Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Directed by Jon Watts.
2017. Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
Tom Holland
Michael Keaton
Robert Downey Jr.
Marisa Tomei
Jon Favreau
Jacob Batalon
Laura Harrier
Tony Revolori
Bokeem Woodbine
Gwyneth Paltrow
Donald Glover
Tyne Daly
Hannibal Buress
Abraham Attah

I love Sam Raimi's first two Spider-Man movies. The second is among the masterpieces of the genre. However, in 2007, he gave us the overcrowded mess known as Spider-Man 3. A mere five years later, Sony rebooted the franchise almost solely to keep the character's film rights from reverting to Marvel. The movie they made, 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man," is okay but retreads the same territory as Raimi's first. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, is an unmitigated disaster. Sony knew it would need yet another reboot. This time, they were smart. They signed off on letting Marvel pretty much do what they will with the character. Everyone loved the reintroduction to him in Captain America: Civil War, immediately inserting Spidey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And here we are, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This film has a rather interesting task. It has to tell an origin story without seeming to tell one because we're all tired of this particular origin. To do this the movie skips the whole bitten by a radioactive spider, misusing power for personal gain, finding Uncle Ben dead sequence. Instead, it sums that up in a few lines of dialogue. Our story picks things up six months after the events of Civil War. Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland) is back in high school, but still prowling the streets of New York at night looking for evil doers. Of course, he's trying to keep that a secret, maintain his grades, and get a date with Liz (Harrier), the girl of his dreams. As if that wasn't tough enough, Iron Man (Downey Jr.) is keeping pretty close tabs on him through his own right hand man Happy (Favreau). Stuff hits the fan when our hero finds himself trying to stop an illegal arms dealer of some very special weapons.

Back in Marvel's capable hands, this film does something other Spider-Man films have not. It creates perfect synergy between Peter Parker and Spider-Man. That seems odd to say considering they're the same person, but it's true. In Raimi's films, Tobey Maguire captured much of Peter's essence, yet those movies approached his superhero work far too somberly. The Amazing Spider-Man movies corrected that mistake, adding the in-fight wisecracks the character is known for. Sadly, Andrew Garfield's Peter is way too cool a customer. Tom Holland steps into Peter's shoes and instantly epitomizes everything the character has come to mean to his fans. He's a social outcast and has a wide-eyed enthusiasm about his still new powers. During action scenes, the quips are rapid-fire and feel ripped from the pages of the comic book.

The depiction of Spider-Man does have one issue, though. Just like most of the other movies featuring him, Spidey doesn't always have sufficient weight when he's swinging and bouncing around. He seems to be far more pinball than man. By now, most viewers over the age of ten understand they're looking at CGI, but we still want to be fooled. This doesn't always fool us. It's not terrible given the web-slinger's other flicks. I just thought it was a problem we would be passed by now. Hopefully, it can be corrected in time for the sequel.

Aesthetic issues are largely overshadowed by the film's narrative strengths. We become absorbed in watching Peter attempt to wear far too many hats for his tiny head. We see his edges fray, yet his main focus is always on being the best Spider-Man he can be. This quest is policed by the now-familiar character mantra "with great power comes great responsibility." Those words are never uttered, at least I don't recall hearing them, but the sentiment is all over the movie. It's cliché, sure, but executed very well.

The narrative is also helped by an interesting roster of characters. Michael Keaton's Vulture is a welcome addition to the MCU because he gives it something of which it is in short supply: a good villain. He's not an all-time great, but Keaton hams it up real well and gives Spidey his best big screen bad guy since Doctor Octopus of Spider-Man 2. Peter's classmates combine to give us an engaging group of kids. Jacob Batalon plays best friend Ned. His chemistry with Holland is outstanding and he gets more than his share of the movie's funny lines. Zendaya plays Michelle and does something I didn't know she was capable of after seeing her on The Disney Channel. She perfectly delivers deadpan humor. Nothing seems to get a rise out of her, but she keeps giving us excellently timed zingers. Laura Harrier, as love interest Liz, is a bit blander than the others, but that's largely a function of the role she's asked to play.

Two characters fall just a bit short of what the film is going for: Aunt May (Tomei) and Flash (Revolori). Fanboys found themselves all in a tizzy around the release of Civil War when they found out Aunt May was being played by Marisa Tomei. Some were pissed because she isn't an elderly matron the way we've to come to expect the character to be portrayed. Others were ecstatic because Tomei is a gorgeous woman. Civil War makes it work by directly addressing her looks. That she was not some saintly old lady shuffling around dispensing pearls of wisdom became the setup for a joke. The punchline was simply "Hey look, Aunt May's sexy." It works in Civil War because she only has a few minutes of screen time. The joke is the same in Homecoming," but doesn't work quite as well because that's all the film chooses to do with her. She needs more screen time than she has, but with that she needs to be much more developed. Flash is no longer is he a musclebound jock who gets off on beating people up. This guy is a scrawny weaselly passive aggressive prick. I get it, all these kids are millennials and their characters are updated as such. The problem is this version is missing Flash's biggest asset. He's supposed to be the antithesis of Peter and therefore higher in the social hierarchy. This guy is clearly on the same rung, travels in the same circles. This detracts just a bit from the notion that our hero has some reason to think of himself as an "other."

