Written PostJosh Reviews Spider-Man: Homecoming!

Josh Reviews Spider-Man: Homecoming!

Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies are fantastic, and they deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping launch our current golden age of super-hero films.  So I knew a good Spider-Man movie could be made!!  But boy it had been a while.  Spider-Man 3 was a huge disappointment, and then Sami Raimi was never given a chance to redeem himself when the series was taken away from him and rebooted.  The two Amazing Spider-Man films were a mess, filled with shoddy characterizations and flagrant attempts to build a franchise that never materialized.  They are a case study in the perils of studios desperately wanting to create a “universe” without actually focusing on making good movies.  Then the miraculous happened: Sony (who controlled the rights to Spider-Man) and Marvel reached an unprecedented agreement to allow Marvel studios to incorporate Spider-Man into the Marvel cinematic universe!  It is easy to forget how incredible it is that this actually happened.  The new version of Spider-Man was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and every moment with the character was pretty much perfect.  Would Marvel be able to carry this success forward into a Spider-Man solo film, the first Spidey film set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

In a word: YES.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is everything I’d hoped it would be.  It is a fantastic presentation of the Spider-Man character, incredibly faithful to the character while also presenting us with a lot of new scenarios and characters from within the Spider-Man mythos, rather than falling into the trap of just being a third movie version of the character’s familiar origin and other stuff we have seen plenty of times before.  The film also fully embraces its place in the Marvel Cinematic universe, giving us all sorts of fun connections and moments without overshadowing the film’s strong, clear-eyed focus on Spidey/Peter Parker himself.

The film takes place immediately after the events of Civil War.  (In a brilliant montage, we see a quick recap of those events, from Peter Parker’s perspective.)  Peter is already Spider-Man (as just noted above, the film wisely avoids retreading his origin), and he feels flush from his involvement in Civil War and the cool new Spidey-suit that Tony Stark gave him in that film.  He feels he is ready to be an Avenger, but Tony keeps him at arm’s length, urging him to leave the big superhero stuff to the big superheroes, and to instead just be a “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.”  (A brilliant reference to a classic Spider-Man phrase.)  That proves difficult for Peter, who feels full of desire to prove himself and to use his powers for good.  But this fifteen-year-old hero might be in over his head when he runs afoul of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who runs a gang of New York-based criminals using stolen alien technology pillaged from the invasion at the end of the first Avengers film.

Let’s start with Tom Holland, who is absolutely perfect as Peter Parker.  Mr. Holland impressed in Civil War, and now with a whole movie on his shoulders he cements himself as a near-perfect Spider-Man.  It’s funny, this movie makes a number of superficial changes to what comic book fans might expect of Spidey/Peter, to both modernize the character and to embed him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  At the same time, this is perhaps the most faithful depiction of Peter Parker that we have yet seen onscreen.  I love that Marvel decided to make this Spidey younger than we’ve seen before (he is a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore) and to focus on the high school setting.  (More on that in a minute.). Mr. Holland is perfect as Peter, and the film (unlike the Amazing Spider-Man films), gets the character just right.  This Peter is a geek, someone on the outskirts of the high school social spectrum.  He is noble, constantly striving to do the right thing, and yet he finds that his double life as a superhero often winds up hurting his friends and those closest to him.  Yes.  This is Peter Parker!

While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a disappointment of a film, it’s one grace note is that it had the best version of the Spider-Man costume that we have seen on-screen.  That being said, the version of the costume introduced in Civil War and seen here is pretty frigging terrific.  The colors are perfect, and the expressible eyes are wonderful.  The film mines a lot of comedic material from the idea that what seems like a simple costume has been stuffed-to-the-gills with Stark tech.  That’s a clever idea and a wonderful plot point running throughout the film.  (What the heck is “instant kill”??)

Michael Keaton plays Adrian Toomes, the Vulture (though the character is, wisely, never called that in the film).  Mr. Keaton is terrific, a fascinating villain with plausible, human motivations who also represents a credible threat for Spider-Man.  I love the way the film ties Toomes’ origin into the aftermath of the first Avengers film.  That’s a very clever twist, and I love the idea of exploring the massive clean-up effort that must have taken place in New York City following the carnage at the end of The Avengers.  (And I love that “Damage Control” was finally introduced in a Marvel movie!!)  The film is structured to build up to a twist regarding Toomes, and I loved it.  I didn’t see it coming, and I thought the twist completely worked and resulted in a classic sort of Spider-Man dilemma for Peter to wrestle with in the third act.  Mr. Keaton’s performance is tremendous.  He plays Toomes in a fairly low-key manner, while still giving him a strength and an intensity that establishes him as a true threat.  It’s a great performance, and a great new Marvel villain.

I loved the way the film built up Peter Parker’s high school classmates as important characters in the story.  Laura Harrier was great as Liz Allan, Peter’s main love interest in the film.  Liz is a great character from the comics, and while of course I love Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson, I’m glad this new film series didn’t reprise either of those two characters who we’d seen a lot of in the previous movies.  Liz seems to exit Peter’s life at the end of the film, but I very much hope she’ll be back for the sequel.  Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) plays Flash Thompson.  This is a very different Flash than we knew from the comics (the comic-book Flash was a jock, while this Flash is on the same academic decathlon team as is Peter) but the idea of Flash as the popular kid who pushes around Peter is intact, and I love Mr. Revolori’s spin on the character.  Zendaya plays an unnamed girl who, at the end, is identified as MJ.  I’m not sure why they bothered to connect her with Mary Jane Parker, since this is a completely different character, and I love Zendaya’s depiction of this weird, quiet, observant girl.  I am interested to see where this character goes from here.  (And I don’t want her to turn into a more traditional version of Mary Jane Watson.)  I love how all of these characters are played in the film by people of color.  Peter’s friends were all white in the comic books created in the sixties; but I am happy that this modern version is presenting a more inclusive picture of the Spider-Man supporting cast.

