In the beginning was Tobey Maguire, then came Andrew Garfield, and now the Spider-Man we have before us is Tom Holland. His brief but supremely effective introduction was one of the best things about 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Set two months after his involvement in Civil War’s airport battle, Jon Watts’s film sees Peter Parker back in Queens balancing his life as an extremely intelligent fifteen-year-old student with novice crime-fighting. Hoping to graduate from ‘friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man’ to membership as an Avenger, he’s under the tutelage of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and the not-so-watchful eye of minder Happy (Jon Favreau). These activities are kept hidden from his classmates and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) under the guise of an ‘internship’ at Stark Industries.
Michael Keaton stars as the Vulture, and how nice it is to have a villain in a superhero film with fully fleshed motivations. His salvaging firm is put out of business thanks to Tony Stark, and so he collects debris from previous battles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, turning them into highly powered weapons to sell on. The combat with the Vulture, and with a henchman known as the Shocker, is very well edited; each swift cut conveys forcefulness. Peter’s school life and his enmity with the Vulture intersect at a crucial moment perfectly; indeed the plotting of this scene was so good it audibly snatched the breath away from audience members.
Holland’s performance is superb in both parts. His teenage self is nervous and understated, but kind and relatable as he navigates the awkward obstacles on his life. He often makes excuses to escape company in a way that’s entirely believable for an introspective teen (even if it weren’t to stop the Vulture’s plot). As Spider-Man, we have to rely on Holland’s voice acting, and in a key sequence on the Staten Island ferry we hear the panic in his cries as he exerts himself to save a host of innocent lives. There is a profusion of good support from performers as Peter’s classmates, teachers, and Queens’ residents. These comic moments keep the film’s tone appropriately light, not allowing the film to fall into restlessness.
There are features worthy of complaint. The suit Spider-Man wears is gifted him by Stark and contains a programmed voice and command system which makes him a diminutive copy of Iron Man. This is disappointing because the joy of Spider-Man swinging and flipping from building to building is in watching a young character learning to use his powerful instincts and prodigious reflexes to guide his movements. If an AI programme does this for him, well, that’s far less endearing. The score, despite moments in which it bolsters the tension, is largely uninteresting; and the final confrontation is partially unintelligible due to murkiness of the light.
Even if you’re someone unmoved by films involving people in lycra doing extraordinary things with their bodies, there is still enjoyment to be found in this one. That fact is itself remarkable, as films in this genre are so often interchangeable in structure and narratively uninvolving. So it’s surely something of a success that this instalment largely avoids those failings; and is, in a word, fun.
Image: Gage Skidmore