture turns up in a ‘father of the bride’ role in what should be a shock revelation, but is so wildly coincidental that it feels claustrophobic and silly.
The script, though airy and nicely written, is little more than a collection of formulaic tropes pieced together, jiggled around a bit to give it a smidgen of novelty. The action scenes are slick, well paced and eye-catching, but they pass without really gripping the viewer. The effects are far superior to Sam Raimi’s installments, but this movie lacks Raimi’s sense of vertiginous excitement, inventive mayhem, speed, danger and balletic beauty.
Spiderman in action is perfectly decent, here, but I was not transported, the way I was with Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman. I had Spiderman in my head after watching Tobey Maguire, and would swing down the avenues of New York City in my imagination. I’m left with no similarly lingering thrill after Spiderman: Homecoming.