This latest Marvel Comic movie combines the spectacular superhero genre with the high school movie one.
It helps if you’ve seen last year’s “Captain America: Civil War” in which Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spiderman made an appearance as a sort of trainee Avenger. If you didn’t, there’s a quick video resume at the beginning of this.
Parker is now back home with his Aunt Mary (Marisa Tomei) and attending high school like any normal American teenager. He does though have a “junior superhero” brief to deal with minor dramas in his neighbourhood, under the watchful eye of his mentor Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr.) But when a big villain shows up in town in the form of Adrian Toomes a.k.a Vulture (Michael Keaton), no self respecting young super hero in the making can resist the challenge to face him off.
Holland is a really talented young actor. He’s had other roles which have stretched him more in the thespian stakes but he brings a sweetly gauche charm to the role, despite having his face hidden behind the spiderman mask for much of the time. This is a novice superhero, who makes mistakes and sometimes has to be dug out of the mire and told off by Iron Man. He’s also subject to the usual teenage challenges – the girl at school he fancies Liz (Laura Harrier) and is frightened to approach: the sardonic one, Michelle (Zendaya) who really fancies him and the fact that he and his best buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) are perceived as geeky and therefore social outcasts. There’s also the inconvenient fact that a big school event like an exam or the school dance always seems to clash with his need to be on Spiderman duty.
Vulcan has an interesting costume – a flying ace’s leather jacket and huge black wings which enable him to fly. His villainy takes the form of stolen lethal weapons that he is exploiting but the reason for his villainy – his justified resentment of the powerlessness of the blue collar working man against society – could do with more development and attention, while his objective, which just seems to be to destroy as much of New York as possible, is not really that clear.
There is also some nice humour in the film – Parker’s relationship with Iron Man, his “technical support”, provided by a sort of super sat nav arrangement voiced by Jennifer Connolly; the witty idea of using Captain America as the host of propaganda videos for young people promoting good living principles – he doesn’t quite demonstrate how to use a condom but close! – and a great moment when Peter in full gauche teenager mode gets to meet the father of his date for the school dance.
There’s all the spectacular zooming around you’d expect from a Spiderman movie. Highlights include a fun sequence involving the Staten Island Ferry and big climactic battle which sets a lot of things on fire. Fans will probably love it but in its combination of superhero spectacular and high school teen angst, it’s a bit of a deja vue story, which falls well short of the sophisticated appeal of the far superior X-Men or even the old Christopher Reeve as Superman tales, all of which have a more grown up intelligence and imagination.