In my school days, I always wanted to be a comic book hero. No, I didn’t want comics based on my life, but be one of the heroes from the comics I so desperately devoured in a state of dervish during the summer holidays. Not for me Phantom (didn’t quite fancy his life until Diana arrived, and then he became boringly mellow) or our local Bahadur (doesn’t ring a Bela?) – but one of those magnificent men from D.C. or Marvel – preferably Superman who could fly off to wherever he wanted and whenever, avert disasters, and generally be admired by one and all. From the Lee Falk stable, I’d have loved to be Mandrake, gesturing hypnotically to ensure things went my way. Being a hero would ensure I’d get my homework done with the ease of the first-ranker in my class; it’d ensure I’d impress the girls I wanted to impress; I’d absorb all the content in my textbooks in Krypton-seconds, precluding the need to study all year long and glance at my books an hour before the exams. (I followed this strategy regardless of my non-existent powers to disastrous results, making my parents look at me like a mother lioness would sniff at her pride – without pride.) Being a superhero had so many advantages.
And then, beginning one Sunday morning came the Spiderman cartoon series on Doordarshan, webslinging its way into my heart – it was so much fun, such a welcome escape, and just what Dr. Fantasy ordered. And that title song, so full of joy and boisterous energy! And when, in director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man Homecoming, the Marvel logo dissolves into the screen, composer Michael Giacchino plays an upbeat, symphonic version of the same title song, I felt that same burst of joy. Chances are, so will you. For in Watts’ and writers Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers’ (yes, that’s how many good folks got together to script this adventure) god-knows-what-number-arachnoid-reboot, there’s a tangible, earnest, and uplifting energy that keeps up the pace and fun for all of its 133 minutes of runtime.
Homecoming picks off from where The Avengers battle ended in New York, now being cleaned up by contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) of all the alien debris. Amidst this operation, for which Toomes has put out all his money and worth, he’s confronted by Stark’s team at the U.S. Department of Damage Control (D.O.D.C.), and told that he’s out of the facility, and that they’ll take over from here. Toomes is justifiably enraged, and with whatever existing Chitauri pieces they’ve already scavenged, sets up a renegade, villainous team who, four years later, are selling advanced weapons to criminals. The movie then forwards eight years, showing Peter Parker’s POV in the clash between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) at the Leipzig/Halle Airport. It is here that young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) was recruited by Stark, and his entry caused quite a mirthful, puzzled reaction by Captain America’s rogue team in Captain America: Civil War. After this battle, Parker is back in school, snubbed by Stark when the former asks him about becoming an Avenger.
The 15-year-old Parker doesn’t give up hope of becoming an Avenger, looking out for anything that’ll give him that one big battle and fame, forcing Stark to sit up and take notice. Desperate, Parker sends regular, hilarious status updates to Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, chomping away at his superb, poker-faced one-liners), Stark’s driver and bodyguard. Hogan’s reactions are priceless, and Parker can’t seem to catch a break, even as he struggles to get the attention of his classmate and silent crush, Liz (Laura Harrier). Meanwhile, his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) accidentally discovers Parker’s the one behind the Spidey suit, and blurts out “You’re the Spider-Man. From YouTube!” There’s also his ever-concerned Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and geeky, nerdy classmate Michelle “MJ” Jones (played with an indifferent, earthy charm by Zendaya) who also participates with Parker, Liz, and others in an academic decathlon competition.
All of this is pacy, zippy entertainment, focusing more on teenage joie de vivre and angst, rather than the dark world of Marvel, into which the rest of the super heroes have taken their tentative steps. Director Watts and his writing team keep the one-liners and zest jumping and bouncing on a happy trampoline of smarts. And even when, donning wings and suit made out of alien technology, Keaton’s Vulture comes swooping in and threatens to destroy Spider-Man, the atmospherics are tense, but lot of whooping fun. In that sense, Homecoming takes an unabashed leaf from the cartoon series, never ever taking itself too seriously. Which is a relief, for the earlier Spidey series slipped into a point-of-bore-return at some point. Here, there’s no such danger, for this reboot doesn’t even pretend to score high on the CG front either. As Stark points to Parker, he’s a friendly neighborhood hero, and that he ought to stay on the ground. And that might as well have been the director’s brief to his team. For, while scoring high on the travails of Parker and his awkward foray into all things teenage, the movie doesn’t bother to be very flashy in the special effects department– in fact almost repugning it, as it stays firmly on the ground. Which also means, fortunately, that you don’t see en masse decimation of structures and an unsuspecting populace – which is de rigueur for recent superhero movies, especially in the messy Zack Snyder-helmed outings.
And yet, there’s some truly heart stopping moments in Homecoming – note the scene atop the Washington Monument, where, the Spidey suit AI, Karen (voiced by Jennifer Connelly) tells him matter-of-fact that a drop from “here will be lethal”. That’s a vertigo-inducing scene. There’s also a neat twist in the movie that’s as much a thrilling degrees-of-separation struggle as it is copacetic. As there are scenes that will touch you – as in where Parker is entrapped under a heap of rubble, and his voice breaks, all form of heroism broken and forgotten, and he cries for help. And that is where Tom Holland scores, as the 21-year old actor plays a teenager, desperate to be liked by the girl of his dreams, even as he struggles for his existential acknowledgement from Stark. And in his role as Stark, Robert Downey Jr. does it again, clipping his lines with a timing that only he can calculate and execute.
In his act as Adrian Toomes / Vulture, Michael Keaton is the shining highlight. Lending his character an almost sympathetic veil below the villainy, Keaton employs his sneers superbly. And in a scene after the aforementioned twist, he drips threat in a delicious, thickly layered mayonnaise that’s part Mafiosi-style, part protective gear. The music score by Michael Giacchino is extremely effective, especially when he’s employing gentle, melodic cello and piano notes; or in his cutting of the energetic, yet suspenseful theme music, that’s got shades of the Mission Impossible theme rise in its brass sections.
Spider-Man Homecoming, then, is a fine homecoming for its hero, one that holds promise of more zip and bounce in the sequel, even as it, for the briefest moment, made me want to become a teenager – and a superhero – again. And made me realize yet another advantage that teenage heroes have – no pimples, no zits.
Spider-Man Homecoming is rated U/A (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve). There’s swear words that the Indian censor board has helpfully blipped out. The Vulture might have scared them a wee bit.
Director Jon Watts Running Time 2h 13 min
Writers Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers
Stars Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya
Genres Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Watch the trailer of Spider-Man Homecoming here: