Thursday, July 13, 2017

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING - Pretty in Spandex

That'll do, Spidey. That'll do.

It's a bit of an understatement that I've been, shall we say, less than impressed with the most recent Spider-Man films from Sony, just as I also have a fairly high opinion of the films that preceded the Amazing reboots. So, after a crackerjack introduction to the MARVEL Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War, Homecoming had the odd double act of an impressive cinematic legacy to live up to but the promise that it would easily be better than the last couple times Spidey hit the silver screen.

Luckily, in crafting a film that's one part superhero caper and two parts high school "sorting out your priorities" comedy, director Jon Watts and a small army of screenwriters have created a film that is fun, exciting, and refreshing enough to make one almost forget that this is the web-slinger's SIXTH feature film in fifteen years. It's old hat to compare Spider-Man: Homecoming to a John Hughes film, but it's an inarguable parallel and definitely works in the film's favor.

After being called up to the big leagues by Tony Stark, fifteen-year-old Peter Parker is having hard adjusting to the small-time action of his Queens beat. Stumbling onto a ring of arms dealers boasting alien tech salvaged from the Battle of New York gives him a chance at some more Avengers-worthy crime-fighting, but also puts him in the crosshairs of Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture. . . as well as interfering with things like academic decathlons and school dances. The frantic balancing of his double life swinging around the city and meeting the responsibilities of a sophomore are played more for comedy than for melancholy, and Tom Holland plays Peter's eagerness to prove himself as an endearing excitement where it could easily have come off as insufferable glory-hogging. He also absolutely nails the earnest goofball heroism of Peter Parker while also being a positive delight as the chatterbox wall-crawler. Perhaps even more impressively, his rapport with the other actors - both the young ones in Peter's school and veterans like Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Keaton - is immediate and endearing.

If there's a weak note in the film, it's in the absence of a conclusive dramatic point that underpins Peter's need to prove himself. The journey toward responsibility is at the core of Spider-Man's identity, but I'm not even sure that word is uttered once during the film's run-time. The film rests several sequences on adults - either allies or enemies - urging Peter to "let someone else handle it." And with nary a mention of the uncle he lost the one time he DID "let someone else handle it" (or even some kind of meaningful sit down with Aunt May, who has very little to do here and who arguably lost even more than he did because of that choice), it feels like a missed opportunity.

This only really stands out because of the other elements the film nails. The integration of Spidey's more wacky Silver Age paraphernalia - like spider trackers, underarm webs, and even the Spider Signal - into his abilities is a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko fan's dream come true, and Michael Giacchino provides one of the best MCU themes this side of Captain America's march from The First Avenger. And everything you've heard about Michael Keaton is absolutely true; his take on the Vulture is both understandable and genuinely threatening, while also providing one of the more clever takes on "superheroes as allegory for stuff you just have to deal with in high school" to which Spider-Man so is magnificently suited.

Considering where the character was just three years ago, there are worse things than a breezy yarn with a lot of likable actors doing great work. Homecoming ends up being a solid Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, but also shows that it has the goods for a more Spectacular entry next time around.

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