Taking a breezier tone than the previous Avenger movies that it immediately follows on from, Jon Watts’ latest iteration of Peter Parker’s web slinging escapade makes a positive and less grandiose addition to the now multi-faceted and some might argue overly convoluted diegesis that’s unfolding in the modern MCU.
We’ve had three big screen adaptations of Spiderman to date. The original and genre defining Tobey Maguire; in keeping with the geeky, awkward Spiderman that we expect. Two superb movies followed by one so dire it buried the success of the previous instalments and put an end to Maguire’s involvement for good. Then we had Andrew Garfield; a considerably ‘cooler’ Spiderman that I regard as an absolute waste of efforts who was suitably dropped after just two films. And now we have Tom Holland, a relative unknown that has in his own clumsy, bumbling way absolutely nailed the performance of Spiderman in his first stand-alone flick under the wider MCU umbrella. This tongue-in-cheek, faltering, amateur and untested Spiderman neatly finds his place in the same world as the Avengers without allowing himself to become dwarfed by the big named heavy hitters of the ensemble.
“This tongue-in-cheek, faltering, amateur and untested Spiderman neatly finds his place in the same world as the Avengers without allowing himself to become dwarfed by the big named heavy hitters of the ensemble.”
Following on from Peter Parker’s involvement with The Avengers, Pete finds himself impatiently waiting for Tony Stark’s call into service once more. With Stark’s ironically named personal assistant – Mr Happy Hogan as his primary contact, Peter finds it difficult to get in touch with Stark, and grows increasingly frustrated with the small and ‘insignificant’ hero duties that are befalling him in the day to day as a Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman. He wants more responsibility, more adventure and ultimately more respect from his fellow heroes, but with Stark’s strict instructions to lay low and keep out of trouble, Peter’s unable to satiate his thirst for heroics.
It’s only a matter of time before Peter finds a target that he considers worthy of his attention – an illegal salvager and gun runner played by Michael Keaton that has been collecting up the leftover technology from previous Avengers battles, engineering it into new advanced human/alien hybrid weaponry and selling it to the highest bidder. He also of course has a badass suit and flies around like a mechanical vulture. It’s actually extremely refreshing to have a villain that isn’t hellbent on destroying the World, but is instead just a good old fashioned opportunistic, selfish bastard.
With the assistance of his best friend Ned – the token overweight comic relief – Peter manages to find a way to break the rules that Tony has put in place for him in an attempt to dispel his current childlike image, and prove to Stark that he’s ready to become one of the big boys. But by swinging before he can climb, he makes mistake enough to incur the punishment of Tony and his ruthless “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude.
There’s a lot missing from this rendition of Spiderman that you may have come to expect from previous instalments. By jumping straight into the movie as Spidey, we have no origin story; although you could argue that this movie begins to depict the origin of the true hero of Spiderman as opposed to the hyperactive teenager. Also although he has been dead for 2 years, there’s no direct mention of Uncle Ben and no “With Great Power” speech that has in the past ultimately led Peter to believe in what he is doing through the unquenchable power of guilt. We don’t see Peter’s struggle with J. Jonah Jameson and The Daily Bugle although without J.K Simmons’ incredible portrayal of the character, would we want to? In fact Spiderman this time around seems to be universally adored by everybody he comes across. The film hints at Peter’s struggle to balance his personal and hero life, but it’s never approached with as much intention as Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 did. Many themes that have been fully explored in the past have only been lightly glanced over here. Love, family, friendship… These are all included, but are scarcely more than incidental additions to the plot.
Is this a bad thing? Ultimately, I’d say not. One subject is focused on above all else, and that’s the desperate desire to prove himself, be recognised and belong to the same group of heroes that he holds in such high regard. This to me makes sense. Our hero is 14 years old. He’s awkward, he’s smart, he wants to find his place in the World and he wants to do good and help people. Isn’t that essentially a pretty accurate depiction of our comic book hero? I think this really was the only way to make Spiderman a success in the MCU, and bravo to the writers for recognising that this time around before it was too late and we ended up with another brooding and intense hipster.
Ultimately the film is as you expect most Marvel films to be now. It’s full of light comedy, shallow relationships, stereotypical supporting roles, great fight scenes and a decent soundtrack, but this time around they’ve got something really right. Tom Holland was the perfect choice for THIS depiction of Spiderman. I may not think him as rounded in his performance of Spidey as my beloved Maguire overall, but I do believe that he was the right choice for this direction. The film has some truly touching moments, tense situations, very funny dialogue and one or two scenes that give you a glimpse into the real power that this pint sized hero has hidden away; that I’m sure neither he, Stark nor anyone else is truly aware of yet. And that’s pretty damn exciting.