Spider-Man: HomecomingReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/07/17 06:59:21
(Worth A Look)
For anyone old enough to remember the time when Hollywood seemed absolutely incapable, whether due to technological considerations, legal roadblocks or budget issues, of creating a feature-film vehicle for the wildly popular Spider-Man superhero character, it is amusing to note that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” not only marks the web slinger’s sixth feature vehicle (not counting his extended cameo in “Captain America: Civil War”) since the first “Spider-Man” came out in 2002, it is also no less than the third separate iteration of the franchise to come along in that time. This is even more amusing when you consider that while all of the films have been successful from a financial standpoint, it is hard to find anyone who has genuinely liked any of them since 2004’s “Spider-Man 2.” In a way, that isn’t quite fair because “Spider-Man 2” remains one of the few great superhero films—the kind that even those with a pronounced apathy for the genre as a whole could easily embrace as a superlative entertainment—that would leave any follow-up to suffer by comparison. That said, the immediate sequel “Spider-Man 3” was a shockingly weak continuation and when Sony decided to rein in the spiraling costs by rebooting the franchise with newer and presumably cheaper talent, the resulting films—“The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012) and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014)—brought audiences out in droves as a testament to the character’s popularity but were so rote and perfunctory (despite being centered around the bright young actors Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone) that they might as well have been subtitled “Obligatory Cash Grab.”In trying to justify taking a third shot at establishing a film franchise out of their valuable property, Sony has certainly gone back to the drawing board in regards to their approach for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” For starters, they have aged the main characters down to such an extent that Peter Parker, the person behind the Spider-Man mask, is now a high school sophomore and kindly Aunt May is now embodied by none other than Marisa Tomei. Second, after what I presume were a series of legal wranglings that I would love to see on the Blu-Ray, the film, while not a full-fledged Marvel Entertainment productions, is an official part of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning that characters from the other Marvel-related films can now appear in Spidey-related stories and vice-versa—having made an appearance in the aforementioned “Civil War,” a couple of the superheroes from that one return the favor here. Finally, the film, although dark when it needs to been, has lightened things up quite a bit and has reinstated a sense of giddy fun that most of the other Spider-Man films have lacked. The end result is no classic of the genre along the lines of “Spider-Man 2” and pales in comparison to the likes of the hugely satisfying “Wonder Woman” but it is easily the most entertaining Spider-Man film since “Spider-Man 2” and proves to be a lot more than the tacky cash grab that it might seem to be at first blush.
One benefit to this being the third go-around for the character is that the screenwriters have correctly assumed that anyone going to this version is almost certainly intimately familiar with the details surrounding Spider-Man’s origins and have elected to eschew it entirely. While this might come as a slap in the face to any potential Uncle Ben’s out there (the character is never even mentioned, let alone seen), it does allow things to get moving right from the start without bogging us down in familiar backstory. Instead, we get two brief prologues setting the stage for what is about to come. The first is set just after the events in the original “Avengers” film when large chunks of New York were reduced to rubble in the climactic chaos. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) has been given the government contract to clean up and salvage the mess but after having laid out a lot of money for new men and machinery, the job is unceremoniously snatched away from him and given to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to handle privately. This move comes close to ruining Toomes but before he leaves the cleanup site, he and his been snag a few choice piece of the wildly advanced alien technology that they have already retrieved. In the second, we get a look at the Berlin battle from “Civil War” from the perspective of Peter (Tom Holland), the 15-year-old genius who has been recruited by Stark, under the guise of a standard internship, who thinks that the kid has the potential to be an Avenger one day. The biggest thing standing in the way of Peter’s ascension to their ranks is Peter himself—while Tony advises him to keep a low profile and stick to his own neighborhood for the time being, he sees himself doing bigger and better things, even if he is still so unschooled in the nature of super-heroics that in the course of just a couple of hours, he gets his clothes and backpack stolen while fighting crime and has his alter-ego discovered by best pal Ned (Jacob Batalan), who seems almost more excited over the fact that Peter is Spider-Man than Peter himself.
