Peter Parker’s Day Off

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts, 2017)

I can remember standing in a queue for the Spider-Man reboot, worried that it would be rebooted again before I got to see it. And here we are, a new Spider-Man, now part of the Marvel Comics Universe, after what I assume is a cameo in a Captain America movie.

The positive is that they’ve decided they can dispense with yet another origin myth depiction — so many superhero movies are broken back as the first hour is them getting superpowers and then the second hour is them getting their first mission. He gets to tell his best friend Ned about the radioactive spider and here we have him as a fifteen year old, desperate to join the Avengers (the silly American rather than the British version) rather than being a friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man (and dammit that hyphen is beginning to annoy me), in the meantime dealing with the traumas of high school.

So we are in Buffy territory, although in someways John Hughes movies such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are stronger incipits — a clip from the latter even being used in a throwaway line. Parker is part of the school quiz team, headed for a national final at Washington DC, but is looked down on by the other geeks. He attempts coolness by admitting to knowing Spider-Man, but has the Clark Kent/Superman issue of not being able to be in the same room at the same time.

The casting of his classmates is typical of how the film tries to be, but can’t quite be, radical. He seems to be about the only white male pupil — his friend Ned is Filipino-American, the object of his desire is Liz and so on. In too many examples of big city American popular culture, it is as if a cataclysm has wiped out anyone who isn’t white. At the same time, aside from Ned and Liz, the substantial characters — the hero, the villain and all but one of his sidekicks and all the visible Avengers are white. Background colour is fine, but let’s not get too radical. There is a nice line from Liz not wanting to visit the various key Washington buildings because they are built on the back of slavery, but that is the only explicit nod to ethicity.

Meanwhile, chief villain, Toombs or Vulture, is making his money turning alien technology into weapons. He gets a couple of speeches about the plight of the working man, and how Tony Stark is a weapons dealer too (to middle easterners if I recall). This is a dark side to the hero that I don’t think the films ever quite deal with, which do make them marginally more interesting. Casting Michael Keaton allows a richness to a villain — and we have the baggage of the first two Batman movies and of course Birdman to resonate with the role. Given his techno assistant, he forms a criminal counterpart to Parker and his guy in the chair, Ned. There is a penultimate reel twist I didn’t see coming, that brings us back into teen movie territory.

We have some decent set pieces — a bank robbery, a crisis in the Washington Monument and an attack on the Staten Island Ferry, the Spirit of America — but it still feels a little baggy. The CGI is variable. Admittedly there is fun to be had with Parker learning on the job, and dealing with his impatience. There are some interesting throwaway lines, such as protest being patriotic. And there is a post credits scene that plays with the pointlessness of staying to the end of the credits.

I’m not convinced that the world needs another Spider-Man movie, but I guess boys are these days running out of supposedly non-violent hero role models.

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