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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

DAMN Good Movies -- SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING


Hey, everyone!  It's time once again for another of my movie takes, this time on the film Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first Spider-Man solo film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...let's do some web-slinging!

In the brighter days of November 2014, Sony Pictures' emails were hacked and dumped onto the interwebz, revealing that Sony wanted Marvel Studios to produce a new trilogy of Spider-Man films after the debacle of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a creative mess that was the franchise's lowest domestic performance to date.  Discussions between Sony and Marvel broke down, leaving Sony to plan a number of Spider-Man related films until somehow, Sony and Marvel managed to strike a deal in February 2015.  A new Spider-Man, Sony's third in less than fifteen years, would debut in Marvel's Captain America: Civil War before (web) spinning off into his own solo movie where Sony would have final creative control.  All that mattered to Marvel fans, however, was that Spider-Man was finally going to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As expected, casting the replacement for Andrew Garfield proved tricky, especially with Sony wanting an actor younger than Garfield to distinguish his take on the role.  Logan Lerman and Dylan O'Brien were considered early front-runners, until other names like Nat Wolff, Asa Butterfield, Tom Holland, Timothée Chalamet, and Liam James were reported as well.  Butterfield, Holland, Judah Lewis, Matthew Lintz, Charlie Plummer, and Charlie Rowe reportedly screen-tested with Robert Downey, Jr. for "chemistry", and Tom Holland (then all of 19 years old) was finally announced in June 2015.  With Jon Watts brought in as director, working from a screenplay by himself along with five other screenwriters, Homecoming was off and running.

The movie opens with a wonderful musical nod to the 1967 Spider-Man animated series theme, as we go back in time shortly after the Battle of New York from the first Avengers movie.  Adrian Toomes, the future Vulture, and his salvage company are contracted to clean up the city after the Chitauri invasion, which has left all kinds of alien artifacts behind.  All well and good, until Tony Stark's United States Department of Damage Control steps in and takes over, kicking Toomes and his crew to the curb. Needless to say, Toomes isn't a fan of the move (They terk our jerbz!), so he encourages his guys to keep the Chitauri technology they haven't turned over and use it to create advance weapons and maybe a big ol' flying Vulture suit for scavenging operations.

We jump ahead eight years later and get a quick recap of Spider-Man's involvement in Captain America: Civil War, but using shakycam footage taken by Peter using his cameraphone.  Tom Holland's Peter Parker is young, enthusiastic and horribly awkward, so after Tony is finished using Peter's Spider-Man abilities for Team Iron Man, Tony quickly benches him and tasks "Happy" Hogan to essentially babysit Peter via long distance.  Peter leaves Happy dozens of unreturned phone calls, eager to prove himself to Tony as Spider-Man, before finally turning his attention on fighting crime in his friendly neighborhood of Queens.

Peter confronts a gang wearing Avengers masks attempting an ATM heist using the Vulture's weapons, then returns home to have a serious secret identity fail by not realizing that his best friend Ned Leeds was hanging out in his bedroom.  Peter struggles to answer Ned's inane, non-stop questions, but Ned soon provides superhero support as Peter comes across Fake Shocker and Real Shocker selling weapons to Troy Barnes from Community.  At this point, Homecoming goes into full John Hughes movie mode, staging a suburban backyard chase reminiscent of Ferris Bueller's Day Off that even features the original Ferris Bueller sequence playing in the background.  We see what you did there, Watts.

More John Hughes allusions follow when Peter rejoins the Midtown High academic decathlon team on a trip to Washington, D.C. mainly so he can track down the Real Shocker in Maryland.  Peter gets dry, snarky sass from "Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club" wannabe Michelle Jones, crushes on senior Liz (who turns out to have a very important connection to the Vulture), and misses the academic decathlon tournament .  Just to remind people this is a Spider-Man movie, Peter gets a solid win saving his classmates from a Chitauri grenade explosion at the Washington Monument, only to get a solid loss when the Staten Island Ferry is sliced in half during an attempt to capture the Vulture.  Fortunately for Peter, Tony actually shows up this time as Iron Man to save the passengers, but takes away Peter's spiffy Spider-Suit because Tony has never screwed up anything ever (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Civil War...).  

