Spider-Man: Homecoming - film review

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Homecoming is an apt name for the latest Spider-Man adventure.

It sees the character return to the Marvel fold, joining Captain America, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk in the hugely popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) after his extended cameo in 2016's Civil War.

It also serves as a return to form for the character. After two Amazing Spider-Man entries weaved an unnecessarily tangled web, Homecoming is a fresh take, changing a few aspects but more-or-less resembling the character Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created nearly sixty years ago.

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The film picks up several months after the events of Civil War, as Peter Parker (Tom Holland) balances school life with his new-found identity. A threat emerges in Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes (aka The Vulture), a ruthless entrepeneur who's repurposing stolen alien tech and selling it on the black market.

Peter sees this as an opportunity to impress his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and become a full-time member of the Avengers, but the challenge of defeating the Vulture proves a difficult one.

Right off the bat, this version of Spider-Man is an energetic, very charming take on the character. Going back to his high schools roots helps in differentiating it from previous Spider-Man films, which rarely spent much time in that period.

It adds a fresher tone and gives the MCU a more youthful zest. This is the view of the MCU from the ground floor, rather than the big scope and international flavour that make up the Captain America and Avengers films.

It continues Marvel's trend of taking inspiration from other genres. If Ant-Man was a heist film and Civil War about a breakup, then here director Jon Watts has transplanted Parker/Spider-Man into a geeky 80s John Hughes teen comedy.

It's a choice that has a few odd aspects (every male bar Peter seems to have a crush on Marisa Tomei's May Parker), but on the whole the humour, charm and wit proves to be one of Homecoming's strongest aspects. Tom Holland – who is surefooted in the role, lending it an authentic teen voice – and his friendship with Jacob Batalon's Ned provides plenty of laughs as Ned geeks out and urges Peter to take advantage of his fame, much to Pete's reluctance.

That level of wit and charm doesn't always translate to the action scenes, some of which come across as cacophonous affairs. They lack a little inspiration and feel drawn out. It speaks of a film that's full of energy, but isn't entirely composed.

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Homecoming is jam-packed full of ideas, characters and action, but it makes the film feel slightly overstuffed - whether it's setting up Sony's own series of Spider-Man related films or re-affirming links to the larger MCU. It doesn't help the pacing - the film feels longer than its 133m run-time.

This version of Peter is surprisingly relatable, having to find a way out of messes usually of his own making. It even continues the character's uncanny ability to disappoint the women in his life. We do wish there was more of Tomei's May, and that Laura Harrier's Liz wasn't relegated to the object of Pete's affections/damsel in distress role.

It does have a good villanous performance from Keaton. He's not in it as much as we'd hoped, though his blue collar work ethic combined with his vendetta against Stark for a previous slight (get in line) is a perspective we've not seen much of in the MCU. It's usually more preoccupied with aliens, self-aware robots and sorcerers.

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Another aspect we're not entirely enamoured with (but others may not mind) is how heavily it leans on the popularity of Iron Man.

Spider-Man's identity is less felt at times, with Peter in his hi-tech suit coming across as a mini-Iron Man. (It even has its own A.I - Karen - voiced by Jennifer Connelly who, fact fans, is married to Paul Bettany who plays Jarvis/Vision in the series.)

The mentor relationship with Stark is played well (Downey Jr. is in enjoyably grouchy form), but if you're thinking this is a buddy movie - as the marketing implies - you'll find it isn't the case.

Fans will uncover plenty of in-jokes, references and connections to other MCU films to gorge on although, at the risk of repeating ourselves, there's almost too many wink-wink touches if you're familiar with the Spider-Man mythos.

Visually the film looks fantastic, though it's probably too CGI-y in places. The primary colours of Spidey's suit are really bold and deep, and it continues Marvel's trend of brightly coloured films.

The audio mix is rather loud, with Michael Giacchino's score - which cleverly references the sixties cartoon music – feeling as if it soars in places, but is drowned out in others.

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Verdict

We were entertained by Homecoming, though we wouldn't call it the best Spider-Man film. That mantle still belongs to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2.

The charm and fun of the thing is what really impresses. Jon Watts delivers a very solid, confident and appealing take on the character, bold enough to not repeat the origin story (not even a flashback), remove Peter's Spider-Sense and not even mention Uncle Ben's death. There's an energy here that really grabs your attention.

While we're a bit down on the action set-pieces, there's a lot of enjoyment to be had from the interaction between characters and the many, many jokes on offer.

You should definitely stay until the very end of the credits - there is a cracking in-joke waiting for those who do.