Speaking of which, Jacob Batalon is terrific as Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds.  I love this character in the film!!  However, Ned represents my one major nerdy complaint with Spider-Man: Homecoming.  While Ned Leeds was a major character from the Spider-Man comic-books in the sixties and seventies, this character as seen on screen is not at all Ned Leeds.  It is, in fact, a perfectly accurate portrayal of Ganke, the best friend of the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man (“Ultimate” Spider-Man) created & written by Brian Michael Bendis.  I LOVE the character of Ganke, and it’s a huge delight to see him on film.  But I wish they’d just called him Ganke!!!  What’s a shame is that if we ever get a version of Miles Morales on screen, they won’t be able to use Ganke — a major supporting character — because they already used the character in this film, just with a different name.  (And I do believe that, someday, we will see Miles on-screen.  Homecoming actually includes a wonderful, inside-baseball connection to Miles, in the character played by Donald Glover.  That character is Aaron Davis, the sometimes-criminal who is, in the comics, Miles’ uncle!  He even references, in the movie, his nephew!!)

It was great fun having Robert Downey Jr. appear in the film, continuing to explore the wonderful mentor-mentee relationship between Tony and Peter introduced in Civil War.  I had no idea that Jon Favreau would be appearing in Homecoming as Happy Hogan, but that was a wonderful surprise!  I love Mr. Favreau’s depiction of Happy (which he originated way back in the first Iron Man film), and it was so great to see what a large role he had in this film!  Spider-Man: Homecoming might actually be the largest role Happy has had in a Marvel film to date!  It was joyous seeing the character again, and this was just one of the many ways that the film cleverly connected Peter/Spidey to the larger Marvel universe.

There were all sorts of fun Marvel Cinematic Universe connections in the film.  I loved all the Steve Rogers cameos.  The bit where he points to the gym teacher (a very funny Hannibal Buress), who is standing on the wrong side of the TV, was so funny.  (I also loved the “isn’t he a war criminal now?” joke about Cap, referencing Civil War.)  I was also surprised and delighted to see Gwyneth Paltrow appear in the film’s final moments, and I was very happy that after the two were presented as estranged in Civil War that they appear to be back together and happy.  Since I doubt that we’ll ever get another solo Iron Man movie with Robert Downey Jr., I love that these other Marvel movies are keeping these characters, and their story-lines, alive and moving forward.  It’s all part of the fun of this expanding cinematic universe, which remains an unprecedented achievement in movie story-telling.

Some other thoughts:

* Boy did I love the end-credits sequence.  So funny.

* Marisa Tomei was instantly wonderful as Aunt May in Civil War, and she was once again great, here.  Though I will admit to having expected to see more of her in the film.  I hope she has more to do in the sequel.  The film’s terrific final moment, which involves May centrally, suggests that she will.

* Tyne Daly is the head of Damage Control?  Fantastic!  I hope to see more of her in future MCU films!

* I also loved seeing Martin Starr, nearly unrecognizable in nice clothes and a neatly-trimmed beard, as Peter’s academic decathlon team’s coach!

* Jennifer Connolly was perfect as the voice of the A.I. in Peter’s Stark-designed Spidey-suit.  I loved Peter’s banter with her!

* Wow, I was delighted to read on-line about this gloriously subtle reference to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  Yes, that was indeed Kirk Thatcher reprising his role as “punk” (the loud-music playing kid neck-pinched by Spock).  Brilliant.

* On the villain side, I love that the film gave us on-screen versions of classic Spider-Man villains The Shocker, the Scorpion, and the Mad Thinker!  I didn’t need the film to present us with the fully-costumed versions of those characters — indeed, it’s better that the film didn’t.  But I appreciated the references to these characters.

* I particularly loved seeing Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul’s Nacho, Michael Mando, as Mac Gargan.  I hope to see more of him in future films.

* Boy did this film have some extraordinary visual effects and some truly riveting action sequences.  The whole Washington Monument sequence, the fight on the Staten Island Ferry, and of course the big final battle with the Vulture in and around Happy Hogan’s Quinjet, were all spectacular.

* I was confused by the title card that states that this film was set 8 years after the events of The Avengers That film was released in 2012, so even if these films are unfolding in real time, I’d expect Homecoming to be five years after The Avengers.  Eight years feels like too much time to have passed in the MCU; that doesn’t feel right to me…

* I loved the adaptation of the classic sequence from The Amazing Spider-Man 33 in which Spider-Man is trapped, helpless, under an enormous mountain of rubble, until his sheer force of will enables him to find the strength to lift up the rubble and free himself.  That was great; a wonderful moment to see realized on-screen.

* I am intrigued by where the film left Toomes, alive and knowing Spidey’s true identity.  I am interested to see where they plan on taking that idea from here.

I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming.  The film was everything I’d hoped it would be, fun and funny and exciting, with rich characters and gripping action/adventure.  I am over-the-moon that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man will be involved in Marvel’s huge crossover-event The Infinity War, and I can’t wait for the sequel to Homecoming.  The Marvel Studios win-streak rolls on!!