Jack Bottomley, Media Correspondent
Back when the superhero genre was not really "a thing", audiences had to pick out the Batman Returns and Superman: The Movie highs from the Supergirl and Steel lows.
Then, as the new millennium came in, so too did a validation of these films as something more than costumed escapism. Thus, some of the genres previous successes were also re-evaluated, as more filmmakers became attracted to the idea of entering these stories of super heroism.
One of the notable films that is often credited with starting this shift in appreciation for super-powered cinema outings is Sam Raimi's poignant, exciting and brilliant 2004 sequel to his already great 2002 film, Spider-Man 2.
Since this point, Spider-Man has enjoyed a big cinema presence, from Tobey Maguire's final outing as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Raimi's polarising Spider-Man 3 (2007) to Sony's ultimately failed attempt to reboot the character in the fun The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and its problematic, overstuffed and series killing sequel in 2014, which both starred Andrew Garfield as the web wielding hero.
Which brings us to the now and after young English actor Tom Holland made his spotlight stealing debut as Peter/Spidey in the utterly brilliant Captain America: Civil War last year, he gets his own solo outing in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Homecoming is not just fantastic summer blockbuster entertainment, a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the finest Spider-Man film since 2004, it is also one of the most accomplished blockbusters this year and sets a high benchmark for fun per frame!
The story concentrates on Peter (Holland) after his life changing encounter with The Avengers, struggling to return to normality - both in his life at school and behind the mask.
Peter believes he has more to offer The Avengers and indeed the world but as he uncovers the activities of a band of deadly weapons dealers, led by The Vulture (Michael Keaton), could Spider-Man actually be in way over his young web head?
Owing more to John Hughes than the super hero genre, this entry into the MCU as a result feels fresher, smarter and funnier, as it relishes character over action but has plenty of both throughout.
The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off both leap to mind (the latter even implicitly referenced) here and this film is as much about the young lad behind the mask as it is the hero swinging into the public eye of NY.
The high school Drama proves to be relatable, hilarious and important, as the web slinging action likewise entertains in a film that once again shows how an indie director, in this case Jon Watts (of Cop Car fame), has made the most of helming a big budgeted blockbuster...and long may that trend continue.
Homecoming may well be testing new waters for the future of the MCU (hence Robert Downey Jr.'s actually surprisingly necessary involvement in the film as Tony Stark/Iron Man) but predominantly focuses of establishing this newer, fresher faced and, honestly, greatest onscreen Spider-Man.
Tom Holland is electric, as he bullseyes both facets of the character, capturing the intelligent, geeky, slightly awkward but likable nature of Parker and the boundless charisma of Spider-Man.
In the past Maguire hit the mark as Peter but less so as Spidey, while Garfield felt too hip for Peter but cockily apt for Spider-Man, Holland however deftly handles both sides to the beloved comic book hero and is most faithful and excellent at bringing to life the character.
Mind you, most Marvel offerings have delivered great heroes (Iron Man, Doctor Strange) but where Homecoming really steps out of some rather large shadows is in its presentation of a meaningful villain!
This is something this much adored universe has struggled with, as - minus Civil War's Zemo and Loki (who really only came into his own in The Avengers Assemble) - past MCU baddies have lacked menace, fit firmly into archetype or being so nondescript they are forgettable.
However in Michael Keaton, whose post-Birdman career resurgence continues (playing another Bird man kind of?!), Homecoming has arguably the most compelling villain of this universe.
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Not wholly evil, Tomes is the product of a system that values the higher echelons and thoughtlessly and arrogantly disposes of the underlings at a moments notice.
Keaton impresses in the part and you can practically see the fires of injustice in his stare, that is when he is out of his technologically kitted out costume, that is distant from the character's green feathery comic look but in a good way and not a Rhino in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 way (a Transformer-ised Kangaroo essentially).
The first confrontation between hero and villain is pulse racing and there is one sequence in particular that evokes the episode "The Promise" of Arrow (S2, Ep. 15) in its prolonged intensity and unpredictability.
The supporting cast likewise bring their effort to the film, as Parker's high school bestie Ned, played hilariously by Jacob Batalon, is a real highlight, alongside Zendaya as the observational and sardonic classmate Michelle Jones, Laura Harrier as Liz (a role that becomes a bit more important than you think) and Tony Revolori as a more contemporary take on bully "Flash" Thompson.
Alongside previously established returning faces like Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan and Marisa Tomei as a newer, younger and less preachy Aunt May. There are other cast members of importance but best keep their parts shrouded in unspoileriffic mystery.
It is charmingly performed by all, with some character cameos, easter eggs and hilarious lines of scripting that allow Holland to show off all he can do in the part.
Alongside a predictably fun score by Michael Giacchino (even if it is not his all round best) and some splendid set-pieces (save for the odd moment that feels a bit too jumpily filmed), Homecoming is an absolute blast, which puts the hero through his paces both in and out of the tooled up spandex.
There is so much for fans and newbies alike to love in this take on the character which some may well feel fits in with Marvel's usual approach to their heroes but I felt that this was a change of pace that had Comedy and wit but brought moments of meaning and darkness with it.
As the genre grows and grows many will grow tired of it (some already have) but Spider-Man: Homecoming fits in with the MCU but is not dominated by world building and previous tropes, instead allowing its characters and story to wear some older influences proudly on its blazer and yet mix it up and deliver another refreshing comic book offering this year (after Logan and Wonder Woman) that prioritises the little guy over the celebrity-style big hero.
Hopefully you'll love being caught in its web, just as much as I loved Holland's take on this iconic hero and Michael Keaton's flying antagonist.
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon
Release Date: Out Now
Spider-Man: Homecoming, 11th July 2017, 21:52 PM