A tin­gling sen­sa­tion

The best film yet in the Mar­vel Cine­matic Uni­verse is a flashy, punchy, warm-hearted blast, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TICKET REVIEWS -

Tom Hol­land in Spi­der-Man Home­com­ing

SPI­DER-MAN: HOME­COM­ING Di­rected by Jon Watts. Star­ring Tom Hol­land, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Pal­trow, Zen­daya. 12A cert, gen re­lease, 133 min Among the first thing you hear in the lat­est re­boot of Spi­der-Man is a vari­a­tion on the theme from the lit­tle ad­mired 1960s an­i­mated se­ries. “Spi­der-Man. Spi­der-Man. Does what­ever a spi­der can.” It feels as if there is a dec­la­ra­tion of in­tent here. Among the many virtues of this de­light­ful film is an ac­knowl­edge­ment that these su­per­hero things are es­sen­tially for chil­dren.

You don’t sell this many toys on the back of Michael Haneke movies. And Spi­der-Man is not only for chil­dren but also about chil­dren. The new film con­vinc- in­gly casts a 21-year-old as a 15-year-old. His friends seem younger still. None of this means that the pic­ture is facile, cheap or lack­ing in am­bi­tion. Spi­der-Man Home­com­ing is more sat­is­fy­ing than any film to date in the Mar­vel Cine­matic Uni­verse. Fun is still fun.

Among the many sup­posed Spidey es­sen­tials ditched (for now, any­way) is the ex­haust­ing ori­gin story with all its as­so­ci­ated guilt trips. As we learned in Cap­tain Amer­ica Civil War, Peter Parker, in the irrepressible form of Tom Hol­land, is al­ready liv­ing su­per-hu­manly in Queens with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). His “in­tern­ship” with Tony Stark leads to one dan­ger­ous ad­ven­ture, the gift of a high-tech suit and a test­ing pe­riod left to him­self.

He is ea­ger to get back with the Avengers, but Tony – oc­ca­sion­ally present as Iron Man – sug­gests that he might try be­ing “a friendly… erm… neigh­bour­hood Spi­der-Man”. There are a few such brief and punchy self-ref­er­en­tial gags, but the film never gets bogged down in its own mythol­ogy. Un­like the in­creas­ingly busy Avengers-fo­cused pic­tures, Spi­der-Man Home­com­ing is at home to lean­ness and ef­fi­ciency.

After plough­ing through Spi­der-Man’s ex­ten­sive bes­tiary, the film-mak­ers have set­tled upon the Vul­ture as this week’s vil­lain. Orig­i­nally sug­ges­tive of Don­ald Plea­sance in an emu suit, this ver­sion, played by Michael Keaton at his most ir­ri­ta­ble, gets to wear a great metal­lic wing pow­ered by glow­ing alien min­er­als.

No­body will walk out whistling the big, com­puter-gen­er­ated show­downs. The bad guy’s big schemes are as in­ter­change­able as those of any bald Bond lu­natic. But Keaton does have great fun as the Vul­ture’s al­ter-ego Adrian Toomes. Shafted by the cap­i­tal­ist ma­chine, he be­comes just the most ma­lign of the adults try­ing to spoil Peter’s fun. Tony is the mostly ab­sent fa­ther fig­ure. Aunt May is the watch­ful font of con­cern.

Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing takes place mostly in the kids’ world. Peter is hon­ing his ge­nius in a tech­ni­cal school whose in­take re­flects the de­li­cious di­ver­sity of New York City. (Fewer people com­plained at the cast­ing of Zen­daya, African-Amer­i­can Dis­ney star, as a po­ten­tial love in­ter­est than the think pieces would have you be­lieve.)

The peren­ni­ally an­noy­ing Flash, now a much less threat­en­ing sort of bully, has be­come the ex­cel­lent Tony Revolori from The Grand Budapest Ho­tel. Their in­ter­ac­tions are funny, awk­ward and un­forced. Imag­ine some­thing much bet­ter than a hugely bud­geted film adap­ta­tion of Saved by the Bell and you are half­way there.

Hol­land has grasped the no­tion that, at this stage of the story, Spi­der-Man can’t quite be­lieve that he’s Spi­der-Man. As in the Sam Raimi ver­sion, his strug­gles with su­per­pow­ers cutely mir­ror any teenager’s strug­gles with the af­ter­math of pu­berty. Jon Watts, the largely un­known di­rec­tor, shoots much of Spi­der-Man’s as­cents from a great dis­tance to em­pha­sise the of­ten-over­looked spi­der­i­ness of the char­ac­ter. He is prop­erly strange. But he’s also a con­fused kid.

What re­ally sets the new film apart from most re­cent su­per­hero pic­tures is the ex­tra­or­di­nary warmth of its heart. Hav­ing a younger, live­lier Aunt May – much ad­mired by all the guys on the block – al­lows the re­la­tion­ship be­tween her and Peter to take on the qual­ity of a proper friend­ship. It’s her copy of The Beat’s Save it for Later that Peter plays be­fore go­ing on a date. She would surely ap­prove of The Ra­mones’s Bl­itzkrieg Bop play­ing when Spidey does his rounds.

The late Joey Ra­mone would al­most cer­tainly be on board as well. Home­com­ing is a flashy, punchy blast that har­bours no ideas above its sta­tion. And what a great last scene.

Hey Ho! Let’s Go!

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