It's probably fair to say some of my issues with the movie are borne of silly fanboying. The truth is it gets lots of things right. Mainly, it strikes the perfect tone for this character and gets his personality right. It's got plenty of action and maintains a sense of fun all the way through. On the other hand, it sticks a bit too closely to the Marvel formula and loses some steam as it drones through its pre-planned course. Having Tony Stark heavily involved initially feels like a cheap, easy way to link this film to the rest of the MCU, but they make it work in two ways. First, they establish Stark as a father figure. Second, they never let Iron Man overshadow our hero. When you put it all together, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a really fun movie better than every Spidey-flick out there except Raimi's Spider-Man 2.

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  1. Just a slight correction. Spider-Man 3 came out in 2007 and we had to wait five years for the unnecessary re-boot.

    I fucking enjoyed the hell out of this film. It was funnier. The action paid off. You got some interesting characters. A great villain. You didn't need to tread on things we know about from previous films. It felt different and for the right reasons.

    I love Tom Holland's approach to Peter Parker and Spider-Man as you see him learning on the job while being a bit more grounded. You didn't have to see him swing through the city which had been done for so many times. You also felt for him because you know he's still a kid that is biting off more than he can chew. I kinda agree with you on Laura Harrier as she wasn't as interesting as the other characters. Especially Zendaya who is just hilarious.

    Another thing about the film that I love which I thought made it so enjoyable was the music soundtrack. The past films never had a good soundtrack as it always catered to what was trending at the time. Here, they get it right. Once I heard "Blitzkrieg Bop" by the Ramones, I became a kid again and raised my fist in the air over every "Hey-ho, let's go". Next film better have the Ramones' version of the "Spider-Man" theme song and some classic hip-hop from Queens. Not any of that trendy shit the kids are into.

    1. Thanks, I fixed those numbers.

      It was a very enjoyable film - a huge step up from The Amazing Spider-Man movies. Zendaya cracked me up, completely agree.

      The soundtrack was very good. To be honest, I'll probably appreciate that part of it more on subsequent viewings.

  2. Great review! I really liked this and I'm glad MCU has control over this now. The only thing I didn't care for was the fan service with Michelle. I loved her character, Zendaya was hilarious, but the "my friends call me MJ" didn't work for me. I'd rather her stand on her own.

    I'm looking forward to the sequel with Scorpion. I love Michael Mando in Better Call Saul.

    1. Yeah, the MJ comment was an eye-rolling moment for me, too. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel.

  3. Hmmm I've actually always liked Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man over Spider-Man 2. I felt the whole Mary-Jane love story was too heavy-handed and detracted from the superhero splendor. I remember walking away slightly disappointed. I haven't rewatched it in ages though so maybe it's grown with time. I actually liked Flash's updated appearance and demeanour. Speaking from my high school experience, there were definitely cliques but we never had the strictly segregated social classes you see in American high schools (or at least American films about high school). Yes, certain kids were 'cooler' than others but there was an accessibility to everyone. I feel having Flash be a rich douche whose in Peter's academic shadow adds weight to Flash's distaste of Peter and serves as a modern retelling of the story.

    I actually haven't noticed how pinball Spider-Man is hey, I've always just accepted it because he is a Spider...Man.

    Great review and I agree with several points but I think Tom Holland is the BEST Spider-Man we've ever seen on screen. I love Tobey but Holland had something special.

    1. I can understand feeling that way about the MJ aspects of SM2, but I felt the opposite way. I thought it added greatly to Peter's development.

      Fair point about Flash. Might have to reconsider my position on him.

      I might not have been clear enough, but I do believe Holland is the best Spider-Man. I loved everything about him.

  4. I really liked Michael Keaton as the Vulture. He took a so-so villain and made him interesting. It's not like there is a high bar but he has become one of the more memorable villains in the MCU. As a Spidey fan, there are a lot of character changes that took me by surprise but I think they did a pretty good job with them. Great review, Wendell!

    1. I agree, Keaton did a lot with a little. Yeah, he's one of the MCU's better villains. Thanks!

  5. I agree re: the treatment of Aunt May. Frankly, I expected the film to give us more of her than it ultimately did, not just because Tomei is a very good actress and the character is an indelible part of the Spidey mythology, but because with her limited time we kinda didn't get the emotional counterweight I'd have hoped for with Peter. To some degree, I think May's role in this film was supplanted by Tony Stark, a factor I think will keep this film from being the fan favourite it should be in years to come. Stark assumes the Uncle Ben role in this film I think, and the film is the poorer for it. Still, I did enjoy the film (my review is up at the end of the week) and I can't wait to revisit this on Blu.

    1. Oh yeah, Stark is definitely Uncle Ben and Aunt May all rolled into one. The film would greatly benefit from having her actually fill the role the way she always has. Looking forward to your full review.

  6. Excellent review, Dell! I'm glad you liked it so much. It's my personal favorite (I'm one of those rare people who never liked Spider-Man 2 much). I think you make a great point about Flash that I hadn't even realized, although I really do enjoy how they changed up some of these classic characters. You'll never hear me in my life ever complain about Marisa Tomei, haha. She was one of my earliest celebrity crushes. "Smooth talkah, you awh! You awh!" Personally, I do feel Vulture is one of the strongest MCU villains, but one thing that really impresses me about him is how much they've improved him from the comics. I always felt he was one of Spidey's worst villains. Lame and with heavy pedo vibes! Here he's more relatable, but also menacing in his dire situation. Well, I don't think I have anything else to add, but as usual, great analysis! I'm curious to know what you think about Far From Home!