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Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming [Spoiler-Free]

Spider-Man_Homecoming_poster

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Sony/Marvel Studios, 2017)

Film Review: “Spider-Man: Homecoming” [Spoiler-Free] :

Good Afternoon, Friends!

Story and character. Character and story.

In these blogs I’ve often repeated variations on these two essential elements of long-lasting & entertaining storytelling, demanding that epic fantasy creators craft tales with these principles as a fundamental baseline. And, yea, “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” I’ve even audaciously demanded that readers and fans of epic fantasy ought to demand more from the medium than unoriginal and uninspired rip-offs of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Local Hero: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Basic demands of storytelling in any entertainment form? Sure, but a story’s integrity to itself and interesting dramatis personae are enduring essentials of the craft whether realized in a comic-book movie, dramatic film, plays, or literature.  Shakespeare certainly knew the importance of words wedded to meaning 400 years ago — recall Claudius’s “Words without thoughts never to heaven go” line in Hamlet? — but too often these simple qualities are forgotten by some novelists scrambling to write the Next Big Thing, or, in movie-making standards, by directors and writers relying overmuch on digital effects to make the next Hollywood Blockbuster. (For a smile, see ‘Cracked’ article)

“Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man”

Spider-Man: Homecoming (7.7.17)

I’m pleased to report that, in an age of ever-escalating CGI-enhanced spectacle at this time of year — and too-often attendant poor workmanship on the story & character side of things (see Curtis’s ‘The New Yorker’ article) — Director Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming delights the viewer in trusting an audience and giving us an entertaining demonstration that a summer blockbuster need not be predictable and mundane.

As this is a spoiler-free review, I won’t give all the shout-outs to fans and Easter Eggs (see list below), but I can heartily recommend the film as an excellent addition (best?) to the Spider-Man film franchise.

While Wonder Woman remains the standard for the direction that DC should take with its heroic characters & franchise, Sony & Marvel Studios’ latest reboot of the Spider-Man series offers the summertime moviegoer exactly what’s sought from a summer hit: a great story, likable and fleshed-out characters, & enough original action sequences for a highly enjoyable couple of hours at the cinema.

Thankfully, story and character appear to be the foremost priorities for both storytellers Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and actor Tom Holland.

Spidey’s 1st Appearance (“Amazing Fantasy,” Vol. 1, #15, cover, August 1962)

A Heroic Nerd (from “Amazing Fantasy,” Vol. 1, #15, p. 1, August 1962)

I was a fan of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s respective interpretations of Peter Parker, but none of the previous iterations in this franchise has quite captured the essential spirit of the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comic books from the early 1960s as Holland & Company achieve in this film. In that initial three-year plus run of the comic books (Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, Annuals #1-2), Peter Parker was the quintessential “nerd” decades before the term achieved the potential respectability (& big screen profitability) that it enjoys today.  Because of a screenplay that balances intense moments of characterization with well-timed action sequences, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is immediately likable and relatable, and hopefully will be given time to flesh out his own take on the character in future Spider-Man and Avengers films.

“Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man”

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Sony/Marvel Studios, 2017)

Compared to many of the cosmic-scaled summer films, Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds largely because it adheres closely to its Lee/Ditko roots while including a modern Brian Michael Bendis & Dan Slott spin on the character.  That direction was a great call.  As with the first Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy films, superb writing and characterization for a summer blockbuster, the film’s attention to all of Spider-Man’s “friendly neighborhood,” humorous, and dramatic aspects offer a rare opportunity for fan-boys and fan-girls of all ages to share with non-comic book aficionados a sense of what’s kept Spider-Man on the top of many people’s Wednesday “buy piles” of weekly comics for over half a century (in my case, I’ve been a fan of Spidey for over forty of those years)!

Spidey Takes a Sandwich Break

From the introductory shout-out by composer Michael Giacchino to the Spider-Man cartoon series from 1967, to the literal situating of much of the film’s central action scenes in lesser-filmed places such as Queens, suburban back yards, a golf course, warehouses, the Staten Island Ferry, etc, the film-makers succeed in realizing a contemporary version of Peter Parker and Spider-Man that gives us a sense of what a humble teenage kid might be experiencing when set against a world of Avengers powerhouses such as Iron Man and Thor. (See Scherstuhl article, Village Voice Indeed, when the film opens its cinematic scope to include New York City, Washington D.C., and includes its various world-building allusions to the Avengers (Battle of New York, relocation to upstate New York, Captain America PSAs, and a quinjet carrying Chitauri weapons 10,000 feet in the sky), those large-scale moments achieve remarkable impact on the viewer because we’ve become so vested in Peter’s view of the world from the first moment he turned a camera on himself and declared a “film by Peter Parker.”

“Aunt May” (Marisa Tomei) and “Peter Parker” (Tom Holland) in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Holland’s interactions with a variety of the characters in the film also lend themselves to creating a truly teenage version of the character that Lee and Ditko were so careful to keep in mind on their initial run.  Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is a refreshing take on the character — bringing her more in line with the 2000s comic book Ultimate Spider-Man version — and her moments with Peter humorously ground both characters in a home environment where most teenagers find the best refuge from the world is the closing of a bedroom door.

Midtown High Cast of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (from left: Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, and Tom Holland)

Peter’s relationships with various other teenagers in the film allow for some fun interactions, too.  Much has been made in the press about the diversity of this film — for a start, after you read this blog because you don’t want any spoilers, see Woodard article, Huffington Post,  Tinubu article, jetmag  and Johnson article, The Root — but in keeping with my theme of “characters and story,” I maintain that the film achieved something of verisimilitude in its high school scenes.

