SINGAPORE: By now, everyone knows that with great power comes great responsibility. And even though this over-familiar mantra is never uttered once in Spider-Man: Homecoming (an evidently clever move), it’s a reliable adage that the film’s director Jon Watts and his cast seem determined to live up to.
Because, as the sixth Spider-Man film in a franchise that has seen three different actors, three different directors and three different continuities in a mere 15 years, Homecoming manages to pull off the most challenging of feats: To justify its own standalone existence while coming back home to the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU).
The best Spidey movie since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 in 2004 with Tobey Maguire, this is the instalment that succeeds in fully embracing both its revered source material and the hazards of millennial teenage life with charm, currency and most importantly, fun.
Justifying all the praise he garnered for his scene-stealing 10 minutes in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, 21-year-old Tom Holland continues his winning ways as the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
The Brit is an endearing ball of energy to watch, encapsulating just enough pep and over-eagerness to convey Peter’s wide-eyed wonder and thrill at being a teenager with superpowers, his coming-of-age struggles and getting to make a difference in the world. Holland nails the universal appeal of Spider-Man, tapping in on the fact that we are all Peter Parker at some point of our lives - that socially awkward kid, unsure of our future, scared of the consequences of our actions but always trying to do the best we can.
Credit must go to Watts and his six (yes, six!) scriptwriters who mercifully chose to skip the retelling of the exhausting origin story with all its associated guilt trips. Instead, we now get to focus on Peter figuring out the blurred lines between identity and responsibility.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and indeed much of the inherent charm in Homecoming is how it leans so much closer to classic John Hughes than Marvel superhero blockbuster in storytelling.
From a sequence that blatantly rips off Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (look out for the original movie scene on a television set) to the cheeky wink/nudge to The Breakfast Club, all these nods contribute to Homecoming's relatability.
There are a multitude of Easter eggs and punchy self-referential gags, from teen star Zendaya (who plays Peter's schoolmate Michelle) proclaiming that her friends call her MJ - a nod to Spidey's long-time love, Mary-Jane - to Donald Glover’s cameo as Aaron Davis, who is actually the Prowler and (even more importantly) the uncle of Miles Morales, the new 21st-century Afro-Latino Spider-Man in the comics.
Fans will also love that Karen, the voice of the artificial intelligence in Spidey’s new tricked-out suit gifted by Tony Stark, belongs to Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly. The MCU connection lies in the fact that actress is, in real life, married to Paul Bettany, who is both Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron and the voice of Jarvis, the artificial intelligence in Stark’s Iron Man suit.
Yet, even with all these nuggets, the film never gets bogged down in its own mythology.
Especially when it has Michael Keaton as its villain. As Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture, Keaton is great at treading the line between gravitas and hammed up cheesiness, showing us two complicated sides of a regular blue-collar guy who feels like the only way to get even with a world that has cheated him is to play dirty.
Keaton as The Vulture also perfectly adds to the overall meta of this superhero universe, furthering post-modern intertextuality by the simple fact that not only is he the former Batman, but also Birdman in Alejandro Inarritu’s Oscar winning film.
All that said, Homecoming is far from a perfect film. Some female characters (like Marisa Tomei as the hot, younger Aunt May) could have been afforded more development and depth.
And the hand-holding guest appearances by Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan and Chris Evans’ Captain America might occasionally feel like unnecessary crutches. Thankfully, Watts pulls back just in time to make sure they never outstay their welcome. Evans’ video cameos in particular draw much appreciated tongue-in-cheek laughs.
A particularly impressive action set piece on top of the Washington Monument - which fully utilises the power of IMAX 3D - definitely makes Homecoming worth a trip to the cinema. As the 1960s animated series’ theme song goes: “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can” - and Homecoming has done everything it can to cement its position in the franchise. And we can’t wait to see what Holland’s Parker does next.
Genevieve Loh's rating: 4/5