• Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

Well, this was a long time coming. After a decade of clamoring from the fans, and Sony’s own catastrophic attempt at replicating Marvel’s cinematic success, Spider-Man has come back home.

Of course, this is technically old news. The character first made his MCU debut a year ago, with Tom Holland donning the tights for Civil War. But now Spidey gets to spread his web-wings in his own series under the MCU umbrella. And given the character’s massive popularity, such that he’s debatably the most iconic character in Marvel’s history, it’s hard to overstate how important that is.

That said, the rights are still kind of a mess. Reports have been coming in about all sorts of movies centered around different Spider-Man villains, produced by Sony without Marvel’s involvement. This implies a huge Spider-Man superfranchise that would somehow exist without Spider-Man. No word about how that might work, and reports are inconsistent about whether these movies would even be part of the MCU. And quite notably, there’s been no word about the Green Goblin or what the hell is being done with Harry and Norman Osborn.

And of course that’s not even getting started on all the movies that have covered this same ground over the past twenty years. Whether fairly or not, anyone who tries to make a Spider-Man film will have to labor in the shadow of the first two Sam Raimi films and the disappointments that followed. In point of fact, this is the first time Marvel has really had that problem, with the debatable exception of Netflix’s “Daredevil” coping with the Ben Affleck disaster.

But I digress. Spider-Man: Homecoming is finally here, and reviews have been through the roof. So is it really that great? I don’t think so. It’s a good movie, to be sure, but not great.

To start with, Tom Holland more than lives up to his promising performance in Civil War. He is the absolute perfect choice to play Peter, elegantly portraying the character’s energy, his intelligence, and his pathos. His sense of humor is there, his heart of gold is there, and his crushing sense of self-disappointment is there.

Throughout the history of the character, Peter Parker was made to suffer. He’s the character who consistently disappoints everyone he’s close to because he can’t be an overachieving high schooler and a superhero all at once. Moreover, he’s the little guy who’s always getting picked on even after he becomes strong enough to lift a bus with his bare hands. All of this is beautifully portrayed in the film, but with a few twists.

It bears remembering that this Spidey made his debut fighting beside Iron Man, holding his own against battle-tested superheroes. He singlehandedly brought down a five-story Ant-Man, for God’s sake. And now he’s back to the streets of Queens, wearing a costume with millions of dollars’ worth of Stark Industries equipment, all to stop bike thieves and purse snatchers.

(Side note: KAREN, the AI in Peter’s suit, is voiced by Jennifer Connelly. The wife of Paul Bettany, who just happened to voice JARVIS all the way back in Iron Man.)

While Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr. once again) appears in a prominent supporting turn, he’s mostly represented through Happy Hogan (I guess Jon Favreau was cheaper). Both characters brush aside Peter’s repeated phone calls and his insistence on being good enough to join the Avengers. It works as a neat little allegory for growing up, specifically with regards to teenagers who think they’re all grown up, not knowing what they don’t know.

Peter looks up to Stark as a mentor and a role model, desperately seeking his approval. And as the film unfolds, he has to make his peace with the fact that Stark isn’t actually a demigod and is actually just as imperfect as anyone else. In other words, Stark (and by proxy, Hogan) is made into a father figure for this orphan, which is something Stark himself probably didn’t bargain for. Especially given Stark’s long-standing daddy issues, which he now has to deal with in a whole new way; even the kid in Iron Man 3 didn’t think of Stark as a father figure per se.

Oh, and RDJ conveys all of this with something like ten minutes of screen time in total. Yeah, this is no phoned-in cameo, he was not messing around here.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Adrian Toomes, played by Michael Keaton. Here’s a city contractor pushed out of business by government agencies and regulations that have been on the rise since Avengers. In this case, it’s the “Department of Damage Control” that’s apparently been doing the job S.H.I.E.L.D. was supposed to have been doing all along. Is S.H.I.E.L.D. still around? I’ve been out of touch with the TV show for a while. I digress.

