Do you think about me now and then?
Now I’m coming home again,
Maybe we can start again.
– Kanye West, Homecoming.
And start again we did. This is the third live-action Spider-Man iteration in a little more than 15 years – a Raimi trilogy and Webb’s two – and like three animated series in between (SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN being my absolute favorite Spider-Man incarnation so far).
Jon Watts (COP CAR) had no small task ahead of him: re-introduce once again Spidey to the audience, integrate him into the existing Marvel universe, and have it feel fresh, but familiar. Some heavy lifting had been done in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, in which the webcrawler was a definite highlight (“You have a metal arm? That’s AWESOME, DUDE.”), but a whole solo film is a different beast.
Leave it to MARVEL STUDIOS then to knock this thing out of the fucking park.
From the very first scene, we’re fully submerged in the MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE. THE AVENGERS’ Battle of New York, or rather its aftermath, makes an appearance. So does the airport scene from CIVIL WAR in one of the most original montages I’ve seen lately. But that big world doesn’t drown out (get it? Submerged?) the setting of this story, which is Queens, NY. There’s a very authentic and honest feeling to both the city and the high-school, which grounds the movie. Kids feel like kids. They have real personalities and there’s no “nerds vs jocks” vibe, or mean girls cliques. They’re not your emo clichéd teenagers, either. These kids are full of life and they come off as authentic and sincere.
They’re also incredibly funny, the whole movie is. The comedy doesn’t come from punchlines or gags, but rather it’s a very organic kind of comedy which emerges from kids acting like kids. As much as I adore Joss Whedon’s Avengers flicks (yes, both, adore, shut up), the comedy was very intentionally comedic. My favorite joke from THE AVENGERS (“He’s adopted”) is structured very much like a joke. This isn’t the case here and I feel that the part of the audience which found the Avengers too comedic might find it refreshing.
We get, what, four, five superhero blockbuster extravaganzas a year these days? CGI spectacle doesn’t cut it anymore and both Watts and Feige understood this. The movie keeps the scale down, focusing more on your friendly neighbor Spider-Man than the Spectacular side of him and the movie’s all better for it. Spidey isn’t saving the world, but making Queens safer. He isn’t battling aliens in his first outing – instead, his first real solo adventure is catching a band of (very hi-tech, mind you) thieves. While the scope might be smaller than other superhero flicks, it never feels that way. It’s bold and colorful, the set pieces are exciting and Spider-Man’s powers are in full display at all times (all but one, anyway, which caught my attention).
Now, Tom Holland as Spidey. I’ve never been 100% satisfied with previous Spider-Men. Maguire was the right kind of nerdy, but lacked Peter’s wit and overall sense of fun. Garfield came very close, but was maybe a little too cool and looked no younger than 25: a common practice in Hollywood, sure (I’m looking at you, Tom Welling, and every 90s teen show ever), but still bugged me. Tom Holland doesn’t quite look fifteen, yes, but he sure plays it to a tee. He is, in modern superhero casting terms, Chris Evans as Cap or Gal Gadot as Diana. He’s Chris Reeve. And I can think of no higher compliment than that.
This is a reinvention of Spider-Man, mind you. We don’t get the classic origin – it’s merely implied – which is fine, we’ve seen it before. The Osborns are nowhere to be seen. Aunt May is younger, cooler and, well, hot (Mr. Delmar’s words, not mine!). Flash still feels like Flash, but it’s not exactly Flash. Liz Allen gets a minor tweak which makes for a stronger narrative. Instead, we get Ned Leeds, Michelle and Prof. Cligoris Mr. Harrington. Ned is amazing. He’s us. He’s the audience. He’s what Jimmy Olsen should be (fuck you, Zack Snyder, you asshole). Big props to Jacob Batalon for taking on a role that would be annoying in lesser hands and making it one of the highlights of a great film. And shout out to Angourie Rice (THE NICE GUYS) as Betty Brant, by the way.
Guest-starring in this, and anchoring us to the MCU, are of course, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan. Their appearances are stellar because Watts doesn’t overplay his hand. He knows he has the biggest star in the game, character-wise, and he gives Tony just enough screentime to shine, but not take the focus away from Peter. We also get the occasional hilarious Cap cameo.
No self-respecting superhero story is complete without its villains, though, and that’s where Adrian Toomes AKA The Vulture comes in. Played by Michael Keaton (you probably know him from that little movie from back in the 90s, PACIFIC HEIGHTS), Toomes is a worthy foil for Spidey. It might’ve not been in the script, but Keaton is able to elevate the material and give us an above average villain, and an overall character that’s much more interesting that many of the MARVEL foes thus far. And I’ll take Keaton signing up for this as a big fuck you to that asshole Iñárritu for calling superhero movies “cultural genocide”. That’s my narrative and I’m sticking to it.
There’s a secondary, also-classic Spidey villain that I won’t reveal because I don’t think the trailers gave him away and, while it was a minor role, it was sure fun to watch.
That’s not to say that there aren’t missteps here. The whole thing kinda drags for a moment halfway through, there’s a few shoddy FX shots throughout and one BIG change to the Spidey mythology that I’m not happy with. I don’t want to hint at it, but let’s just say this might be all Joseph Gordon Levitt’s fault. I was also not a huge fan of the Iron Man-izing of the Spidey suit. Waaay too much tech there.
At the end of the day, though, I didn’t care, because the movie is such a ride and it does so much justice to the character, that it doesn’t feel anything less than fantastic.
Welcome home, Spidey.
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Posted by superboy13.
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