« Back to articlePrint this article

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review: Finally, a superhero without any anguish!

Last updated on: July 07, 2017 17:20 IST

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: HomecomingHomecoming fuses the kinky-swiftness of the original superhero movies with the silly concerns of a 2017's teenager, says Sreehari Nair.

Am I the only one who finds the post-Nolan world of anguish-filled superheroes too tiresome?

Doesn't the whole thing feel like an attempt to gold-foil trash?

The anguish-filled superhero is like a postmodern figure who, after reading a magazine review of himself, decided that he mustn't be parodied but taken seriously: that his soul must be seen.

It's like the Energizer Bunny discovering records of his psychopathic history! 

Truth be told, the Mission Statement wasn't half-bad. After all, if you think about it, Coppola's version of The Godfather was essentially Kitsch Redeemed.

However, the problem with the anguishing superhero was that his brood was just a pause, a mere textural effect.

And so, these sinister superhero re-imaginings fast became tricks to further franchises: endless stories set in apocalyptic worlds with self-help book lessons making everything okay by the end.

These were superhero stories interpreted by metaphysicians and resolved using MBA-tactics. 

The result? The screwing over of both high-concept art and gooey pulp, both at once.

In such a scenario comes Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is essentially a high-school musical version of a superhero movie -- with the big numbers replaced by zippy action sequences. The film perhaps offers the clearest evidence of the angst-filled superhero stories having now run their course.

For those in love with the superhero pictures that released in the last decade, Homecoming may well seem like de-evolution, but what it actually is, is a surer evolution from the comic books.

It's truer to the spirit of a comic book and who in this holy world reads a comic book to brood over matters of the soul?

Let me tell you who: Those comic book Fanboys, who grew up on a steady diet of mindless action.

So when Nolan & Co darkened everything in the comic world, it benefitted those Fanboys the most. For this was their ticket to feeling like deep thinkers (I am losing a bunch of my friends today with this piece). 

There are many Fanboys I know who started taking the paranoia propagated by these movies as the real deal while others tried to draw hilarious parallels: 'Isn't that jelly-faced guy in that movie a stand-in for Donald Trump? Oooh, what a smart rendition of the times we're living in.'

A sense of paranoia and an easily-accessible smartness were the anguish-filled superhero's greatest gifts to his legion.

Spider-Man: Homecoming cuts through all that. It's a full-of-froth, consciously shallow superhero movie that'll remind you of the joy you felt when you finished your first comic book. No more, no less.

Peter Parker here is no outcast but a goof. It's not social acceptance that Parker's seeking, but the acceptance of the big daddies: The Avengers gang.

He revels in all of the rituals associated with transitioning from Peter Parker to Spider-Man and back; he enjoys it and they become classic comedy routines for us, the viewer. We share his daze.

His distresses aren't psychological but simple, tactical ones -- like, how do you shoot a web in an open ground without a surface to which the web can stick?

Tom Holland, playing Parker, compresses his natural British jitteriness into a two-act combo of squeaky voice and fluid movements -- he has no time for agony and there's too much enthusiasm bubbling up inside him. 

The daddies from Avengers, however, see him like how a PCB official would see a tearaway fast-bowling sensation: they want him, but he's too much of a crackpot and his larynx isn't thick enough.

So they keep Parker in the Magic Microwave and he is regularly tracked, admonished and taught the superhero rules by Robert 'Iron Man' Downey Jr, whose Tony Stark is clearly tired; he's an 'insert', a franchise-regular just there for sentimental reasons. As is Captain America, offering the kids from Parker's school lessons in virtuous living, with his costume intact.

It was in the tradition of the darkened superhero movies to make the antagonist steeped in existential torment; like a double, he was there -- forever taunting the superhero, trying to remind him how he was a product of the superhero's own dark core.

Here, the dynamic between Parker and his antagonist is written on the level of the Big Uncle and the Bumbling Nephew.

Michael Keaton playing Adrian Toomes is like a villain straight out an industrial thriller. He works at a disassembling unit, scavenging alien technology for 'evil' purposes. His aim isn't grand; nothing like 'destruction of human spirit' -- just 'good business'.

Keaton makes the character a relaxed offender. In his interpretation, the character isn't even too bright and when, in the first scene, they ask him to 'not overextend himself', that's exactly what he ends up doing!

There are more than one Parker-Toomes duels here, but the film's best scene is when they face-off verbally inside a car. Here, Keaton with his teeth bunnying-up for sarcasm gives Holland 'advice' on why he should stay out of his way -- it is big uncle giving you the wisdom.

Other than that scene, Homecoming may not have much to offer by way of quote-worthy lines, but director Jon Watts infuses in the film a lot of visual peppiness that has its own humour.

Homecoming fuses the kinky-swiftness of the original superhero movies with the silly concerns of a 2017's teenager. There are gadgety, social media-ish post-scripts to every action. 

For company, Peter Parker has Ned (Jacob Batalon), a whiz-kid. The two friends were bitten by the superhero bug together and, after Ned stumbles upon Peter's 'secret', he constantly wants to know what it means to be a 'Made Superhero'. Batalon's character is closer to the classic drooling-sidekick with not much of a personal opinion on matters.

Peter has his eyes on a girl named Liz and he's eyed suspiciously by a nerdy, brainy, worldly-wise girl, Michelle -- both blacks. This is a 60s' Spider-Man and he brings into the picture all the callings of that decade: Civil Rights Movement, included.

Then there's Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, wrinkled-up, but with an unmissable sexuality about her -- she looks like she's ready to put out the candles and 'educate' the little boys.

The action in Homecoming hurtles along so fast that it’s often over before you can take it in.

What’s missing in the action sequences, though, is any trace of physicality; in its desire for total momentum, the picture keeps you at a distance from the players.

However, there’s a full-charged sequence when Toomes as Vulture attacks a ferry; it’s a wonderfully done sequence, a howl of ambition, where the stakes are raised with every passing second and it builds and builds till it becomes truly breathtaking. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming's real achievement is that takes us back into an age when superheroes didn't care two hoots about conflicts and crises, and existed as the main force that lit up their neighbourhoods. The picture subverts the recent subversions of the superhero genre, erases all scope for discovering subtexts and, in the process, takes us closer to innocence.

Rediff Rating:
Sreehari Nair in Mumbai