July 5, 2017

CINEMA | 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Swings into Marvel Fun

"The spider's dead, Ned."
Tom Holland Jon Watts | Marvel Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man has never been so much fun on screen. Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sixth film in fifteen years and third iteration of the character in a decade, is also the first produced by Marvel Studios—the five previous films were all produced by Sony with minimal Marvel involvement—and it definitely shows as this effort is mostly a joyful celebration of the friendly neighbourhood webhead. Brit Tom Holland stars as a much younger, boyish high school focused version of the superhero set in what is ostensibly a very welcome teen superhero movie mashup.

Cop Car director Jon Watts brings a surprisingly balanced and mature hand to the jam-packed adventure comedy. The young cast here actually resembles a present day group of gifted high schoolers as Jacob BatalonZendayaLaura Harrier, and Tony Revolori play his hilarious best friend, offbeat classmate, impeccable crush, and obnoxious bully in what is a quietly welcoming diverse magnet sophomore class. They all play updated archetypes from the familiar teen movie genre (think John Hughes) to much delight.

Veteran Michael Keaton is Homecoming's best weapon as a fully-realized and motivated villain, the Vulture, completely integrated, inorganically or not, within the film's constantly forward-moving and breezy plot even appearing before Spidey himself does on screen. Keaton is charismatic, chilling, and compelling as a shady businessman turned criminal mastermind motivated by the aftermath of the first Avengers. While the usual plot holes and contrivances are abound, it's all mostly in service to move things along, establish Peter's coming-of-age world in Queens, and more importantly, have fun while learning lessons.

Stalwart Robert Downey Jr. shows up just barely enough to make his presence always known—there are only a handful Iron Man in-suit appearances—and cement Spidey's place firmly in the Marvel Cinematic UniverseJon Favreau's Happy Hogan serves as the Downey/Stark surrogate and comedic foil to Holland while egging him on and serving in a notable supervisory role. It's a breathlessly constructed adventure with new character stand-ins in the place of tired elements from previous entries like Uncle Ben, Osborns, J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane, or Gwen Stacy, none of whom appear or are even mentioned.

Jacob Batalon Jon Watts | Marvel Spider-Man: Homecoming

Acting treasure Marisa Tomei feels like a much more active participant in Peter's life as Aunt May cementing her bond to Peter in a few key scenes. She more than comes off as a substantially real-feeling parental figure in her limited screen time. In contrast, a very loose Donald Glover, in a very brief role, is perfectly aloof and casually amusing in his role as a small-time criminal teasing the Spider-verse inside the MCU. If that sounds like a lot of characters and moving parts, you are not wrong. There are so many other Easter egg appearances by well-known figures and villains from the comic books that are never quite fully earned

For a film with six credited screenwriters (three teams of two each) including Watts himself, the script is fairly cohesive in moving things along, despite some overcrowding while straining to juggle its many characters, to pay off Peter's journey as the famous street-level hero of the people. Issues aside, Homecoming has a definite sense of place in New York City with its many locations (despite being filmed primarily in Atlanta) and authentic feeling high school setting. It even does world and franchise building much more seamless and effortlessly without being overly distracting (no origin!).

Homecoming may or may not be the best or thrilling Spider-Man movie—Spider-Man 2 still holds up—but it's by far the most fun, light, and joyful. Holland's Parker clearly relishes his new superhero status and learning how to use his powers. Marvel has crafted another thrilling superhero entry masquerading as a fresh yet nostalgic teen comedy keeping its stakes low enough to be relatable. It really is a familiar but novel reinterpretation of the over-adapted character well updated for today without nearly as much baggage from previous adaptations.


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