Spider-Man Homecoming movie review: It's fine but our critic is suffering from reboot fatigue
In 2002, Sony stole an early march on the rising superhero trend with Spider-Man, a well-crafted reinterpretation of a much-loved Marvel Comics character. It starred a nicely cast Tobey Maguire, and used the dizzy mix of action and humour that would become a well-worn template in years to come. It was pretty good, and spawned two sequels. Then, in 2012, a mere decade after the original film, they relaunched the franchise, with the ever so slightly drippy Andrew Garfield starring in a highly competent note-for-note remake of the 2002 version. That got a sequel too, but Garfield then had his webs clipped. Now Sony have returned to the spider well for go number three.
In fairness to them, this latest rehash has been cooked up in conjunction with Marvel Studios, and the Avengers franchise. That film series is the black hole of Hollywood, a sprawling billion dollar behemoth that subsumes everything it encounters. In the 2016 Avengers spin-off Captain America: Civil War, baby-faced English actor Tom Holland made his debut as a young Peter Parker, who donned the spider suit to wade into a brewing superhero war.
That was the teaser for this film, which will lead to Spider-Man's inclusion in the next Avengers film, in 2019... and so on, ad infinitum. The quality that has distinguished the character from other superheroes is his callow youthfulness, a factor played up in Spider-Man Homecoming. Peter Parker is 15 going on 16, and keen as mustard to take on the world with the powers he developed after being bitten by a genetically modified spider.
He can leap high walls, lift very heavy things and spin webs from his palms that allow him to swing from skyscrapers across New York City. But he's prone to rashness, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) reckons Peter's not ready for the big time yet, and has enrolled him in what he calls a Stark Industries internship. The mogul's put-upon second-in-command Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) will be Peter's point of contact, and Tony will monitor the apprentice hero from afar. But Peter soon grows tired of the training wheels, and begins investigating a spate of puzzling crimes alone.
A criminal gang has been holding up stores and robbing ATMs using strange and powerful hi-tech weapons. They're the work of an embittered salvage man called Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who developed them using alien technology recovered from the scene of that epic battle with extraterrestrials at the end of Avengers Assemble. Toomes has also made a fearsome flying suit for himself, but is otherwise a very working class villain - he's been denied the American dream, and has now decided to steal it.
When Peter sets out to stop him, he soon gets out of his depth, and sends Happy and Tony into a panic by hacking into his new Stark Industries Spider-Man costume to reveal its awesome potential. And things get even messier when Liz (Laura Harrier), the high school girl Peter is smitten with, gets mixed up in it all.
Given the fact that film-makers have been hacking the hell out of this story for almost two decades, there's a certain freshness to Spider-Man: Homecoming. We are spared yet another rehash of Uncle Ben's death, and instead are presented with Peter's vivacious widowed aunt, May (Marisa Tomei), a woman so youthful and attractive that Tony Stark is constantly asking after her.
Downey Jr.'s interventions are sparely used, but effective, and no one needs to be told how good Michael Keaton is at acting. I felt his villainous role might have been fleshed out better in the writing, but he inhabits it most convincingly, bringing humour and pathos to a part others would have made less of.
Tom Holland is good as the puppyish, impetuous Peter, and makes the most of the comic moments that come his way. There are some decent action sequences, particularly an unfortunate incident on the Staten Island Ferry, but for all that the film sags in the middle, and lord knows how many more of these things we'll be subjected to in the next decade.
Spider-Man Homecoming (12A, 133mins) ★★★
Also releasing this week: Movie reviews: It Comes at Night, Sanctuary, The Midwife