I’m in a love/hate relationship with Spider-man Movies. I, like many, grew up with classic Marvel comics and although most of my favourites were the more off-beat characters (Warlock, Dr. Strange, Deathlok, Howard the Duck, Tomb of Dracula, etc), Spider-man and The Uncanny X-men were much loved.
When the movies came out – ignoring the TV movie and subsequent series – well . . . don’t get me wrong, the first was a minor triumph, the second a major triumph, the third, apart from a few short moments is best ignored. I preferred the Andrew Garfield re-boot, to be honest. Even the much-despised sequel was, to my mind, better than Tobey MacGuire’s debut. This may be because they were as OTT and garish as I remember the four colour comics from my 12 year old imagination… but there was still something fundamentally wrong with them and that, I think, was Peter Parker.
Yes, there had been very enjoyable stories of Peter Parker at college and beyond, but for me, when I started reading the comics, he was a fifteen year old nerd at high-school having problems with fitting in, being bullied and a ton other stuff fifteen year old kids go through – Stan Lee typified this as ‘acne, dandruff and post-nasal drip’ – all of which conspired against Parker being his ‘true self’; against the hero he wanted to be.
That spoke to me on a genetic level. (Not that I’ve ever planned on costumed heroics, but you know what I’m saying). The movies pre-Homecoming may have had some of Parker’s awkwardness, but MacGuire and Garfield never fully clicked with me because they were essentially adults – or at least very unconvincing late teenagers – when they started out. I mean, Tobey MacGuire was 27 in Spider-man, Andrew Garfield 29 in his debut. Tom Holland is 21 and still looks like a geeky teen. And Peter Parker 15 years old.
THIS, my friends, is Spider-man.
Of course, being a Marvel/Disney production, liberties have been taken. Most noticeably in that he doesn’t seem to have a ‘spider-sense’, anymore. Instead, he has a Stark built suit. He has his own ‘Jarvis’ in the form of ‘Suit Lady’ or ‘Karen’ who acts as a foil for the inner monologue Spidey was famous for. For my money, it makes perfect sense and is a great re-telling of the slightly iffy ‘spider-sense’. I mean, are spiders known for having what amounts to ESP powers? What amused me about that was that Suit Lady (I prefer Suit Lady to Karen, by the by) was voiced by Jennifer Connelley, wife of Paul Betany who plays the Vision who was based on Jarvis. It’s a nice nod and provides a sly gag later in the movie.
What was even more refreshing was that we didn’t have to go through a tedious origin story again. It gets mentioned in passing that he got bitten by a spider, but that’s about as much as it intrudes. This allows the movie to move at a sometimes brutally fast pace and tell a damned good story. There’s are nods and winks galore, so many references it’s impossible to count them all in one viewing – we thought we’d caught them all between the two of us and boy, were we wrong! My favourite is a very geeky one about one of the minor villains who when under (very poor) interrogation says that he knows a particular neighbourhood because ‘my cousin lives around the corner’. Later when his picture comes up in a database, you learn his name, look that name up on google (or be ‘au fait’ with post-Parker Spider-man) and find out a nice surprise that may impact on a later movie. If it did, it would be an absolutely mindblowing turn of events.
But the great thing is, that although there all of these nods and winks are there, they don’t get in the way and they are never paraded; it’s never the ‘looking how clever we are’ intrusion that has been blighting Doctor Who since they realised they could get away with it.
Homecoming takes place post-‘Civil War’ with Parker expecting to be elevated to the ranks of the Avengers because, you know, he bested Cap so he deserves it. He’s ordered to keep a low profile but is so keen to prove himself as Avengers material he gets reckless, underhand and takes on jobs that end up being far too big to handle on his own. After a calamitous affair on a ferry, Stark confiscates his suit…and he’s on his own.
In the meantime, he must contend with an interschool quiz decathlon, fuzzy feelings for a girl who knows him better than he thinks, Homecoming and a murderous mechanical vulture in the shape of Michael Keaton – Batman> Birdman > Vulture… there’s a theme to his career, isn’t there.
Another reason I love this movie is that it references a short-lived comic based around the idea that after all these superhero battles, who is it that cleans up? That’d be ‘Damage Control’. Sadly, it wasn’t ‘quite’ Damage Control, but the nod was exciting. We also got appearances by The Prowler, The Tinkerer, The Shocker and some great comedy. “I thought that was the anti-gravity gun’ being a grim favourite. What is particular interesting is that the events of The MCU have consequences. This is particularly true of Spider-man and the Damage Control element.
The Spider-man TV show theme music makes an appearance which give you the warm and fuzzies and a twist that on the face of it, should be in-your-face obvious, but somehow still manages to side swipe you and leads on to the most taught and menacing pre-Homecoming chat between Father and suitor ever. Electric stuff.
And then there’s Michelle… who gets most of the best lines and has managed to annoy an awful lot of people. But fuck them, eh?
But best of all, the angst is kept to a minimum and although you know Parker is having problems he’s proactive and exuberant in solving them. He doesn’t moan and whimper like MacGuire, he’s too busy building his Lego Death Star.
There’s also a fantastic running gag with Captain America.
In all honestly, this is -with even the slightest doubt in my mind – the best of the Spider-man movies and probably the best of the MCU movies, too.
Seriously. Just brilliant.