That sound you hear is from the execs at Sony Pictures breathing a sigh of relief.
Their yet-another-reboot of Spider-Man is going to be a fanboy favorite and commercial juggernaut.
A significant reason is because the hero….is a fanboy himself.
Director Jon Watts and his team of six writers have cleverly used Peter Parker to create cinema’s first superhero fanboy.
Played by the winning Tom Holland, he’s an excitable geek in thrall to the Avengers and, like, totally freaked out by his powers and all the cool stuff that comes with being a superhero, including the suit of course, which is designed by his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and talks to him Siri-like (a smartsuit?).
At school, he’s the nerd everyone teases while hanging out with his schlubby pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) and lusting after hottie Liz (Laura Harrier), a senior who’s with him on the Decathlon team.
Of course, he can’t string a sentence together in her company. The kid really needs to get out more, in a non-saving the world sense.
Parker’s biggest crush, however, is on Tony Stark—aka Iron Man—who has enrolled the fledging superhero on a ‘Stark Internship’ with a view to full promotion to the Avengers if his puppyish enthusiasm doesn’t get the better of him.
“Be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” he instructs. Planet-sized problems are for the big boys. Parker’s scenes with Stark/Iron Man are pure fanboy wish-fulfillment and amongst the most entertaining in the film as the uber-fan gets to hang with his hero. He even records their encounters on his smartphone.
Boldly, and amusingly, the film’s opening ten minutes is a selfie video shot by Parker as he loses his superhero cherry and participates with Stark in the take-down of Captain America at a US military base (the set piece from last year’s Captain America: Civil War which introduced us to Holland’s Spider-Man). How’s that for a home movie?
Stark’s sardonic weariness is a hoot as he tries to dampen Parker’s ardour. “That’s not a hug by the way” he says when Parker mistakenly thinks Stark is trying to embrace him.
Boo hoo. Still, Stark acting so cool only makes the kid keener. Goodness knows what emotional fireworks go off when, on one occasion, Iron Man, saves him from drowning. My guess? That Spidey suit probably requires a thorough laundering.
Parker’s hero-worship of Stark is nicely counterpointed by his own buddy Ned’s hero-worship of him after Ned discovers Parker’s superhero secret. Ned geeks out over the discovery—the skills! the suit! the friends in high places!—and turns valuable sidekick.
It’s a sweetly played, charming friendship and pretty much the heart of the film. By contrast, Parker’s relationship with Liz is standard issue teenage lusting while his relationship with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), with whom he lives modestly in Queens, is played for laughs more than emotion.
What about the villain? Young Peter Parker can’t prove himself without a formidable bad guy to take down and here the movie has an ace up its sleeve with Michael Keaton.
His ‘Vulture’ isn’t an outsize megalomaniac trying to conquer the known universe but a bitter working class family man, Adrian Toomes, trying to make ends meet in a world dominated by greedy elites (including the Avengers who, in a good bit of storytelling, are indirectly responsible for the death of his business).
Now he’s a black market weapons dealer, using purloined alien technology to pack unrivalled firepower.
I wasn’t sold on the rather perfunctory climax involving a hijacked plane but this is preceded by an intensely satisfying face-off between Parker and Vulture—proof that all you need to really grip the audience are words.
There’s also a killer twist which had the audience in my screening break out into applause—even if, presumably, they were largely fanboys. Just like their new hero.