Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

by Tony Dayoub

After a number of previous attempts at getting the alchemy right, Sony Pictures finally gets its (500) Days of Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Ironic, because not even (500) Days of Summer director, Marc Webb, ever came close in the two Spider-Man movies he directed, starring Andrew Garfield. This time, the financially shaky Sony had to stow its pride and go running to Marvel, the very company it had scooped up the superhero franchise away from back when the roles were reversed, and ask it for help in developing the property. A wise decision as it turns out, because Marvel knows that what fans have wanted to see the most is its iconic hero interact with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean, what would DC be like without Superman or Batman, right? Disney without Mickey Mouse? Looney Tunes without Bugs Bunny? Marvel has long been scratching that phantom itch with Spidey, but they've played the long game, first introducing Tom Holland as a high school-age Peter Parker in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. This through Marvel's eminence grise, Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.

This opened the door for Downey and Jon Favreau, as Stark's majordomo Happy Hogan, to appear in Homecoming and strengthen the connective tissue between the two studios behind the unusual co-production. Certainly, it was probably a great aid for director Jon Watts (Cop Car) to have Favreau, Marvel's behind-the-scenes eminence grise, on set to turn to for advice. In Holland Homecoming has found a youthful actor that is as exuberant as the character he plays is in the long-running comics... and as brainy a smart aleck as Downey's Tony Stark. Much has been made of the fact that Spider-Man: Homecoming has recaptured the fun that many say is the whole reason they got into reading Marvel Comics in the first place; that perhaps Homecoming is the most joyous movie about being a superhero with extraordinary powers since 1978's Superman: The Movie. (Has it really been 40 years?) I don't buy that. Marvel has been very canny at exhibiting a whole range of superhero movies, from period pieces (Captain America: The First Avenger) to far-flung futuristic adventures (Guardians of the Galaxy); from mythological ones (Thor) to supernatural ones (Doctor Strange); from lighthearted ones (Ant-Man) to dark ones (Captain America: Civil War). However, there's a reason Homecoming may have sought Downey and Favreau's assist. For better or, some may say, worse, their teamwork on Iron Man ushered in the Marvel Age of movies. Iron Man was the first superhero movie since Richard Donner's Superman that proved it could be exhilarating AND still be taken seriously.

Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies, perhaps as a reaction against the Joel Shumacher nipple-displaying Batman debacles of the 1990s, were so grim they couldn't even bring themselves to be weighed down by the name "Batman" in their titles after the initial film. a slew of other comic-based series of movies, The Crow, Blade, and even the previous two Spider-Man cycles, all focused on the dark. "With great power comes great responsibility," was a phrase that was practically required to be included in the Spider-Man movies, which all had to also be saddled with the obligatory reference to Uncle Ben's death and how it was the kick in the pants Spidey needed to become a superhero. Homecoming is unique in that it jettisons the angst and is the first Spider-Man film to avoid these cliches, honing in on Parker's delight in being a nebbishy kid with fantastic super-powers. Now Parker gets to post those Jackass-style videos on YouTube that are all the rage with the kids with no risk to life or limb! His best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) knows his secret and tries to convince Parker to let his secret crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), in on it, too. About the worse that the adult viewers have to put up with in this very decidedly upbeat teen movie is the frenetic editing and A.D.D.-style camerawork that rules Homecoming's opening act, likely mirroring Holland's take on Spidey. But if viewers are patient, they'll be rewarded by a film that settles into a pretty even groove.

And what a great villain, in the form of the Vulture, played by Michael Keaton. It doesn't get more meta than having the latest, younger superhero up against the actor who arguably ushered in phase I of the superhero cinematic ascent in Tim Burton's gothic Batman movies. Keaton's Vulture has sound motivations for carrying out his threats and complex ties to Parker that remain deliberately undercover until the climactic moments of the film. His story is as interesting as Parker's and shows, not tells, us what the pitfalls are of misusing extraordinary abilities for personal gain, as Parker is increasingly tempted to.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is far from perfect. Women are far from being pivotal characters in the plot, a shortcoming made all the more apparent when you have DC's pseudo-feminist Wonder Woman racking up big bucks in the theater auditorium across the hall. And a major subplot concerning the powersuit-lite that Stark designed for young Parker to wear is a little off-message. One of the most endearing aspects of the wall-crawler is that he has always been just another regular guy who has to sew up a costume for himself, design his own web-shooters, and oh, yeah, has freaking awesome super powers to show off once he's all Spidey-ed out. But theses are small nits to pick in an otherwise fun mid-summer film. Like that refreshing ice cream cone you buy at the park on a hot day, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the perfect summer treat. Enjoy it for the cool antidote that it is, and try not to spend too much time thinking about the empty calories.

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