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Spider-Man Homecoming review
Peter doing his homework in costume. Sony

Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes ever, yet his fortunes on the big screen have been in a dire state for the best part of a decade. Tobey Maguire's run as the character ended on a sour note in 2007, leading to the dismal Andrew Garfield era that never took off.

The series entered a period of uncertainty when Sony Pictures pumped the breaks, and shelved plans for multiple spin-offs. Then, in 2015, Sony and Marvel Studios announced a collaboration that would introduce a new Spidey to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) of Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man and The Avengers.

It was a perfect opportunity to reinvigorate the character.

The plan was to revisit what has made Spider-Man a favourite for decades - his youth - while showing how his costumed antics fit into a much larger world of superheroes.

The seeds were sown for this when the new Spidey made his anticipated, but brief debut in last year's Captain America: Civil War, and it continues in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

British actor Tom Holland plays a 15-year-old Peter Parker who is much younger than Garfield's or Maguire's - both literally (at 21, Holland is also younger than either of his predecessors were) and in the youthful energy he brings to the role.

Maguire and Garfield captured aspects of the character well, but neither were the complete package. Holland is. Playing both Peter and his masked alter-ego never appears to be a juggling act for the young Brit. They're always the same person, never seeming like separate characters or performances.

Brimming with enthusiasm, passion and a dedication to doing the right thing, Holland's Peter Parker is now comfortably the definitive big screen version, and yet there's still so much room for him to grow and improve. If he is to keep playing the character for years to come, I look forward to seeing what Marvel and Sony can do with him.

Spider-Man Homecoming review
Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, aka The Vulture. Side note: his jacket is RAD. Sony Pictures

Homecoming is about Parker's early days as Spider-Man and how be balances the two halves of his life. He's an enthusiastic do-gooder, sometimes to a fault, and desperately wants to be an Avenger following his brush with the big league in Civil War.

Homecoming is the first in a new series of films, but it isn't an origin story. It paints a picture of who this Peter Parker is and what his day-to-day life entails, but the only direct reference to Spidey's origin, which didn't need telling a third time on the big screen, is a single joke about the spider that bit him. Surprisingly, and to some relief, Uncle Ben isn't mentioned once.

At their worst, Spider-Man films have given too much focus to Peter's origins. Raimi's third film messed with the perfectly-told story of Ben's death in the original, while the Webb films focused on an ill-conceived conspiracy involving Peter's father.

Homecoming assumes the vast majority of its audience knows the origin, or at least knows enough, and so focuses on Spider-Man's present, and future. He has his powers, but how will he used them? This also means ties to the wider MCU, which helps set the film apart from previous outings.

Downey Jr's Tony Stark is keeping an eye on Peter having gifted him the high-tech suit seen in Civil War, and the young hero is eager to impress. As he goes about being a local hero, he encounters the work of Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture - whose supervillain alias takes on a new meaning.

Toomes was assigned to the clean-up operation following the attack on New York that The Avengers halted eight years prior to Homecoming. There he picked the place clean of alien tech until Stark put an end to the operation, inadvertently crippling him financially and turning him and his crew to a life of crime making weapons, gadgetry and profit from the mysterious scrap.

Stark's influence hangs over the film and its characters, as does the wider superhero world he represents. This aspect of the story provides a refreshing juxtaposition when we see a superhero who is offering elderly people directions and stopping bicycle thieves, rather than fighting hordes of CGI aliens or killer robots.

Spider-Man Homecoming review
Spidey and Vulture in his flying suit. Sony

Another key differential is the dynamism of youth Holland and director Jon Watts bring to the film.

The younger half of Homecoming's cast is fantastic. Holland is a natural star never overshadowed or overawed by the more experienced actors around him, and his high school pals are a delight. Jacob Batalon's Ned is a proxy for Spidey fans in the audience, then there's Laura Harrier's Liz, Tony Revolori's Flash and Zendaya's Michelle, who all share in some great dialogue and memorable scenes.

Liz is Peter's crush, but fittingly, given their age and this early stage of Peter's story, it never becomes a cliché Hollywood romance. There's awkwardness, some cute interplay, and that's precisely what this Spider-Man's story needs so early on.

The older supporting cast is also great. An enthusiastic Keaton gives his villain understandable motivations despite a limited focus on him, Marisa Tomei makes for a great Aunt May, Jon Favreau has fun as Stark's assistant Happy, and Martin Starr and Hannibal Buress provide laughs with very little screentime as two of Peter's teachers.

Downey Jr is reliably charismatic and irreverent, but if anything the film could also use a bit less of him. Despite a great payoff for the arc, his infrequent appearances feel like distractions from the more interesting, fresher story being told about Peter. Likewise, the suit he provides Peter also gets in the way, appearing counter to the character of Spider-Man.

Its immense plethora of gadgets and on-board computer are just like those found in Iron Man's suit, which never strikes as the right fit for the friendly neighbourhood hero. Scenes of Peter fumbling as he gets to grips with what the suit is capable of seem unnecessary, serving only to convey how out of his depth Peter can be when that has already been made clear.

Spider-Man Homecoming review
Peter Parker with his friend Ned. Sony

He's surrounded by a top notch ensemble but Holland is undoubtedly the star, turning in a charming and kinetic performance. He's hyper-active, which works for Peter, but the film as a whole reflects this. With six credited writers it's not really a surprise that the script could have used a bit of a trim and tidy to streamline the plot.

Homecoming bounds from one scene to next like Spidey across rooftops. Like its hero, the film could stand to take a breath every once in a while, and if it had, the larger action sequences would have had a greater impact.

A central sequence involving a Staten Island ferry could have been a defining scene for Holland's wall-crawler were enough time given to setting up and showing the stakes as the ship is cleft in two. Instead, the film almost seems in a rush to get to the next scene featuring Iron Man.

Watts, another indie director to be handed the reins to a major Hollywood franchise, certainly proves he's adept at shooting action, but someone more experienced would have given this scene the attention and dramatic weight it deserved. Take the work Patty Jenkins did with Wonder Woman's no man's and scene for example.

The finale fairs better. Set up perfectly with a small scene that jolts audiences into remembering just how young Peter is, the ensuing set piece does well to avoid the superhero cliché of final acts descending into a maelstrom of hollow computer imagery by remembering, just in time, that character is key.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (8/10)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth big screen solo outing for the web-slinger in 15 years and second reboot of the character. It needed to work, it needed to be different and it succeeds wholesale in this regard. Not only does this film provide a refreshing take on the character, but it's refreshing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, providing it a grounded, street-level story it has needed for some time.

Some messy plotting keep it from the heights of Marvel's best, and even the heights of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 in 2002, but Homecoming is great fun and provides an excellent foundation for a series we hope continues for many more years to come.