Monday, 21 August 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) - Movie Review

Over the last several months, I’ve probably shown every conceivable pre-conception that a person can have for a movie. Whether it’s down to my own weird tastes or just how surprising this year’s releases have turned out, I’ve gone into the cinema with some odd ideas about what it’ll be like. Well, today’s film will likely represent my absolute worst expectations for a film: I want this film to be bad. Now, as much as I’ve talked about the therapeutic power of cinema, I don’t actively like watching bad movies; I rarely if ever want films to be bad, and it’s even rarer that I would want a film to suck to prove a “point”. Basically, after the clusterfuck that went down in the wake of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which I still maintain is a genuinely good movie despite some definite flaws, learning that the guys behind what is properly the worst film I’ve ever sat through would be behind the next Spider-Man reboot seriously pissed me off. It even got to the point where, and I wish I was joking, I made this claim on Reddit last year:

Just so we’re clear, this is how badly I not only didn’t want to see those numbnuts get rewarded for their lack of effort, but how badly I wanted some hubris to kick in after the honestly OTT reactions ASM2 got. But as I’ve already established, I’m a bit of a fanboy for comic book movies and I’m usually a lot kinder to them than I probably should be; I may not be happy to be proven wrong in this instance but I definitely get that the possibility of it happening here is pretty high. Anyway, enough waffle, let’s see where my cold-hearted cynicism gets me as we look at the latest iteration of the New York Webslinger.

The plot: Awkward teenager Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), after fighting alongside Iron Man during Civil War, is trying to juggle his life as a superhero and his life as high school student. However, he soon discovers a plot by salvage worker Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) to grab left-over debris from the Avengers’ battles, turn them into weapons and sell them on the black market. As Spider-Man tries to get Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to help him take back the streets, Toomes and his villainous persona The Vulture are about to spell trouble for both Peter and Spider-Man.

Marvel casting rules apply once again, so strap yourself in for another lengthy rundown. Holland continues to impress as the young web-slinger, managing to get across social awkwardness, fanboy geeking-out and hardened determination all pretty much flawlessly. Keaton’s experience with superhero fare serves him extremely well here, making the Vulture very intimidating and also very down-to-earth and human at the same time. It takes effort to thank someone for saving a life and then threatening to end theirs in a single conversation without it being complete whiplash, but in case people haven’t figured this out yet, this is how good Keaton is as an actor. Tomei, while regrettably saddled with quite a bit of MILF-esque pining, echoes Holland in establishing herself as a younger version of a character we know all too well. Comparisons are inevitable, but for the direction they take her in, she’s really engaging as someone who you could actually see being a fun and caring aunt.
Downey Jr. essentially serves as the ‘passing the torch’ aspect of the production, same with Jon Favreau as Happy, and for as sketchy as Stark’s character has become in recent years, his role as mentor here fits really damn well. Harrier as Liz works out well, Zendaya is a definite fit for yet another popular character reinvention, and words cannot describe how much I love Donald Glover in this thing. Part of it because his scene with Spider-Man is very funny, and partly because it is insane how much build-up is behind this casting choice; dude has been deserving of this for a long-ass time.

When I discussed Holland as Spider-Man back with Civil War, I described him as “perfect” in the role. Impossibly high praise, granted, but that feeling has only strengthened after seeing this film. The reason why is that, for as good as the other Spider-Man series are, they both carry a very deep-set problem: The two halves of the titular character. Tobey Maguire worked as the meek and unassuming nerd but not quite as the adventurous crime-fighter; that, and his crying face needs to be outlawed if it isn't already. Andrew Garfield was great as the cocky and wise-cracking neighbourhood hero, but he was way too confident to be the awkward loner that Peter Parker inherently is. We tend to forget sometimes but superhero secret identities do have a purpose and a structure to them, and they provide a hefty backbone for the character’s actions more times than not.
Here, we get a very clear depiction of both sides of the spectrum. We see Spider-Man geeking out over helping Iron Man and clearing up some of the crime on his block and beyond, but we also see Peter Parker struggle with socializing, dates, school and figuring out his place in the world; the fantastical meets the mundane in a way that bolster each other in the process. In fact, given how explosive Marvel films continue to be, this is surprisingly small in scale and ends up making the “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” tagline ring true like it honestly hasn’t before.

It probably helps that this film well and truly knows how to have fun, providing easily the most light-hearted addition to the MCU yet. Coming from a writer’s room full of people known for either sitcoms or just plain weird ideas (Jon Watts’ past filmography is… interesting, to say the least), it’s little surprise that this film has the pacing of a traditional comedy. And honestly, once again, I like this approach better. It doesn’t have the over-bearing bleakness of some of Spidey’s past exploits and, while still delivering genuine drama where it’s needed, it highlights the free-spirited glee of Spider-Man’s abilities and attitude to his work. After Deadpool, it seems like everyone wanted to jump on some fictional bandwagon concerning more jovial comic book flicks, except in most cases (e.g. Suicide Squad), it ended up being an afterthought and a decision made in post. Here? Between the true-to-life awkwardness of Peter’s civilian life and the weirdness of Spider-Man’s superhero life, the film finds a nice steady font of comedy that stays consistent for pretty much the entire film and a very natural one at that.

But what about its place in the bigger picture of the MCU? Well, I get the feeling that this could be something rather significant in the grand scheme of things. Between Vulture’s working-class attempts to turn the post-Avengers fight scene wreckage into something useful and Spider-Man’s own tech (with his suit even having an A.I. voiced by Jennifer Connelly in yet another strange but surprisingly fitting casting decision), we are given a story about technology and the ethics behind its use. With this in mind, Stark’s involvement in the plot starts to make a lot more sense, given his rather Objectivist views about who should be using his own technology and his run-in with Ultron, an avatar of his own worries for the world made into a horrifying reality. As a result, his actions combined with his fatherly role towards Peter seem to indicate that something has drastically changed since the all-or-nothing resolution of Civil War.
As for Spider-Man himself, we are given a similar spiel to the classic “With great power…” speech, only here it’s being done for something a bit grander than just personal abilities. Aside from ditching the all-too-familiar wording, the film puts emphasis on the man rather than the suit he’s wearing. Strip Iron Man of his suit and what do you have left? Just an egotistical jackass? Possibly. But that would be downplaying the man’s intellectual brilliance; the brain that made the suit in the first place. Strip Spider-Man of his suit, and what you find is still the same genetically-altered kid from the Bronx who has a chance to do some good and genuinely wants to do so. Relatively simple message about personal conviction and where a hero’s true power comes from, but considering it ends up applying to not just Spidey but also Stark and even the Vulture by film's end, it’s an addition to the canon that has some definite merit.

All in all, this is a very fun and heartfelt superhero flick that takes a much-appreciated step back from Marvel’s current M.O. involving heroes fighting heroes, and instead highlights the strength that makes those heroes in the first place. By tweaking the now-familiar Spider-Man formula in places (even if the main villain is basically a re-tooled version of Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin), while managing to say truer to the source than either Raimi or Webb’s efforts, Watts and co. have given us the Spider-Man film, far as I’m concerned. It has the best on-screen version of Spider-Man, the best villain in the form of the Vulture (seriously, this guy is my new favourite villain in the entire MCU canon) and it goes back to the drawing board in highlighting heroic qualities, as opposed to just heroic people. Add to that a very healthy sense of humour and a story that still compliments the rest of the MCU in spite of how ultimately sunny this all is, I have no shame in admitting that my early impressions couldn’t have been more wrong.

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