The latest Spiderman film takes the story back to early teenagehood. In some respects this is quite an interesting idea – do Superheroes emerge fully formed as adults or do they go through the normal stages of puberty like everyone else? This film takes that idea – Spiderman is really Spiderteenager – and shows how he became what he became under the watchful eye of his mentor Tony Stark aka Ironman.
Peter Parker is a high school freshman and somehow his careers advisor has arranged for him to intern at Stark Industries (never happened to me). Meanwhile, after school, Peter dons his costume and roams the borough of Queens helping old ladies, retrieving stolen bicycles and solving petty crimes. But he longs for the big time and constantly hassles Tony Stark and his trusted henchman Happy (Jon Favreau) by phone, text and email (he must be the last person on earth to have a Blackberry; oh the power of product placement) to be given more important crime-fighting jobs to do.
Parker’s fat, nerdy Asian American (is that the correct nomenclature?) buddy Ned would rather hang out and build Star Wars Lego models but in one of those necessary but clever film reveals, learns of Parker’s alter ego and longs to share the secret with his class-mates. The film then charts Parker/Spiderman’s constant quest to impress Tony Stark while desperately wooing the comely Liz (Laura Harrier) who, in one of those necessary but ultimately incongruous film reveals, doesn’t have a date for the school homecoming dance until Parker (surprise, surprise) asks her. Spiderman’s nemesis (Michael Keaton) is a New York salvage contractor who, due to Government intervention which robs him of his livelihood, turns into a super-villain with a collection of hi-tech alien-inspired weaponry with which he hopes to do something naughty (although I never quite worked out what).
There are some clever set-pieces, most notably a rescue sequence on the Washington monument and a big battle on the Staten Island ferry where Ironman has to come and clean up Spiderman’s mess and it all culminates in an over-long final battle (they always are in these sorts of films – teenagers have short attention spans except when it comes to the final battle) with the inevitable result.
The film ends with Parker being awarded the role with Tony Stark which he has always longed for and a reconciliation with Aunt May. There is also a frankly cringe-making scene between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) and his long-suffering Secretary/Girlfriend Pepper played by Gwyneth Paltrow. I know it’s ageist but Paltrow is now a bit too old for this role and should probably have known better.
Tom Holland is the third actor to play Spiderman (after Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) and he makes a good fist of the role – simultaneously innocent but touchingly keen and eager – while Robert Downey Jnr dials in his performance as Tony Stark, but are his wise-cracks maybe getting a touch tiresome? There is a lot of web shooting and swinging between buildings by Spiderman and the new talking computer controlled suit given to him by Tony Stark is full of gadgets and talks back to him constantly. ‘Shall I engage kill mode?’ she says when Spiderman encounters a villain. ‘No!’ says he, horrified.
The real star of the film though is Jacob Batalon as Ned who is thoughtful, lovable, witty, tongue-tied and desperately keen to show off his friend-ship with Spiderman. At one point Ned sneaks into school and is on his computer searching for information while Spiderman is fighting the bad guys and the School Principal comes into the room and asks what he is doing. Unsure of what to confess and desperate to protect Spiderman’s secret he finally says ‘I’m watching porn.’
Film reviews are invariably written by adults (I’m 61) even though the film might be designed for children. So the film is viewed through the jaded, cynical world-weary eyes of a pensioner when the true audience is a testosterone fuelled 14 year old boy. I didn’t think it was a great film by any means but it was fun and enjoyable and quite funny in places. 14 year old boys (and girls) will probably love it.