Does whatever a reboot does
Well this is a change of pace, and no I’m not referring to Spider-Man being rebooted for the second time in a decade. Spidey was recently allowed in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with last year‘s Captain America: Civil War, and can now be allowed to have fun with all the other elements involved with having superheroes run around your neighborhoods. But can Spider-Man escape the shadow of his miserable last reboot? Or can he live up to the legacy of the flawed, but still quite influential Sam Raimi trilogy? Tune in next week to find out…wait I did that wrong. Just keep reading.
So after the Battle of New York in the first Avengers film, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) gets screwed out of a business opportunity by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) for the clean up of an alien invasion. Frustrated by the callous attitude of the rich and powerful, while also wanting to provide for his own family as well his men, he and his crew begin a smuggling operation to steal tech discarded after disasters caused by the Avengers to create weapons to sell on the black market. He does so his own jetpack suit complete with wings, making him look like a Vulture (but he’s never called that). Meanwhile, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is stoked after helping Stark in Civil War because he’s allowed to keep a high class super suit to help him patrol his neighborhood in Queens as the Spider-Man. But he has to balance his superheroics with his high school life, crushing on a girl named Liz (Laura Harrier), hanging with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and making sure his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) isn’t worried. So of course both the Vulture and Spidey’s lives get thrown for a loop when they cross paths and chaos ensues.
The thing about superhero films is that they’re getting increasingly difficult to prevent comparisons between them, especially when their stories and themes are being repeated between each other. Spider-Man in particular has about a million incarnations in his 55-year history between bizarre cartoons, video games, the hotly debated films, merchandise, amusement park rides, and…oh yeah comics, forgot he used to be in those. Basically, Spider-Man occupies the same area of popular culture where Batman and Superman used to reside before their respective films, people just knew who they were by cultural osmosis. A point in Homecoming‘s favor comes with the film acts as if you, the audience, already know who Spider-Man and Peter Parker actually are. So we skip the radioactive spider business, the Uncle Ben death, the whole “great power, great blah blah”; and we just head straight for how Peter is managing as Spider-Man and how everyone in New York is familiar with him already.
I like it because the world around Peter feels lived in, and the film takes quite a bit of time letting you know how normal people in this world view these super-powered beings running around the world. These are also scenes where we hang out with Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, and he instantly sells you on his take of the character. For starters, he actually looks like a sophomore in high school as the film claims, and more importantly he acts like it as well. Compared to other Spider-Man films, I actually enjoyed my time with Holland far more than I did with either Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire. Garfield was simply miscast for the role, but Maguire got close to how a nerd would behave. The only problem was that he was acting like a nerd from the 1960s, not our modern era where practically everyone and their mom admits they’re into some weird shit, so nobody looks down at nerd culture as they once were.
Enter Holland’s interpretation who acts as both a teenager with a good heart and as a teenager who’s nonetheless slightly reckless. The former attribute anchors him when he’s interacting with his various cast members, and I found myself chuckling and enjoying the banter between all these kids. Speaking of which, this leads to one of the film’s tweaks to the Spider-Man formula: Peter is a STEM school in Queens, meaning he’s surrounded by other smartasses all from various cultures and races. So Flash Thompson is no longer the prototypical white, jock but a snotty, rich kid played by Tony Revolori who acts smarter than what he is. Both teenage girls that Peter interacts with (Liz played by Laura Harrier and Michelle played by Zendaya) are both African-American. And hell, even Abraham Attah from Beasts of No Nation was there as one of Peter’s classmates. But the MVP of the classmates is definitely Jacob Batalon’s Ned, who acts as Peter’s best friend and confidant concerning his adventures as Spider-Man. The pair have wonderful chemistry with each other, and you find yourself enjoying a lot of their scenes.
Surprisingly for a Spider-Man movie, I haven’t focused too much on the superheroics because I found myself enjoying all the mundane high school business. Which isn’t to say the action isn’t fun, IT IS; but compared to the dour Amazing films and even the self-serious Raimi trilogy, I quite enjoyed this interpretation of Peter Parker’s life. When we get to the Spider-Man business, it’s just as entertaining as the high school drama, mostly because both story lines converge at the end in very surprising and effective ways. And seriously, it’s so good to see Spider-Man duke it out in the middle of the day as opposed to the ugly, dark night like in the past three films. It’s especially fun when Peter figures out that his suit has a ton of toys Tony Stark kept hidden until a later date, and the film takes on a classic 80s kid movie where the protagonist gets access to something super powerful that he’s woefully ill prepared to handle. Heck, they even throw in another character in there with Jennifer Connelly voicing the AI guiding Peter on all of his suit’s functions.
Now you may also be surprised to read I haven’t mentioned Robert Downey Jr all that much, compared to how prominently he’s featured in promotional materials like the posters and trailers. Downey is truly only in the film as a supporting role and nothing more. And that’s perfectly fine, because he’s fulfilling a role we truly have never seen before in a Spider-Man film or indeed, many of his other incarnations: a surrogate father figure. Unfortunately for Peter, Stark is a terrible father figure to the boy despite how desperate Parker is for Tony’s approval. It leads to new avenues not previously explored in Spider-Man lore very effectively…save for one scene towards the end that riffs on a hugely iconic scene from the comics but lacks the emotional weight it did prose form. Mostly because the scene in the comics featured Uncle Ben.
Keep in mind, no one even mentions Uncle Ben’s name ONCE in the film. It’s briefly alluded to in the very beginning of the movie, and never referenced again. Furthermore, the film doesn’t also deliver the “great power great responsibility” line at all. I mean the Amazing films tried to do it pathetically in the most roundabout way imaginable. This isn’t that much of a dealbreaker for me, but it lessens the emotional weight this film can manage compared to what the Raimi films had.
But the Raimi trilogy allowed the tragic side of Spider-Man to overshadow the fun, swashbuckling side of this boy adventurer. To Homecoming‘s credit, revels in the action and the comedy, keeping matters comparatively light to the Raimi films and even more recent Marvel fare. Additionally, Homecoming isn’t concerned with some SAVE THE WORLD plot, but it instead becomes a more personal story between Spider-Man trying to prove himself to become worthy as an Avenger and the Vulture’s own designs.
And thank God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and all the Saints, Marvel has FINALLY after 9 years of making these films, given us two intriguing villains in two months apart from each other. My interest in Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is well known, but Michael Keaton’s the Vulture absolutely dominates as a villain compared to even Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. The Vulture isn’t some scheming bastard getting into crime because it’s fun, he’s doing it for the relatable goal of providing for his family after getting screwed over by what he sees as an incredibly unfair system. You can’t even say he’s wrong when he’s talking about why he’s doing what he does, nor would you want to…Keaton is scary as hell in those role. And I’m not talking about the scary looking suit either, he’s just as dangerous and even more menacing without it. I’ve rarely see Keaton in these antagonist roles, and it’s absolute pleasure to watch him work.
I went into this review trying to find faults with Homecoming, but my critiques are related to more nitpicks concerning certain character reveals and the aforementioned lack of emotional weight. The film is fine without it, it just doesn’t have the sincere care I had for Diana in Wonder Woman. Instead, I had fun. That’s it. This won’t make my best of 2017 (mostly because we’ve had a pleasantly great year), but this was still a fun night to have at the theater. I laughed, I was excited, and I left satisfied.
Glad to have you back Spidey, cause this is a low…