“Michelle” (Zendaya)

Thanks to some enjoyable writing and well-acted moments, the audience member feels as if he or she’s in a Queens high school, and, I disagree with a couple of critiques in Johnson’s review that essentially sees many missed opportunities in this film.  First, I thought that, in a reboot attempt that prioritizes bringing the traditional Peter Parker into the established MCU, this film was not the moment to introduce Miles Morales, an Afro-Hispanic teenager who is also Spider-Man in the current comic continuity (Miles is awesome in his own right, and needs his own movie or a team-up approach with Peter!)

Spider-Men II (Marvel Comics, 2017)

Marvel’s already doing this kind of treatment with last week’s release of “Spider-Men II,” a five-issue mini-series that seriously treats Parker and Morales as heroes in their own right, rather than trying to “choose” one over the other for the sake of making a diversity statement — that’s my idea of storytelling, a one that focuses on the human beings at the center of a tale, rather than using stories to make mission statements.

“Liz” (Laura Ruth Harrier) & “Peter Parker” (Tom Holland) in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Secondly, the lead females Liz (Laura Harrier) and Michelle (Zendaya) did actually have significant roles to play in the story, and that their relationships with Peter stand on their own respective merits without serving merely as a plot point to include peoples of color and genders different from the white protagonist. (See  Yamato article, LA Times )

“Mr. Harrington” (Martin Starr)

On another front, besides appreciating the real-life vibe that the rest of the high school scenes brought to this version of Spider-Man.  Given Peter’s traditional status as a science geek, I loved that Peter’s also a member of the Midtown School of Science and Technology’s “Academic Decathlon Team,” headed by teacher Mr. Harrington (Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr, “Gilfoyle”).

“Ned Leeds” (Jacob Batalon) and “Peter Parker” (Tom Holland)

However, it’s in the character of Ned (Jacob Batalon) that Peter finds a best friend who can provide the Everyman moments with which we identify when observing Peter’s/Spidey’s exploits. Again, the writing was so good and the acting interplay between Batalon and Hammond so well-realized that the fact that there was criticism of having a Filipino-American “sidekick” didn’t occur to me until I started reading online reviews critical of the filmmakers’ use of the character Ganke (from cast of the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man) without going wholesale with Morales as the lead Spidey. In the context of this film, the dynamic worked, and, again, thanks to the care given by the writers and actors, the friendship between Ned and Peter rang true.

“Tony Stark” (Robert Downey Jr.) & “Happy Hogan” (Jon Favreau) in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Sony/Marvel Studios, 2017)

Ultimately, though, the mentor-apprentice relationship that Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) collectively share with Peter is the main foil for expressing the various joys and frustrations a teenaged superhero might experience in this comic-book world.

Mentor & Apprentice: Tony Stark and Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

“The Vulture” (Michael Keaton)

In an appreciated and needful “liaison” role as this franchised Spider-Man makes his jump from Sony into the larger and more successful MCU, Tony Stark is the fulcrum for both the hero and villain in this film. For Peter, most of Spider-Man’s actions in the film can be directly related to interactions (or lack of interactions) with Stark, while for the Vulture, (“Adrian Toomes,” played with a nuanced evil by Michael Keaton), the billionaire industrialist’s intervention in the clean-up of alien Chitauri weaponry after Marvel’s The Avengers “Battle of New York” is seen by the character as responsible for Toomes turning to crime.

Thanks to five previous Spider-Man films that introduced many villains from Spidey’s rogues gallery — including 3 variations on the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom, Sandman, Lizard, Rhino, and Electro — Spider-Man: Homecoming includes one of the quickest origin stories for the Vulture, and gives him a much more compelling backstory than Lee & Ditko’s back in the early 1960s.

“The Vulture” (first appearance in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Vol. 1, #2, May 1963)

Spidey vs The Vulture (Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

As the earliest super villain in the Spider-Man mythos — appearing in comic books in The Amazing Spider-Man #2 — the Vulture is a perfect antagonist for this reboot, because the parallel journeys of Peter Parker and Adrian Toomes depend on how each man reacts to Tony Stark.  That is, early in the film, Stark’s actions deprive both Parker and Toomes of their essential hopes.

Michael Keaton as “The Vulture” In Sony & Marvel Studios’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Subsequently, each character’s reaction to that deprivation drives the plot of the entire film: Peter practices tirelessly at being a hero — no matter the personal cost to his relationship with his mentor — and Adrian spends his time becoming a super villain and ruthlessly mastering a weapons ring (which includes two other classic Spider-Man villains, the Shocker and a proto-Scorpion, as well as a potential buyer who’s code-name is another villain shout-out to the Prowler).The plot-lines from this premise are clean from beginning to end, and, again, offer some surprising complexities by the film’s final forty-five minutes, especially because of Keaton’s and Hammond’s layered performances.

Get out there and enjoy it!

Thanks for visiting,

A.J

for Easter Eggs and various comic-book related reviews, see:

CBR’s “The 15 Best Spider-Man: Homecoming Easter Eggs”

Newsrama’s “10 Surprises, Easter Eggs, Homages, & Theories from SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – SPOILERS”

The Hollywood Reporter’s “The Definitive List of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Easter Eggs”

TIME’s “20 Easter Eggs You Probably Didn’t Notice in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ “

IGN’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming Easter Eggs and References”

Vox’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming: 5 of the movie’s best Easter eggs”

for spoiler-filled and regular reviews, jump to the following sites:

Empire

Forbes

Metacritic

New York Times

Rotten Tomatoes

Screen Rant

Variety

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