Teenage life can be tough. The tests, the teachers, the crushes, the overly violent villains trying to kill you. Or, at least, some of those things for most people. For Peter Parker (Tom Holland) though, it’s all of the above. That’s what you get when you mix school with your superheroic career aspirations, I suppose.
To negotiate between his 1980s high school comedy movie-esque education (think: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the work of John Hughes), and his burgeoning life as a crime-fighter, Peter is going to have to learn a few lessons. The same as those which his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has been so recently learning in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Namely, that his actions have consequences. Or, as some would put it, that with great power comes great responsibility. The themes here might be similar to that of 2002’s Spider-Man, but they’re handled with a greater sense of subtlety, and much, much more humour. This is a very different film to the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield iterations of recent years. Sure, it’s still a look at early doors Spider-Man, but mercifully it dodges the origin story altogether (barring one or two throwaway lines).
Instead, we pick up with Peter a little further through his journey, still discovering his capabilities, yet growing ever more confident, and ever more eager to impress Stark following his exploits in Civil War. The arrival of Michael Keaton’s arms dealer Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture, provides what he sees as the perfect opportunity to do so. He might just bite off more than he can chew though. Whilst Peter is fighting for recognition from his hero and his place among the Avengers, Toomes is battling for something more personal; family.
It’s the latter’s story that the film opens with, eight years previous, in the wake of the Battle of New York (weaving the events into the MCU timeline smoothly). Toomes, a blue collar, hardworking everyman places everything he owns into making big money from the cleanup of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and the gang’s destructive war with the Chitauri army. And yet, even as he tries to make an honest living he’s dragged down by the greed of Tony Stark, and away from the one job that he’s been relying so heavily upon. But, at least not without snagging his share of the scattered leftover alien technology; powerful technology which he uses to create deadly weaponry, and his signature home-brew Vulture costume.
For all the stick that Marvel has received for their antagonists, it feels as though they’ve turned a huge corner here. Vulture is comfortably their best villain since Loki (Tom Hiddleston), intelligent, vicious, a big screen presence, and Keaton portrays his silent, burning rage excellently. It’s this tense, silent rage which will last longer in the memory than the loud, explosive and completely serviceable duels he enters with our hero throughout. As a foil to Holland’s upbeat, vibrant Spider-Man he works perfectly, providing a nice evenness to the film, and a darkness in between the playfulness.
Because make no mistake, there is plentiful room allowed for tongue in cheek banter and wisecracking quips. From Peter’s ever-in-awe best friend, “the guy in the chair” Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Tony Stark (naturally), as well as from Peter himself, who brings the fun both as the awkward teen and as our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Don’t expect Maguire’s broody middle-aged Spidey. Nor Garfield’s borderline douchey Peter Parker. Holland strikes just the right balance between the two sides of the character.
He is the best web-slinger, in the best Spider-Man movie so far…and yes, that includes Spider-Man 2.
Rating (out of 5):