Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming presents a problem that Marvel and it's tightly-connected Marvel Cinematic Universe has been able to avoid... until now. Having not yet relaunched any of the Marvel Cinenamatic characters, Marvel hasn't had to deal with recasting and repackaging the same old stories. Working with Sony, there's no doubt this is a MCU movie, and not only because of the appearances of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and a cameo so good I wouldn't think of ruining it here. For the most part, writer-director Jon Watts and his five (FIVE!?) other screenwriters succeed in building on the character's small role in Captain America: Civil War.

Tom Holland returns as Peter Parker. Other than being a bit too buff, Holland's take works well. Despite his good intentions and smarts, Peter continues to get himself in over his head (both in and out of costume) while failing to juggle his life as Peter Parker and as a web-spinning vigilante. And while I'm on the subject of webs, let me say that the comic nerd in me is happy that the new franchise has kept web-shooters as Peter's creation rather than Sam Raimi's choice to go with organic web-shooters.

We've seen plenty of Spider-Man in recent years (both the good and the not-so-good) and the challenge here is to make the character and his story appear fresh while still staying true to his comic roots. While his appearance in Captain America: Civil War saves us from yet another origin story, we are still stuck in the early days of Spider-Man's heroic career with some basic limitations about his abilities, decision-making, and role in the super-hero community. Provided by Tony Stark, Peter's new Spidey-suit is a bit too high tech for my tastes. While this works as a joke (both with the systems locked down and the later humorous results of Peter's hackery) there's a bit too much Iron Man in this version of Spider-Man for my tastes owing more than a little to Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man. While the look of the suit is impressive, and the AI provides Peter with someone to talk to (rather than simply monologuing as he does on the comic page), the number of bells and whistles shoved into the thing are a bit much.

After a brief opening montage thrown together through the shaky-cam video diary of Peter Parker filling in a few small gaps between his appearance in Civil War and the present (a method which would feel less forced if the entire concept wasn't completely abandoned after the montage), things pick up with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man fighting for the little guy on the streets of New York. However, Peter thinks he's ready to do so much more. Both Tony Stark and Happy Hogan (who Tony has put in charge of keeping tabs on Peter) disagree. When a new villain dealing in weapons created from Chintauri technology appears on the scene, Peter jumps headfirst into the fray.

While Holland works well as both Peter and Spidey, both the film's villains and characters in Peter's high school prove to be more problematic. First, there's not one but two characters using the name Shocker in the film. Neither earn the name. (And the Shocker is a D-lister, so that's pretty pathetic). Unabashed fan casting gives us Michael Keaton as the Vulture and head of the crew using and selling the half-alien tech. Pickings are a bit lean for villains who have not already appeared on-screen in the previous Spidey flicks, but I'll admit that the Vulture works better than I expected. However, a late (groanworthy) twist attempts to tie up things too neatly in the film's final act.

While I don't mind the multi-culture makeover of Peter's supporting cast, and enjoy the fact that his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is a truly geeky kid (even if I don't see him ever walking down the road of the comic character who inspired him), none of these characters introduced here seem strong enough to build on. We get short appearances from longtime Spider-Man characters like Betty Brandt (Angourie Rice) and Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), but they are barely more than paper-thin window dressing. Marisa Tomei reprises her role as May but is pretty much wasted here as she's only really needed for a single joke. Peter's love interest this time around is his longtime crush Liz Allan (Laura Harrier). Harrier is actually pretty good in the role, but while the movie shows us why Peter likes Liz it struggles to explain why she might recipricate his feelings given the number of times he lets down their debate team and her personally. There's also a recasting of an important Spidey supporting character that, much as in Sam Raimi's original movies, so badly misses the point of the character that it borders on maddening.

Is Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spider-Man movie? No, but it's not the worst either. It's good to see Spider-Man as part of the larger Marvel community but the need to treat him like the little brother puts him in a box for most of film with a glass ceiling we know he can't even reach until the climax. The action is well done, although the script relies on several handy coincidences to see events play out. As someone who neither loved or hated The Amazing Spider-Man films, the latest version measures up fairly well against them. Spider-Man Homecoming won't wow you, but it's a solid super-hero flick that provides plenty of fun despite some shortcomings.

No comments: