Though we may be sick of all the rebooting this character has been subjected to, Sony has buckled down and teamed up with Marvel to prove that everyone's favorite web-slinger is far from being used up. It's easy to say Marvel is saving Sony here, giving Spidey a ready-made world to inhabit, but it's just as true that Sony is helping Marvel, lending them a ready-made lovable character that fits into their world like a webbed glove.
|Spider-Man is pretty much the best thing ever, isn't he? It certainly seems like it right now!|
Tom Holland is our Friendly Neighborhood You Know What, and after our sneak preview via Civil War, it's no surprise that he's this movie's most valuable commodity. He has that genuine but kinda awkward quality that Maguire had, and the nervous energy of Garfield without overdoing it to the point of (too much) pain, plus adding a new element of actually being believable as a teenager. Holland settles into the role with ease and confidence, delivers the cheesy lines when it's called for, and lets loose on the drama in impressive fashion. I hoped but hardly expected this to be a role for him to show off acting chops; turns out it was, and the opportunities were neither wasted nor overdone. In short, Holland's Peter is a well-meaning sweetheart and impossible not to love.
One of the most pleasant choices this film made was to limit the role of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). They needed conflict between him and Peter as Peter wants to become a full-time Avenger but Stark doesn't have the time or the confidence in his maturity to comply. I was fittingly very happy to see Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) cast as a intermediary for this conflict, babysitting Peter and ignoring his texts and calls for an even lower blow to the kid's morale. Then it's all the more devastating when the big man does show up to deal out punishment when Peter messes up. It's a scary and effective absent-father and son type dynamic.
|It was nice actually, because May didn't have to be the antagonistic parent-type. Stark fit the part perfectly.|
Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) then takes a parental backseat, though she and Peter have a handful of sweet scenes together that help ground the film. Peter's best friend is Ned (Jacob Batalon) who works foremost and most effectively as a sounding board for Peter, and only secondarily has a few fun things to do for himself. Peter's crush is Liz (Laura Harrier) and my pants would spontaneously combust if I said I didn't enjoy the mess out of the teen-flick rom-com elements her character created. No glorious cliche was left un-reveled in, and every irritating cliche was left undisturbed. But don't forget Michelle (Zendaya) who was a darkly sarcastic cynic on par with April Ludgate, and as such I loved her immediately with zero inhibitions. She was underused plot-wise, but has a promising future. Donald Glover even gets a fun cameo role for the fans.
Michael Keaton is the film's villain, Toomes, and the movie started out boldly giving its entire opening to him. It established him as a man in a sympathetic situation who makes the not heroic choice, falling down the slippery slope of immorality into villainy. It's typical of Marvel, but their best villain formula and done particularly well in the capable hands of Keaton. He finds an excellent balance of sympathy and evil, and digs in deep for plenty of content fantastically disturbing and conflictingly sad. In the Vulture costume there's not much besides the menace, and the physical fights between him and Spider-Man are only great when grounded by their emotional and moral conflict. The scenes of mere conversation between them were much more compelling, and fortunately were heavily featured.
|About as good a Marvel villain as one could hope for. He gets the job done memorably.|
One of my favorite things this movie did, and the lead-in for my least favorite thing is how Homecoming felt like a behind-the-scenes Avenger type film. It starts it pointedly with Peter's phone-video Civil War experience, and does a great job keeping it up throughout. Toomes begins the film cleaning up after the Chitari. We see Peter in school before we see him as Spider-Man, and before we get to watch him stop petty crimes, he takes a minute to change clothes for his "after school job" in a back alley, and the real-life element this (and other similar moments) lends is brilliant; amusing comedy plus a solid foundation, making the fantastical elements easy to swallow.
Classic Spider-Man cliches have fun poked at them in winking good humor (upside down kiss?), or are used in such a straightforward way that they lose their contrivance. Spidey must fight the climactic battle sans mask, but instead of contriving some complicated reason or way for it to come off, he just takes it off! And most reliving to me, his ditching friends and school to fight crime without explanation doesn't cause undue repercussions. People get mad at him, but his absence never ruins anything but his reliability. When the movie was in this space, I was on cloud nine, watching it dodge every oncoming bullet so nimbly and cheekily. But once or twice it shoots itself in the foot out of nowhere.
|The movie is directed by Jon Watts and was written by him and five other writers. Disconnect makes sense.|
The first time was in a no-man's-land section of act two, where after disabling Stark's "training wheel" program in Peter's suit he is overwhelmed with too many new features right before a fight. It's played for comedy and tries to squeeze fifteen laughs out of what should have been two. Irritatingly, Peter is deprived of all common sense to let it happen. Later he takes a few minutes to learn about the new features, and from there it's actually cool. The second time is in the ending. Right after a wonderfully small-scale and character-driven battle, we and Peter are introduced to the new Avengers facility and are supposed to be wowed by Tony's wit and gadgets when all we want and need is a resolution for Peter's character arc. We get it, but it feels distracted and too frivolous. It could have been done much more effectively in a grounded and quiet scene between Peter and Tony, but sadly the need to refer to Marvel! and The Avengers! overruled.
Spider-Man does fall victim to the classic Marvel-production-line-blockbuster problem, but even considering the couple of blatant missteps and sporadic minor stumbles it hardly seems fair to say "fall victim" because few movies have handled the cut-and-paste formula so comfortably. Jokes land at an average Marvel ratio, but failed jokes don't irritate; lively performances breathe life into the tired script; and the assembly-line action sequences are yet again responsible for turning in fun, if generic, visual thrills. The plot formula is at home here, successfully creating a story that builds interest and is better at the end than it is at the beginning. And the third act is the most spectacular wish-fulfilling thing I've seen in a superhero flick in a terribly long time.
|Sixteen Candles with a superhero lead? If it had stuck closer to that it might have been incredible.|
I remember reading that the idea was to make a John Hughes-esque flick, and the moments where that came across on screen were by far the best -- quiet, heartfelt moments, that never seemed to last long enough, and subtle details presented with tact. Distractions occurred, so it's half a Marvel flick and half an every-teen dramedy, and somehow it finds a semblance of balance, and the combo holds together, say, 97% of the way. At times exactly and miraculously what it should be, at times falling to temptation; one thing at least is sure: missteps and mistakes may happen, but Spider-Man has a big heart, and Spider-Man put it in the right place.