Anyway, Toomes and his crew have been scrounging and salvaging whatever alien tech they can find to make next-gen weapons. The logic being that if the rich are going to keep screwing over the poor and the superhumans are going to make normal people obsolete, better to cheat and change the game instead of bowing to the new order and fading away. It’s easy to see where he’s coming from, and it provides some neat parallels with Peter’s own development. After all, while Adrian rails about being held down by the rich and superpowerful — such as Tony Stark — Peter is quite clearly and directly being held down by Tony Stark hisownself. And even if they’re being held back for their own good, they sure as hell don’t have to like it.

Adrian is a compelling character, very well played by Keaton, easily one of the better villains in the MCU so far. But then he puts on the costume. In spite of all the filmmakers’ efforts to the contrary, the Vulture’s gadget-laden wings weren’t enough to convey any kind of character. I don’t know if it’s the costume design or the action sequences themselves, but the Vulture left far less of an impression than Adrian did.

Then again, the action scenes as a whole were sadly lackluster. Granted, the character and his current status as an Avenger wannabe don’t exactly lend themselves to action scenes of an epic scope, and it’s kind of refreshing to have a climax with less global stakes. Even so, the major action beats just felt okay. They’re passable, to be sure, but that still feels like a disappointment for a film so huge and hyped as this one.

I don’t think it helps that so much emphasis was placed on the varying gadgets in Spidey’s suit. Sorry, but aside from the iconography, the suit was always the least interesting thing about Peter. Moreover, the suit’s many reconnaissance gadgets work as transparent shortcuts for the plot, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Peter to need all these gizmos built for him when he’s established as a scientific prodigy and watching him actually develop this stuff would be far more interesting. Though Stark overloading his handiwork with tricks and surprises makes all kinds of sense, so there’s that.

But what’s truly baffling is that for all the talk about Spidey’s suit and the tech contained therein, we don’t get the Spidey-Sense. There’s no effect to show it in action, and it never even gets so much as a mention. One of his most iconic powers, debatably one of his most important, and it’s practically absent from the whole movie. What the fuck?

All of that said, one of the key reasons why the action scenes didn’t leave much of an impact is because the high school comedy was actually a lot more entertaining. The incompetent teachers (played by Hannibal Buress, Martin Starr, Selenis Leyva, and others) are all hilarious. Tony Revolori does surprisingly well as Flash Thompson, here reinvented as a smug rich kid. Laura Harrier is effortlessly gorgeous and confident in the role of Liz Allan, the primary love interest. We’ve also got Angourie Rice in a neat little cameo role as Betty Brant, here reinvented as a talking head for the high school news bulletin.

Then there’s Zendaya, in the role of Michelle “MJ” Jones. This character is a hoot. She’s offbeat and a misfit, with a withering sense of wry humor. The only problem with her is that she’s called “MJ”, and I’m not even going to pretend like that’s a spoiler. Between Khan in the rebooted Star Trek, and what the modern Bond series did with Blofeld and Moneypenny, I am sick to death of characters being revealed at the last minute to have been iconic characters the whole time like their reveal was any great surprise. IT DOESN’T WORK. At best, it’s a surprise that doesn’t work because we’ve seen it from a mile away. At worst, the character gets mangled beyond recognition in a vain attempt at preserving some useless surprise. This is the latter case, as this MJ otherwise bears zero¬†resemblance to her comic book counterpart. Though this is hardly the only time a Spider-Man character has been so liberally reinvented in this picture, so there’s that.

Which brings us to Aunt May, played here by Marisa Tomei. A lot has already been made about how Tomei is a great deal younger than May’s portrayal in the comic, but let’s be honest: How much sense did it ever really make for May and Peter to be two generations removed when May is the sibling to Peter’s parents? And anyway, Tomei is otherwise effortlessly charming in the role, more than capable of serving as the nurturing and understanding support for Peter. It calls attention to Peter’s need for a father figure, since he already has such a solid mother figure. Yet the film seems far more interested in making so many wisecracks about how hot she is, like that’s all about her character that matters. Fucking bite me.

