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It’s what Harold Pinter would have wanted… Spiderman – Homecoming.

July 11, 2017


I like the thought of Peter Hall writing to Harold Pinter in 1965 after a pre-production reading of Harold Pinter’s latest script and scribbling in the margin… “needs more Spiderman”.

Inspired by Pinter, Jon Watts’ movie mocks the concept of “coming home” even as he invokes it.  “Homecoming” refers most obviously to the US High School tradition, but Tom Holland’s conflicted teenager Peter Parker (like Teddy in Pinter’s play), is himself unclear as to whether or not his “home” is to be found with his intriguingly young and attractive Aunt May or with the billionaire Tony Stark who offers a shinier version of familial security.  Stark offers the warped paternity of severely conditional love and the world of Spiderman-Homecoming, like the world of Pinter’s masterpiece, is a world in which biological and familial ties are passionately invoked, yet are hopelessly fragile and contingent.  All loves are up for negotiation in this world of imperfect choices.

Seriously though, everyone is a little weary of another Spiderman reboot, but the reason is fairly obvious.  Spiderman is now established as the youngest of our most cherished vigilantes.  Batman and Ironman (whose only superpower is money by the way), can get middle aged if they want to – they have mid-life crisis compensatory budgets to die for.  Superman, meanwhile is not human.  Wonder Woman is an Amazonian and, quite frankly, better than us.   But Spiderman is young.   Forever young.  Which means – forever recast.  His is the story that has to be told over and over and over again.

Tom Holland is a joy to watch as a credible teen.  At times, watching this movie, I felt that I was watching not a superhero movie but a drama about the sheer frustration of having to be in a superhero movie.  The script crackles with ludicrous wise-cracks and the plot is propelled by ludicrous coincidences (the very best of which – the big reveal – blind-sided me delightfully) and yet – there’s a strange authenticity to the performances – especially Holland’s.  The presence of Michael Keaton helps.  Batman and Birdman, in his best speech, Keaton rails against the Starks of this world with their innate sense of privilege – dealing out justice from the top of a tall tower.   In many ways, Holland is being torn between two fathers in this film, neither of which are his – and both of whom offer him plausible but severely conditional and contingent versions of coming home.

Keaton plays a salvager whose “blue collar” resentments survive his acquisition of extreme wealth.  At the beginning of the film Lacy out of “Cagney and Lacy” shows up and tells him he’s lost the contract to pick up bits and pieces of alien debris from some Avenger’s movie which I may or may not have seen and which I don’t really care about. He and his gang of roughnecks ignore the instruction to turn everything in, and with a bit of hard work and imagination, they start to convert this junk into weaponised material to be sold to criminals.

He does all this to “provide for his family” – losing sight of all the families that are to be wrecked by fire power now in the hands of the criminals he has profited from.  If Peter Parker’s story is about trying to improvise a contingent set of familial relations where no such relations are obvious, then Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Keaton’s character) illustrates what happens when a paterfamilial nuclear family allegiance over-rides all other ethical obligations.   The suffocation of familiarity at the hands of those who privilege the defense of family values as inexorable dogma is a theme that can only be described as Pinteresque.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jn) shows up intermittently as a deus ex machina in this film and he is insufferable.  He sets himself up as the supreme arbiter of Peter Parker’s (im)maturity, yet his own whimsical and arbitrary displays of power indicate that Iron Man is far more immature than Spiderman will ever be.  Stark/Ironman exhibits all the petulance and casual bullying you associate with massive inherited wealth.  He has never had to survive High School in the way Peter Parker has.  He has never had to grow up, in anything like the same way.  There are subtle exchanges between the two that indicate that the maturity test may be in danger of being reversed.  By the end, I like to think that Peter Parker has regained serve.

Incidentally, in between the central drama involving teenage frustration, romantic disappointment and identity confusion, there are a few inventive action sequences by way of light relief.  I did enjoy the scene at the top of the Washington Monument and most of all – a desperate and flawed attempt to try to sew together a bisected Staten Island Ferry.

Such, doubtless, are the kind of distractions that Peter Hall might have cherished in the context of the first performance of The Homecoming in 1965.



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