This review is gonna contain banshee-level spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame (and 2014’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, I guess).
Tom Holland’s fifth outing as everyone’s favourite wall-crawling menace sees him dealing with the fallout of Avengers Endgame, whilst juggling the notion of stepping up to the plate as a full-time Avenger, and just plain ol’ trying to get by and enjoy his summer break as the carefree, mild-mannered teen Peter Parker.
Ordinarily, a new Spidey film is a massive thing for me; I am an unashamedly voracious Spider-fan, but after the emotional haymaker of Avengers Endgame, I was happy to see it the day after it opened. No 3am wibbling, curled-up-in-a-ball, energy-drink fever dream jitters for this reviewer!
Catches cinemagoers’ attentions just like flies
The cinema seats barely having cooled after Tony Stark’s er, “wedding” (sorry SLJ), Marvel Studios have earned a well-earned break from cranking out 2-3 movies every year, so while they regroup over shawarma, Sony have picked up the slack and given us a comfortably fluffy slice of cake to assuage the 22-movie course we’ve been insatiably shovelling in our craw for the past decade.
There is now a huge Iron Man-shaped hole in the cinematic universe, and although there is a hefty amount of lip-service paid to the characters that we’re unlikely to see again, we also have a conspicuous Robert Downey Jr.-shaped void. For as little screen time as he actually had in Homecoming, his presence was most certainly felt, especially in the scene when he reprimands Peter and confiscates his spider-suit. Thankfully we have a welcome abundance of Nick Fury and Maria Hill acting as Peter’s cheering squad this time around. It’s good to see Cobie Smulders and Samuel L Jackson back and bantering back and forth while Spidey sticks his webbed foot in it on a constant basis.
Quentin Beck’s Mysterio is a character I was always interested to see realised in live action, and while I imagined he’d be something of a punchline (check out the storyboards for the cancelled Spider-Man 4 film, and his stint as the crappiest boss ever in the PS2 game), we get a surprisingly fleshed-out and unique take on the character, and tying him in to (admittedly loose, if they were even intended as such) adaptations of the Sandman, Molten Man, and Hydroman (here referred to as The Elementals; I’m not sure who “Wind Man” is meant to be based on) is an interesting update. In Peter’s journey, having Beck almost become his new mentor, a substitute for the late Tony Stark, only enrichens a character which is, on paper, a bit silly. The scene where they regroup after an Elemental encounter and Peter confides that it’s good to have someone who “gets him” as a fellow superhero, is a nice moment. Also, the multiverse-hopping backstory that Beck lays out should illicit some nerdy smiles amongst avid Marvel readers.
Watts on second
The Jon Watts Spider-Man movies are leagues ahead of the Raimi/Webb quintet in terms of creating a cohesive, organic band of characters that widen the scope of the source material. Love them or hate them, the Raimi/Webb movies always felt very isolated, insular affairs. It always made Peter’s circle of friends, and the baddies he encounters, to be somewhat underwhelming. I think the closest we ever got to see Peter even leave New York was in Amazing Spider-Man 2 when Gwen almost went to London before unceremoniously carking it in a clock tower. B*tch please, this one’s been to space! I adore how broad this version of Spider-Man feels. It’s fitting that this movie sends ol’ Webhead bouncing around the friendly neighbourhoods of Europe, as it’s a plot point that’s deftly and humorously tied in with the villainous threat our heroes have to deal with. Martin Starr is utilised to brilliant effect here as their well-meaning but somewhat hapless teacher trying to herd everyone together.
Another aspect of earlier films I think they’ve finally nailed is the relationships within the supporting cast. Again, because there are so many more of them in this iteration, it gives the filmmakers a much wider narrative sandbox. As well as the firmly-established Ned and MJ, you’ve now got a much more prominent role for budding journalist Betty Brant, and newcomer Brad Davis, a romantic rival for MJ’s affections, who serves as a neat analogue for Peter in figuring out his priorities. Does he want to pursue the girl he “really likes”, or does he want to concentrate on his great responsibility as Spider-Man? We’ve all been there. I do wonder if Brad was originally conceived as Harry Osborn, but I think that would ultimately be sowing too many unnecessary seeds for a future villain plot. As I’ve mentioned, it’s a garden already teeming with life, and quite frankly I’ve had all the Goblins I can handle, for now. Let’s scour the thousands of unusual and interesting kooks in Spidey’s Rogues’ Gallery, shall we? Even Flash Thompson, who is little more than ineffectual Draco Malfoy type, is a compelling and likeable frenemy for Puny Parker.
Something that worked extremely well in Homecoming was seeing Peter try to make room for a social life in his eagerness to become a fully-fledged Avenger. Here, that internal conflict is reversed, and we see that Peter’s struggle to maintain both is about as tenuous as his grip on the Venician clock tower that the Water Elemental destroys. Peter’s friends aren’t just put in peril because damsels must by definition be put in distress, thanks to centuries of classic literature, they’re always a welcome presence and the actors have genuine chemistry. It actually feels like a high school drama first, and a superhero movie at a close second. Watts has famously said that his was envisioning a Brat Pack-style comedy with these films, and he has made good on that promise.
Again, not to harp on or nitpick the past, Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man duology always felt like a much more natural romantic drama between Peter and Gwen, but really ground to a halt when it came to all that pesky superhero stuff. In this movie, because, as one character points out, all this wacky heroes-in-capes stuff is kind of the norm now, the superheroic aspect feels as naturally interwoven with the character and romantic developments as seamlessly as one of Spidey’s many costumes.
After 22 movies, the MCU has definitely found its groove, in terms of humour. Because Endgame was such a grandiose exercise in mind-massacring, eye-exploding, vein-throbbing excitement, these Spidey films feel much more low-key; the kind of threats he faces aren’t “Avengers-level”, and that’s just how I think it should be. The very fact that the filmmakers managed to flip a concept as ominous and distressing as the Thanos Snap into something hilarious is a testament to the genius of the filmmakers, and it’s a great way to establish the tone. For the most part, there’s not as much a sense of threat as Infinity War created with its crushingly-bleak ending, and one particular scene in Far From Home wouldn’t feel out of place in a Scooby Doo movie. It’s that tingle-inducing sense of cartoonish goofiness never fails to put a smile on my face and works immensely well for silver screen Spidey. Even at its 129-minute runtime, the whole shebang zips by effortlessly, and not once will you ever be checking the clock.
Obvious final point is obvious: Stay til the very end!