REVIEW / FANTASY ACTION
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (PG13)
134 minutes/Opens July 6/3.5 stars
When news of the latest Spider-Man reboot first broke, many were sceptical, including myself. Tobey Maguire had played the web-slinger in three films from 2002 to 2007 and Andrew Garfield donned the suit for two outings in 2012 and 2014. In the space of merely 15 years, a third actor, Tom Holland, was stepping into the role of Spidey.
It is a shrewd move to prevent the studio from being held ransom to any one actor's salary demands, but it also means there is a danger of fans not feeling committed to the movie franchise.
To Holland's credit, he makes the role his own. The English actor has already shown that he can act in the tsunami drama The Impossible (2012) as a boy overwhelmed by grief and fear at first, and then blossoming as he finds that he can help others in the aftermath of the disaster.
Here, as Peter Parker, he is a geeky 15-year-old student who is eager to prove his worth as Spider-Man to his superhero mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and sets out to take down Vulture (Michael Keaton), a working-class guy who turns to peddling alien-material-enhanced weapons. On top of that, Peter has to work up the courage to tell his crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), how he feels.
Holland's Spider-Man is very much a teenager - impatient, impulsive and jonesing for his next big mission after joining the rest of the Avengers in battle in Captain America: Civil War (2016). We even get a shot-on-Peter's-handphone point-of-view of events that smartly recaps what happened previously while conveying to us his sense of awe and excitement.
Peter is also innately decent; for instance, he is repulsed by the idea of an "instant kill" mode in his souped-up-by-Stark suit.
Filipino-American actor Jacob Batalon is a great foil for him as his best friend Ned. When he learns of Peter's secret identity, he lets loose with an endless volley of questions, including: "Do you lay eggs?"
Thankfully, there is no retread of the origin story of how Peter came to be Spider-Man beyond a snappy exchange between the two friends.
The sense of humour, which is welcome, is also evident in a series of public education videos featuring Captain America. These are clips Peter encounters in the course of school life, highlighting the gulf between his identities as a regular student and as a masked vigilante.
By making Spider-Man younger than before, Homecoming smartly sidesteps direct comparisons with the previous incarnations of the superhero. The idea of an underaged superhero is not groundbreaking - Chloe Grace Moretz was just 13 when she played Hit Girl on superhero comedy Kick-Ass (2010) - but director and co-writer Jon Watts (Cop Car, 2015) has a good grasp of Peter's teenager world.
The villain here is not some madman or egomaniac but a man who turns to crime as a result of the destruction wreaked by the Avengers in Civil War. The fact that actions have consequences is something most blockbusters blithely ignore. Bonus points for the cheeky casting as Keaton goes from Batman (1989) to baddie.
There are some nice twists here as well, and they keep Homecoming from turning into a mere retread of past successes.