After battling a couple of bad guys trying to rob an ATM while wielding weapons of astonishing technological power, Peter does a little sleuthing and discovers that Toomes has been using the classified materials that he has been weaponizing the materials that he took from the wreckage—along with new artifacts that he has been hijacking from government convoys—in order to make himself a criminal mastermind, even going so far as to devise himself a flying suit that allows him to take to the skies as The Vulture to wreak further havoc and inspire any number of “Birdman”-related jokes among viewers. The two eventually cross paths in a manner disastrous enough to cause Stark himself to make an appearance to dress down Peter for overstepping his boundaries and needlessly risking lives in the process. This sets the stage for another confrontation between Peter and Toomes, this time unmasked and under vastly different and unexpected circumstances. Meanwhile, back at school, sophomore Peter is trying to work up the courage to ask out his perennial crush, senior sweetheart Liz (Laura Harrier), though he finds it infinitely easier to save her life from an elevator calamity atop the Washington Monument as Spider-Man than to talk to her face-to-face as Peter. Observing all of this and always ready with a snarky comment is Michelle (Zendaya), another classmate who professes to have no interest in Peter herself and yet always seems to be around—even to the point where she turns up in his detention period despite not actually having any to serve herself.
In interviews, the makers of “Spider Man: Homecoming” have stressed the more youthful approach to the material and suggested that the works of John Hughes served as a key reference. Having no particular fondness for those films myself and with my usual antipathy towards superhero epics in general, I didn’t exactly go into this one with a ton of enthusiasm and was therefore surprised to find it to be more entertaining that I might have expected. The youth approach is a real winner here, partly because it fits the character—who was always meant to represent the turmoil and awkwardness of adolescence—much better than the older and angstier take we have been getting of late, and partly because Tom Holland is so winning in the role of Peter Parker. His endearingly gawky turn in “Civil War” was arguably the high point of that film and the exuberance he displayed there gets to flower fully here and he plays well off of the rest of the cast, all of whom are good as well. As for the action beats, they are surprisingly well-handled by director Jon Watts (whose previous effort was the bleak and relatively undistinguished indie dark comedy “Cop Car”), though the more low-key ones in the early going are ultimately more impressive than the more elaborate sequences involving barges splitting in two and collapsing buildings. The film, unlike too many superhero films of late, also has a nice sense of humor about itself throughout in ways ranging from Peter trying to be like a normal high schoolers even as he is practically bursting to tell the world who he really is (with his best pal having no filter in that area) to the way that it takes the notion of a younger, hotter Aunt May by the horns by having practically everyone in the film, ranging from waiters to Tony Stark himself, hitting on her.
The one thing that doesn’t quite work—the aspect that keeps me from raving quite as much about the film as others have—is the film’s choice of villain. I hasten to add that my problem is not in any way with Keaton’s performance—he is really good here and manages to lend an authentic sense of menace to scenes that might have come across as silly in the hands of others. Not being a reader of the comic books, I have no working knowledge of the origins of Vulture or anything along those lines so as far as I know, the film may follow that blueprint with pinpoint accuracy. However, just simply in terms of how has been presented in cinematic terms, the notion of an ordinary joe so angered out of being screwed out of a government contract (even though you would think that either they or Stark himself would have simply paid him to go away) that he would not only devise and sell deadly weapons using advanced technology but would use that same technology to create a bird suit that allows him to fly through the air like a more demented version of Brewster McCloud comes across as being patently absurd. Granted, plausible villains are not exactly a common sight in Marvel adaptations but one of the reasons that “Spider-Man 2” has gone down as one of the truly great films of its type is because the bad guy on display there, Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), was plausible as well as fearsome. To be fair, the small-time nature of Vulture does fit with the film’s street-level dramatics to a certain extent but even giving it that, it still doesn’t quite pay off when all is said and done.“Spider-Man: Homecoming” may not quite capture the cultural zeitgeist in the way that “Spider-Man 2” did back in the day and that “Wonder Woman” has done today (although those that resent the achievements of the latter film may wind up overpraising it as a way of balancing things in their minds.) That said, it is still a slick and fairly effective entertainment that fans of the genre will no doubt embrace and which others should find reasonably entertaining. It is funny, contains a number of exciting and amusing moments and contains an undeniably winning lead performance from Tom Holland to help complete the sale. Heck, even the final little cookie you get as a reward for sitting through all the end credits is more winning than usual The most impressive achievement of all, of course, is that at a point when fatigue regarding this property was at an all-time high, it has created a vision of Spider-Man entertaining enough to make one look forward to the inevitable followup.
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