This American superhero film focuses on the Marvel Comics character, Spider-Man. It is the 16th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the sixth Spider-Man film, and the second film with Tom Holland in the role. Spider-Man is trying to balance normal life against superhero status. In this film, he returns to high-school life as a young teenager after experiencing the thrill of his adventures as Spider-Man in the movie, “Captain America: Civil War” (2016).
Peter Parker was bitten by a genetically modified spider that gave him spider-like abilities. Now a little older, Parker (Tom Holland) at 15 returns home to live with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and tries to be happy about leaving his experiences with the Avengers behind him. But he keeps on having thoughts about how he can prove himself. While doing that, a new winged villain emerges by the name of Vulture (Michael Keaton), who provides him with the means of proving his worth. Vulture heads a New York salvaging operation that trades illegally in alien weapons; he rages against the upper-class and wants to be important, and Spider-man knows he should be stopped. Parker is being mentored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), alias Iron Man, and Spider-Man sees him as the person who can re-establish his days of adventure-glory in “Captain America: Civil War”.
There are several emerging themes in superhero films. In “Batman vs. Superman“, the force of vulnerability was introduced darkly to throw our perceptions of superhero virtue off-balance. In “Captain America: Civil War”, virtue was compromised by Superheroes attacking each other aggressively. This movie is different. In this movie, the Director (Jon Watts) aims to capture the teenage awkwardness of struggling adolescence. The film is easy to watch, and mixes action sequences with comedy and witty verbal asides. Both help to give Spider-Man a fresh look.
The movie provides a relatively uncomplicated look at superheroes. Vulnerability takes the form of natural maturing as Peter Parker works out how to grow up, and he has an admiring friend (Jacob Batalon) to help him cope. In this movie, appeal is clearly to viewers who can identify with superhero greatness easily. Here, virtue is forming and promises to be practiced wisely in the future, under adult guidance that Spider-Man believes Stark should give him (but doesn’t). The result is a film that will appeal to the teenage market. Action sequences abound in the film, but it keeps its focus firmly on Peter Parker, who, like others of his age, is uncertain of what he can actually do, and is frequently clumsy in doing what he thinks he should.
The level of acting in the film is appropriate to the Director’s (Jon Watts) intent. Tom Holland captures teenage awkwardness well, and Parker’s insecurities look real. An over-sized winged Michael Keaton is tolerably violent as Spider-Man’s nemesis, and brings a comic touch to his role. The movie overall tries to balance humour and action, and makes intentional fun of Marvel heroes and the technology they are famous for. Technically, the action sequences are impressive, and the film has good special effects and stunt work – illustrated, for example, by Spider-Man’s spectacular web rescue at the Washington Monument. But the effects are too complex and sophisticated for the simple “homecoming” story that lies at the core of the movie.
Holland gives us an endearing performance as Spider-Man. Essentially, the movie is about Spider-Man wanting to grow up, and Holland shows how Spider-Man made the grade. It is not a film that deals with world-shattering threats and awe-inspiring moral crises, and it stays primarily at the level of good hero-fantasy fun. It is a small film with impact that reboots the Spider-Man franchise, and its impact comes mostly from taking time out to make wry comment about Marvel super-heroes in general, Spider-Man included.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting