Ge­nial Spidey a re­fresh­ing Marvel

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SPI­DER-MAN: HOME­COM­ING. (M, 133 MINS) DI­RECTED BY JONWATTS

Were you sur­prised to hear that Marvel had tapped Taika Waititi on the shoul­der to take the reins of the lat­est Thor in­stal­ment? Yeah, me too. But af­ter a bit of thought and a typ­i­cal re­viewer’s case of 20/20 hind­sight it seemed sen­si­ble with a whiff of in­evitabil­ity about it.

Marvel have a brief but proud and wildly suc­cess­ful tra­di­tion now of pick­ing direc­tors based on their abil­ity to es­tab­lish a cred­i­ble char­ac­ter out of in­cred­i­ble cir­cum­stances, and – maybe even more im­por­tantly – to tell a god­damn joke.

And by that cri­te­ria, Taika, with Ea­gle vs Shark, Boy and Hunt For The Wilder­peo­ple on his showreel, was a prime can­di­date for Marvel as­cen­sion. For­get about the fact that he’s never made a film not set in New Zealand be­fore, let alone As­gard. By Marvel’s al­go­rithms, Taika is go­ing to do just fine.

And com­pared to Spi­der-man: Home­com­ing helmer Jon Watts, Taika is wildly over-qual­i­fied.

Watts has ex­actly two other fea­ture films on his brief CV. One is called Cop Car, and the other is called Clown.

I can’t say I saw any­thing in Cop Car that made me im­me­di­ately think Watts would be any­where within shout­ing dis­tance of the short­list of direc­tors to be handed the keys of the lat­est in­stal­ment of one of the world’s most money-print­ing-est ex­tant fran­chises. Which is what the Marvel slate cur­rently is. Nat­u­rally, I was wrong. Watts and Marvel co-head hon­cho and cre­ative over­lord Kevin Feige have crafted a Spi­der­man re­boot for the ages. And they’ve done it by tak­ing the film back to its comic book ori­gins.

It’s set in the present day – and also in Marvel’s present, post Civil War and years af­ter The Avengers and The Bat­tle of New York – but this Spidey is grat­i­fy­ingly true to the kid-cen­tric world of the comic-book char­ac­ter.

Bri­tish ac­tor Tom Hol­land ( The Im­pos­si­ble) is a con­vinc­ingly ado­les­cent Peter Parker, find­ing some pleas­ingly dorky and awk­ward mo­ments for his still high-school aged hero. We were in­tro­duced to Hol­land’s Spi­der­men/Peter Parker in Civil War, and there was maybe an ex­pec­ta­tion that Spi­der-man: Home­com­ing would see the kid in the red and blue take his place on the start­ing team ros­ter.

But no. Parker is told by Robert Downey Jr’s Iron­man ba­si­cally to go back to school and look af­ter his grades and fam­ily for a while yet. Which seems like not the worst ad­vice in the world for a kid still too un­sure of him­self to ask a girl on a date.

The vil­lain of the piece is the Vul­ture, played, unim­prov­ably, by Michael Keaton. He is per­fect as he goes about sketch­ing in the char­ac­ter’s back story as Adrian Toomes, a bor­der­line gang­ster who just wants to carve him­self out his own slice of the Amer­i­can dream and knows he’s go­ing to have to get his hands a lit­tle dirty to do it.

Done out of a lu­cra­tive sal­vage busi­ness by Tony Stark’s pos­si­bly self-serv­ing co-opt­ing of the con­tract on all the left-over alien tech­nol­ogy and weaponry af­ter the busted Chi­tauri in­va­sion that was the cen­tre-piece of The Avengers, Toomes has a su­per­hero-shaped chip on his shoul­der and is in no mood to see his plans chal­lenged by any ly­cr­a­clad ado­les­cent with a squeaky voice and sticky wrists. Spi­der­man: Home­com­ing pro­gresses via a very ac­cept­able amount of set pieces and CGI car­nage.

This Spi­der-man spins its charm and its magic out of never stop­ping re­mind­ing us that Spidey – pretty much alone of the cur­rent crop of big screen su­per­heros – was still a boy when he first be­came a leg­end. Cap­tain Amer­ica might tell us he’s just a kid-from-Brook­lyn, but he was al­ready a grown man be­fore he donned the suit.

Peter Parker, es­pe­cially as por­trayed by Hol­land and di­rected by Watts, re­ally is just a kid-from-Queens – with all the awk­ward­ness, charm and em­bar­rass­ment that im­plies. We get this film and we want it to win, be­cause at its heart is a plucky, vul­ner­a­ble kid who seems to be gen­uinely phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally in peril in a way which his el­ders and men­tors never re­ally are.

Spi­der-man: Home­com­ing is a throw­back to a su­per­hero age. At stake are friends, fam­ily and neigh­bour­hoods, not en­tire gal­ax­ies. It’s re­fresh­ing, grounded, hu­man and ex­traor­di­nar­ily like­able. Bravo. – Graeme Tuck­ett

Bri­tish ac­tor Tom Hol­land is a con­vinc­ingly ado­les­cent Peter Parker in Spi­der­man: Home­com­ing.

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