Tom Holland stars in the third iteration of the Spider-Man character and the first within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is an increasing sense of fatigue with the over saturation of superhero films and this does not change with Homecoming. From the first scene it is made clear though that this is a smaller scale movie, one than looks up to the Avengers not down from their height. For that reason this is Marvel’s most realistic to date. The people are real and so are the stakes.
When the Avengers destroy parts of the city, it is the citizens that are left to clean up the damage. A whole industry has formed in the wake of these repeated disasters that without warning is suddenly taken away. Tony Stark’s latest venture Damage Control will now manage all salvage operations leaving Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew in New York jobless. Rather than back down and find employment elsewhere, he and his team steal a truckload of alien technology and use it to create hybrid weapons destined for the black market. In order to keep a steady flow of new scrap, Toomes tracks and hijacks Damage Control trucks. For 8 years his business has thrived, but after Spider-man stumbles upon some otherworldly weapons, their paths begin to cross.
From the offset it is clear that director Jon Watts is trying to innovate, to surprise the audience with something new, however using a brighter colour palette and a selection of musical cues does not change the fact that the skeleton of each film is the same. The villain is always forgettable yet well acted, here Keaton is formidable as Vulture but his motives are foggy. He wants to take revenge on the Avengers in their ivory towers but does so by selling weapons to thugs to buy himself an ivory tower for his family.
The action scenes although destructive are almost always aimless. As the ferry gets split in half part way through I should have been exhilarated, instead the whole sequence was a drag. In 2015’s Age of Ultron the entire fictional city of Sokovia is ripped from the Earth and rises into the sky, the end result in a series of ever more catastrophic events across multiple films. In cinema as in real life our empathy and interest towards conflict and disaster only extends so far before we become numb. I did not care about the ferry nor the people on it because I have seen it relentlessly in every Marvel film. What the viewer will not become numb to is good character development and clear motives, something that most superhero films, including this one, lack. Far too often brilliant actors are wasted in one-dimensional or bit roles, Tony Revolori, Donald Glover, Kenneth Choi and Hannibal Buress all fall into these categories.
Self promotion is another issue prevalent in the Marvel franchise. Every release will at some point reference its predecessors and advertise a few more. The deeper we go into the franchise the worse it gets. While this allows for more complex storylines that work across multiple films it alienates the average moviegoer. You would not be able to fully comprehend the events of Homecoming unless you had seen Civil War, and that was the build up of multiple films in itself. Suddenly you have 16 films you have to watch as a prerequisite for simply understanding the latest release. There are 3 more in post production as of writing with one more filming and multiple more in the works. As more time passes the issue will continue to get worse and diminishing returns is inevitable.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first indication that Marvel might deviate from its formulaic structure of producing films. The original elevator pitch for this would have been ‘High School drama’ yet the creative licence given to the writers never extends to a majority. It always has to be a superhero film first and foremost. If Marvel wants to remain relevant it has to evolve, to stop making the same movie in a different skin. Homecoming is a step in the right direction but for every one step forward they seem to take 2 steps back.