We head into the Third Act with Peter trying to get his groove back by asking Liz out to the homecoming dance, which she accepts.  Everything seems adorkably high school, until Peter goes to Liz's home and discovers that her father is -- you guessed it -- Adrian Toomes, the Vulture. Peter starts sweating even more profusely, especially after Liz makes some throwaway remarks that help Adrian figure out that Peter is -- you guessed it again -- Spider-Man.  Michael Keaton lays on the bad guy menace nice and thick, threatening to kill Peter's Aunt May and his friends if Peter interferes with his plans.  You wanna get nuts? C'mon, let's get nuts!

Peter mulls over his predicament for about a second and promptly bails on Liz.  Donning his cheesy homemade Spider-Man suit, he races to the Vulture's hideout and takes out the Shocker with Ned's help.  However, the Vulture gets the better of Spidey by taking out a support column that buries our hero in rubble and heavy machinery.  In a great homage to The Amazing Spider-Man (vol.1) #33, Peter summons enough willpower to lift the rubble and frees himself.  From there, there's a dizzying climactic sequence aboard a Damage Control plane transporting weapons from Avengers Tower that the Vulture attempts to hijack, forcing Peter to steer the aircraft to crash on Coney Island Beach.  This leads to an important moment where Peter could easily let the Vulture die using his damaged equipment, solving his secret identity problem rather neatly, but chooses instead to save the villain's life and leave him for the police along with the important cargo.  The moment is not lost on the Vulture, who repays Spider-Man back in the mid-credits scene by not telling his real identity to Mac Gargan.

In the aftermath, Tony decides to give Peter his spiffy Spider-Suit back and even invites to a press conference where Spider-Man will be announced as an Avenger, but Peter declines the Avengers offer.  He keeps the suit though, and just as he tries it on once again, Aunt May walks in and is this close to dropping an F-bomb before the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and the closing credits kick in.

This was a fun, '80s style superhero romp, with some good character moments. Here are some of the things that stood out:

SPIDER-MAN/PETER PARKER -- In his second outing as Spidey, Tom Holland has a better handle on his character but doesn't seem up to owning the role just yet.  Holland rattles off Spidey's one-liners well enough and seems a decent choice for a younger Peter Parker full of energy and recklessness.  The problem here, in my opinion, is the lack of distance from Maguire and Garfield to win over fans of those eras.  And it certainly doesn't help to have Peter being under Tony Stark's controlling nature, to the point where Peter can't even have a decent Spider-Man costume without him.

THE VULTURE/ADRIAN TOOMES -- Michael Keaton is Batman.  You know it, I know it, but it's really nice to be reminded that Keaton can be more than that.  Thankfully, his Vulture isn't the lame septuagenerian Adrian Toomes from the comics, he's one of Marvel's better movie villains and one that was sorely needed.  The Vulture is a villain that doesn't see himself as a villain, just someone trying to provide for his family until that pesky Spider-Man comes along to mess things up.  Even better, he isn't simply killed off after figuring out Peter's alter ego, setting up a potential return...with the Sinister Six perhaps?

IRON MAN/TONY STARK -- Despite not being on screen all that much, Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark is all over this film.  So much so, this movie probably should've been called Marvel Team-Up instead of Spider-Man: Homecoming.  As a result, Tony and all the baggage that comes with him eats up time I would've rather seen spent on Peter, and ends up making Peter a sidekick -- in his own movie!  Tony does, however, seem to want to groom Peter as a potential successor, and it would've been nice to see him taking genuine pride in Peter's accomplishments.

NED LEEDS -- Speaking of sidekicks, Jacob Batalon is pretty much that as Ned Leeds. He's the goofy comic relief, trying on Peter's Spider-Man mask or wanting Peter to build a Lego Death Star with him, until things get serious and Peter needs somebody at a computer.  He's an interesting change from two takes on Harry Osborn, but unfortunately, not as strong of a supporting character as Harry was.

LIZ ALLAN -- Laura Harrier is Peter's love interest, although she's more of a crush interest for most of the film.  Liz seems to respect Peter's intellect, helping to bridge that huge divide between seniors and sophomores that would normally put her way out of Peter's league. Obviously, it's her connection to the Vulture that's the most interesting, and it feels like a wasted opportunity that we're probably not going to see how Liz copes with knowing that her father is a supervillain.

