Friday 7 July 2017

Boss baby: "Spider-Man: Homecoming"

Third time's a charm? Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know already that Homecoming presents as this millennium's second reboot of the Spider-Man series, following Sam Raimi's sincere post-9/11 trilogy with Tobey Maguire and Marc Webb's turn-of-the-decade redo, which - despite the then hotter-than-hot pairing of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone - has proven oddly forgettable with time. Jon Watts' take on this material is both rejuvenation (slipping the alarmingly fresh-faced and squeaky-voiced Tom Holland, the first modern Spider-Man whose testes don't appear to have descended, behind the now-familiar mask) and retrofit, intended above all else to be plugged into Marvel's dominant Avengers ideology. So it is that, yet again, we're offered that formative moment where our hero slips into a Manhattan sidestreet to test out his suit and web fluids in the wilds, but here it's sandwiched between bridging scenes in which Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Jon Favreau's chauffeur-handler Hap do their best to keep this eager-beaver tyke at arm's length.

Something, in other words, has shifted. The Raimi and Webb Spideys were standalones about young male protagonists learning about the power they have in this world, and the responsibility that follows from that; Homecoming, by some distance this series' most corporate-seeming endeavour, shows us an unpaid intern looking to make his bones within a market-leading conglomerate. On a scene-by-scene basis, this requires a rather different form of upswing, one closer to the shortcuts of rebranding: it's one sign of the times that, where Maguire had to painstakingly source and tailor the material for his Spidey-suit, Stark Enterprises simply hands Holland's Peter Parker his sleek neoprene variant on the old red-blue number, complete with Siri-like voice guidance system and inbuilt heater for those cold New York nights. (The Far Eastern foundlings who actually constructed this suit are never seen; our fantasies no longer permit even the illusion of hard work.) A superhero movie for the era of Eric Trump, Homecoming assembles its coming-of-age tale around a kid who has a sweet gig - participation profits not just from his own franchise, but from however many Avengers round-ups Marvel care to release - just waiting in trust for him. 

As ever, genuine peril - any sense that this Spider-Man, or Cash-Cow as he may as well be called, is at any point in any risk of not returning for films two, three and four - is somewhere close to zero, which means Watts is mostly peddling distraction. Some of this takes: a fun mid-movie montage deployment of The Beat's "Save It For Later", a super-cute interracial/post-racial love triangle (between Holland, Laura Harrier and Zendaya Coleman) which comprises the one area where Homecoming actually threatens to offer an improvement on its predecessors, rather than simply a mandatory update. A lot more in these 133 minutes, however, simply comes and goes: a choppy, Chronicle-lite prologue, nods to 1980s teen movies, cameos from other Avengers, a bit on a ferry that replays a setpiece from The Dark Knight, endless gadgets that bind this offshoot to the chromed fabric of the Avengers universe. These latter look to be where the six (!) screenwriters were most exercised: the hand-turned, heart-on-sleeve emotion of the Raimi and Webb movies has been rejected in favour of building a newly mechanised and shiny Spidey.

Humankind, inevitably, diminishes in this process; you could express sympathy for the actors called into play, were it not for the size of the paycheques they presumably received by way of compensation. That notable comedian Donald Glover (Community, Atlanta) shows up for a day's work as a passing ne'er-do-well, and delivers the two lines passing ne'er-do-wells have traditionally received in summer superhero movies without being allowed to do anything funny, interesting or memorable with them; Marisa Tomei recedes into the perennial black-hole role of Aunt May, her dowdifying specs no defence against the thought that Marisa Tomei is far too young to be playing homebodies, even with a five-year-old sprout cast in the role of Peter Parker. The teenage audience will doubtless be too busy sourcing the official Homecoming hashtag and smartphone game to much care, but adult viewers who care about the cinema surely cannot watch another one of these runarounds without noting the colossal waste - of time, money and other creative resources - they entail. So much talent; so little for them to do in films that are increasingly so damn long.

Even Michael Keaton, generally a pleasure to watch, seems a touch under-engaged by his designated-patsy role of Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture, a disgruntled independent contractor kicked off the job so that Stark Industries can corner the market in cleaning up the aftermath of the Avengers' horizon-trashing battles. (This seems a totally democratic and by no means monopolistic way to run a city-state; the Avengers could never be mistaken for competition-crushing baddies, no sirree.) Keaton has the one dramatically effective scene here, driving young Parker to his prom and casually seguing from groansome dad gags into threats to kill everyone our hero has ever loved. It's not much in the grand scheme of things, and it's finally not enough - for there is another city to be trashed (more money in the Stark coffers), and a whirlwind tour of the Avengers' new upstate HQ to go on. For a moment, however, we're reminded of Keaton's own apprenticeship as a superhero, in films that were weirder, somehow greatly more personal in their concerns, and which had more of substance to offer anybody who'd left the Oxy line of products behind them.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is now playing in cinemas nationwide.  

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