Spider-Man’s wonderful homecoming

JULY 15 — We’re now heading deep into July and the summer blockbuster season, with Hollywood’s summer movies coming in thick and fast, especially next week when we’ve got Dunkirk, Baby Driver and Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets all hitting local cinemas at the same time. 

We’ve even got War For The Planet Of The Apes opening this week, which I still haven’t watched yet, but with the amount of praise that it’s been getting so far, and director Matt Reeves’ excellent track record, I’ have a feeling that it will be the subject of my column next week.

But let’s save that for next week, for this week I’m really in the mood to write about a superhero franchise reboot that I don’t think many of us had high hopes for — Spider-Man: Homecoming. 

The reason why most of us didn’t have high hopes for it? Because there’s already been a reboot of the franchise that a lot of us deemed totally unnecessary in the first place — The Amazing Spider-Man — which makes this a second reboot. 

The whole thing sounds even more daunting when the task is to reboot something as beloved as Sam Raimi’s excellent Spider-Man trilogy.

Why Hollywood deemed it necessary to do another reboot after such a short period of time, we’ll probably never know, although a very strong reason could be Marvel’s repossession of the character rights (they reached an agreement with Sony to share Spidey’s character rights in movies) and desire to incorporate it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (lovingly referred to as “MCU” by fans) as soon as possible, with this new Spidey (played by Tom Holland) making a cameo in Captain America: Civil War last year.

Opinions regarding this new reboot have been rather mixed, but I was honestly really surprised that, even in a year that’s already seen Logan, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and Wonder Woman, my favourite superhero movie of the year so far has turned out to be Spider-Man: Homecoming!

I will note certain caveats afterwards, because one can argue that technically this is not really a superhero movie but more like a coming of age teen comedy.

First of all, the fact that this new reboot dares to not really hit all the expected beats of the superhero movie (therefore defying the expectations of fans of the comic book, the previous Spider-Man movies and fans of superhero movies in general) is actually what makes it such a refreshing change in the already overpopulated world of superhero movies.

How many more times do we want to watch a superhero origin story (which, in the case of Spidey himself, we’ve seen twice already in Raimi’s original trilogy and the first reboot) followed by some sort of crisis (usually a reluctance to accept the newfound superpowers/responsibilities) which climaxes with a battle between the superhero and the villain? Yes, we do need character arcs to make the story interesting and dramatic, but surely the arc can be achieved through other ways as well, no?

What director Jon Watts (whose first two films Clown and Cop Car led me to sing praises about his ability and potential to go a few steps further and helm a big budget movie a couple of years back) and his team of writers did to find other ways to achieve that character arc is to make this first and foremost a coming of age high school teen comedy, with the twist that its lead character is incidentally a teenager with superpowers. 

It’s even highlighted in the movie’s title, with the word “Homecoming” more than enough to hint at the contents of the film itself.  If, after all that, you still go in expecting the standard superhero action movie, then maybe the movie’s not to blame for that, don’t you think?

Not content with creating one compelling character arc, the filmmakers then go one further by creating another equally compelling character arc, which is that of the villain — Vulture (brilliantly played by Michael Keaton). 

People have often said that a superhero movie is only as good as its villain, which explains why everyone loves The Dark Knight better than The Dark Knight Rises, and in Michael Keaton’s Vulture we comfortably have the best villain in a Spider-Man movie so far, not because of how evil or scary he is, but because of how human and recognisable his position is to each and every one of us in the audience. 

Empathy is not something we often feel for villains in superhero movies, but I’d say that Vulture has more than earned that with this movie.

And before you think that this is a reboot that forgets all the traditions in the Spider-Man movies and comics, let me just say that, without giving too much away and spoiling the movie, Watts and his team of writers have managed to find fresh, sometimes new, sometimes merely different, ways to conjure all the hallmarks of the Spider-Man saga, like Peter Parker’s teenage angst, his close emotional relationship with the villain (brilliantly repurposed here to surprising, almost surprise-twist effect), his love for Aunt May, trademark catchphrases like “your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” and lots more, that it’s sometimes a dizzying delight just to recognise the clever ways that this new reboot gave so many fresh spins to such a familiar and beloved saga.

Then there’s the fact that the movie is clearly unburdened by any need to be another superhero origin story. The only thing it needed to do was to comfortably place this new Spidey into the MCU, which it does quite brilliantly, weaving in references to the climax of The Avengers and even slipping in some mobile phone footage of the airport battle in Captain America: Civil War, because, like, you know, there’s a teenager in this movie. Other than that, the movie is free to be whatever it wants, and the filmmakers clearly relished that freedom.

Yes, a lot of the action scenes here feel quite pedestrian, especially the sloppily edited climactic fight between Spidey and Vulture, but if you’ve really been paying attention, surely you’d realise by then that the battle between Spidey and Vulture is not and will never really be a physical one, but more about the emotional realisation of what’s right and what’s wrong, which the movie achieves with beautiful grace and an admirable amount of subtlety. It’s a wonderful homecoming indeed.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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