Last but not least is Ned, played by Jacob Batalon. He’s kind of a brand-new character, a composite from several in the comics. More importantly, he’s the dorky best friend who quickly learns Peter’s secret. On the one hand, Ned is an annoying comic relief who keeps pestering Peter with all sorts of geeky and unwelcome questions. On the other hand, Ned is important for the perspective that he brings.

Ned is a constant reminder that it’s really fucking cool to be a superhero. It’s important to acknowledge that “power fantasy” aspect, and for Peter to fully appreciate what he has. On the other hand, Ned never really got that lecture about great power and great responsibility. He shows a terrible and willful ignorance of the danger that Peter puts himself in every time he wears the suit.

This is most especially obvious with regards to the “cool factor”: if everyone in school knew that Peter was a superhero who hung out with Iron Man and Captain America, he could take his pick of any girl in any class. The problem is that while Ned is so focused on the envy of all the other students, he never stopped to think about the unwelcome attention that could also result. Peter has the ultimate claim to fame, and it kills him that he can’t play it, but Ned can’t get it through his head as to why.

Then of course we have the stuff about Peter having to break his promises, letting down his crush and leaving his best friend hanging because he’s out saving lives and nobody can ever know. All of which is beautifully realized because the young cast is just that solid.

(Side note: The titular homecoming dance is ’80s-themed. And of all the songs the filmmakers could’ve picked, they went with “Space Age Love Song” by A Flock of Seagulls. Major points for that choice.)

Now we move on to the supporting villains. Donald Glover is sadly underutilized as a small-time crook, but the character’s nephew leaves hope that he’ll be better-used later on. Bokeem Woodbine makes a solid impression as Shocker, and Michael Chernus does a decent supporting job as Tinkerer. Of course, if the mid-credits stinger is any indication, there are bigger plans for Spider-Man’s formidable rogues gallery coming up in the sequels. Here’s hoping we get Vincent D’Onofrio to cross over soon enough.

Speaking of which, don’t bother staying until the post-credits stinger. Not unless you want to get trolled by Captain America.

The MCU Easter eggs are thick here, some of which go ALLL the way back to Iron Man. The customary Stan Lee cameo is here, and Chris Evans’ appearances as Captain America are a laugh. Gwyneth Paltrow pokes her head in at the end — apparently Pepper and Tony got back together at some point after Civil War. Whatever.

Finally, I have to talk about the Michael Giacchino score, particularly the theme he composed for Spider-Man.¬†It’s okay. It’s certainly catchy enough, but I was disappointed with how generic it was.

(Side note: Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the ’60s theme song tribute over the Marvel Studios bumper.)

For comparison: The theme for Doctor Strange sounds like Doctor Strange. The Alan Silvestri theme for Captain America perfectly evokes Captain America. They couldn’t be applied to any other character and work as well. But this Spider-Man theme could be played for Iron Man or Thor and nothing would be all that different. It’s a perfectly good theme, to be clear, it’s just disappointing for how generic it is.

Ultimately, the same could be said for Spider-Man: Homecoming as a whole: While not certainly not bad, it’s ultimately more of what you’ve seen before. This picture does exactly what’s expected of it, little more and nothing less. But for an adaptation (especially for the sixth cinematic adaptation in twenty years), there are worse things. Plus, the movie as a whole is so much fun precisely because of the solid cast, the compelling villain, and the remarkable portrayal of its iconic hero.

But where this film really shines is in what it does differently. The CGI action stuff is fairly boilerplate, but the high school aspect brings a lot of laughs and heart. There’s no other superhero property that could do this stuff like Spider-Man does, and this film does it all beautifully.

I don’t know if this is worth the premiums, but it’s absolutely worth checking out in the theaters. Just be sure to adjust your expectations first.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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