MICHELLE "MJ" JONES -- The character most designed to rile up haters of diversity casting is Zendaya's Michelle, who was first teased as a Mary Jane Watson of color until Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige had to publicly state that Michelle isn't MJ...even though she glosses herself "MJ" at the end of the movie.  (Everybody got that?)  Michelle comes off fairly well as the sulky yet brilliant prodigy who steps up and covers for Peter at the Decathlon tournament, but did the film really need her?  I'm not so sure.

EUGENE "FLASH" THOMPSON -- Tony Revolori is the latest big-screen Flash, taking over from Joe Manganiello and Chris Zylka, but instead of being the physical bully we know and loathe, Revolori's Flash is just a rich douche who mocks Peter while trying to be a DJ on the side.  Yeah, not exactly an improvement.

MAY PARKER -- After debuting with Tom Holland in Captain America: Civil War, Marisa Tomei received a bit of flack from fans who dismissed her Aunt May as "Aunt Milf".  So, it was no surprise to see May suddenly sporting granny glasses in Homecoming, which did manage to add some mileage.  May is only there to provide the occasional words of wisdom to Peter, but she does get arguably the movie's biggest laugh at the very end.

THE SHOCKER/MONTANA/JACKSON BRICE -- Logan Marshall-Green is the Shocker for all of five minutes before the Vulture accidentally kills him off for jeopardizing the group's plan and hands his vibro-blast gauntlets over to...

THE SHOCKER/HERMAN SCHULTZ -- As the Shocker we know and remember from the comics, Bokeem Woodbine is on screen for all of ten minutes.  He does, however, get to threaten Peter and Ned at Midtown High and has some moments during the Staten Island Ferry fiasco.

THE TINKERER/PHINEAS MASON -- Michael Chernus is obscure Spider-Man bad guy the Tinkerer, who serves here as the Chitauri tech whiz in Vulture's gang that builds Vulture's suit and the Shocker's vibro-blast gauntlets.

THE SCORPION/MAC GARGAN -- The Scorpion gets a major tease as the possible next Spider-Man movie villain, with Michael Mando sporting a scorpion tattoo (Get it?) on his neck and shows up on the Staten Island Ferry to receive stolen Chitauri technology.  He turns up later during the aforementioned mid-credits sequence, trying to get the Vulture to tell him who Spider-Man really is.  Another member of the Sinister Six, perhaps?

HAROLD "HAPPY" HOGAN -- Jon Favreau finally makes another appearance as Tony's bodyguard and chauffeur Happy, after getting blowed up real good in Iron Man 3 and rendered comatose.  As always, Happy finds himself stuck with the mundane tasks Tony doesn't want to deal with, which in this case, means Peter.  He does, however, get a nice moment toward the end where he reveals he's been carrying a ring for Tony to propose with for the past fifteen years.

PEPPER POTTS CAMEO -- And who does Tony propose to?  Why, Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts, of course.  This was something of a surprise, since Pepper didn't appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Civil War, where we were told that she and Tony were "taking a break".  The break must've worked, because Pepper's back to potentially set up a wedding scene in Avengers: Infinity War.

CAPTAIN AMERICA CAMEOS -- Chris Evans also gets some laughs in a couple of funny high school PSA videos, wearing his costume from the first Avengers movie.  One is a "Captain America Fitness Challenge" that Peter and Ned watch during gym class, and the other is a clever post-credits scene where Cap instructs the audience in the importance of patience.  Well played, Watts.

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- In his latest cameo, Stan "The Man" turns up as Gary, a New York City apartment resident named Gary who interjects himself into Spider-Man's argument with another apartment resident.

All in all, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a decent reboot for the Spider-Man film franchise.  It doesn't quite reach the level of the first two Tobey Maguire films, but it has a lot of heart and manages to surpass the third, not to mention the two Andrew Garfield films.  Tom Holland may not be everyone's favorite wall-crawler, but with this reboot firmly grounded in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least it feels like it actually matters.  The decision to partner with Marvel was a wise move for Sony, especially since they already have a sequel in the works for July 2019.

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)

3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Batman Begins (2005)
5. Logan (2017)
6. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
7. Man of Steel (2013)
8. Doctor Strange (2016)
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
10. Wonder Woman (2017)
11. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
12. Spider-Man (2002)
13. Iron Man (2008)
14. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
15. Watchmen (2009)
16. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
17. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
18. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
19. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
20. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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