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Saturday, July 8, 2017

SPIDER-MAN—A REAL HOMECOMING

SPIDER-MAN—A REAL HOMECOMING

The latest (and most probably successful) attempt to reboot the Spider-Man franchise is a homecoming in much more than name only. It’s finally a return to an understanding of what has made Spider-Man such a favorite among his legions of comic book fans. 

In many ways Spider-Man Homecoming is another typical over-the-top, CGI heavy, summer tent-pole blockbuster, but there are enough good things to help it rise above the mire. Don't get me wrong, Spider-Man Homecoming does not come close to the delights of Wonder Woman, but then no other superhero movie of recent vintage does either—with the possible exception of Deadpool, which is a law into itself and can't really be compared to anything else in the genre.

I’ll get to the good later—and there is a lot of good—but I’ll start by pointing out the bad, which, unfortunately, is fairly easy. Before Spider-Man Homecoming swings from its first web, it has to conquer a number of evil gremlins inherent to the production. 

  
There are major plot holes in the script, including where the rest of the Avengers are when Spider-Man is trying singlehandedly trying to stop the Vulture from destroying Queens. We're told this destruction doesn't rise to the level of the Avengers’ attention. Apparently, saving New York is beneath them as they are too busy saving the world and the universe...Huh? What? Really? Tony Stark/Ironman isn’t even saving the world since he has a bunch of parties to attend. 

Plus, are the Avengers so arrogant or so stupid as to put all their eggs in one basket on moving day and allow their big-ass airplane, filled with all their Avenger goodies, to fly away with no crew or pilots on board (let alone any Avengers along for security)? And here you were worried about self-driving cars.


Rosemary Harris as Aunt May in Spider-Man 2

Marisa Tomei as the ‘Hot Italian’ Aunt May in Spider-Man Homecoming

 
Next let’s talk about Aunt May (Marisa Tomei in a thankless role)...What studio executive thought making her a hot Italian woman who makes Mrs. Robinson appear shy by comparison. I got a whole creepy vibe from her relationship with Peter Parker/Spidey, which was distracting every time she was on screen.

Spider-Man Homecoming also sufferers from comic comparison—what looks cool on the pages of a comic book looks completely ridiculous on the big screen. The whole Staten Island Ferry being cut in half thing (no spoiler as it’s in the trailer), but being held together by about two miles of Spidey’s webs is more than silly. My suspension of disbelief couldn’t be held together by Spidey’s webs, let alone the Staten Island Ferry.

Okay, I get it, it’s a cartoon—or is it? We’re supposed to take this stuff seriously, but I’m sitting there marveling at how Spidey’s web shooters are like six-guns in a Western that never run out of bullets. Somehow, he can store two miles of webbing in his skintight suit, but the second a plot point needs to ratchet up the tension, the webbing runs out at the exact moment it’s needed most.

I could go on, but there isn’t much point. All of these complaints are generic as they can be applied to every superhero movie (except for Deadpool, which in it’s strange self-referencing way is a parody of all superhero movies), and the good points of Spider-Man Homecoming far outweigh the bad.

More than any other Spider-Man movie, Spider-Man Homecoming finally gets it right—or at least more right than what has gone before. Anchoring the story in Queens was a great choice.

Doing away completely with the origin story, except for a I was bitten by a spider throwaway line, was a relief after having been done to death in prior films. And a fine balance between humor and pathos was laudably achieved. There is also major unexpected plot twist, which I am both ashamed and happy to admit I didn’t see coming (kudos writers, kudos). And—oh, yeah—his costume is cool...


While the above things are good, there are two other excellent factors—Tom Holland and Michael Keaton. Both actors bring new dimensions to the standard superhero supervillain roles. 

Keaton resists the all too tempting urge to chew scenery. Instead, by subtly playing up the misguided humanity of his villain, he makes the Vulture into an understandable, if not quite sympathetic anti-hero (there is some kinship here with his Oscar winning role in Birdman). You could find yourself rooting for him under other circumstances—and you do get the chance to cheer from him if you are willing to sit through the credits.

However, it is gymnast ballet dancer Tom Holland to whom the success of the film belongs. You totally buy off on him being the fifteen year old Peter Parker, an awkward whiz kid whose world has been rocked by a radioactive spider bite. He has no idea what to do with all these cool superpowers and, more often than not, makes a hash out of his efforts. This is both hilarious an endearing—exactly like the Peter Parker of the original comic run.

Holland makes Peter Parker’s never ending high school traumas squirm worthy, making you long for his tormentor’s comeuppance (again, exactly like the trials of the comic book Peter Parker). But these life difficulties are offset by Peter’s relationship with his even more awkward (but trying desperately to be cool) pal, Ned Leeds. Jacob Batalon, makes this role a triumph for second banana, man in the chair, actors everywhere.

Zendaya also deserves an honorable mention for playing against type and giving us an intriguing glimpse of the is she or isn’t she Mary Jane of the future.  

The first two acts of Spider-Man Homecoming, which are as strong as Spidey’s webbing, are human, humorous, and true enough to the source material to make the CGI destruction, laws of physics defying, antics of the third act’s traditional superhero movie climax acceptable.

Spider-Man Homecoming has restored my interest in Spider-Man—my favorite comic book hero from my teen years—which had waned after the past attempts to get the franchise off the ground. On the strength of Spider-Man Homecoming, due in large part to Marvel Studios finally gaining control of the franchise back from Sony, I’ll certainly be in the theater eagerly anticipating the opening scenes of the next installment.

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