Spiderman: Homecoming is the very model of a modern superhero film. It is well-crafted and its
characters have humanity --its best moments set up what it is about a teenager's life that drags.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is finally a believable smart alec high schooler, who must learn that
with great power comes great responsibility (this is never said, along with other things from
previous movie incarnations). Its blockbuster beats (hero achieves, faces setback, final setpiece)
enter into your head thoughtfully. When it blends its separate threads in the third act, I marveled at
its construction, and I loved several small moments when its humor became more adult than I
thought it was. But still I cannot be turned, I am biased: a large setpiece-driven comic book
narrative enriching the pockets of several conglomerates is no friend of mine, unless they cast me.
No matter how much warmth, humor and slight counterculture references proliferate, it is here to
sell its brand (and also Star Wars, represented by a Lego Death Star its characters build) and
indoctrinate as many children in the future buying of that brand. That's the air we breathe, but
insofar as there is a structure mandated by Marvel and producer Kevin Feige, that structure is
repetitive, predictable and takes time to say familiar things when it could be saying something that
came from a director's or writer's inspiration, not a production company's one.
Director Jon Watts' main false notes are with his villain, The Vulture (Michael Keaton). Watts
tries to give Adrian Toomes a sympathetic backstory, showing him getting screwed over by Tony
Stark's Department of Damage Control (a government-business co-venture) when he loses a
cleanup contract in the aftermath of Marvel's 9/11, the Chitauri attack on New York. Fearing going
broke with a family to take care of, he turns to selling illegal alien weapons on the black market.
There is not enough time (the movie is already over two hours) to paint this as carefully as Parker's
story, and the result comes across both like Keaton has a bad temper over a minor business
reversal and that selling illegal alien weapons is a sin on par with insurance fraud: not punishable
by death or imprisonment, as the plot requires.
Keaton is great at making menace entertaining, but he's mostly offscreen to show off his
creepy face-covering Vulture suit, or guide various plot mechanics setting up his future showdown.
Perhaps a better place to have the actor shine would be TV. Here he gets a brief speech that
roughly aligns him with the 99%, a small guy angry at the rich 1% manhandling him into the dirt.
Instead of expressing the pathos of modern-day income equality, it makes the point halfheartedly,
as a placeholder for motivation to underpin a movie which enriches a whole consortium of people
at Sony and Disney while offering a little guy, Parker, as its standard.
Elsewhere Marvel is one of the most forward-thinking blockbuster moviemakers around. The
cast is pointedly diverse, the phrase "protesting is patriotic" and that the Washington monument
was built by slaves (“kinda”) and therefore it would be okay not to celebrate it as a result are
cheerily referenced. The "enhanced interrogation mode" on Spiderman's suit is shown to be
ludicrously ineffective, and fan-favorite-for-Spiderman Donald Glover appears in a comic relief role
as a buyer of said alien technology (and Miles Morales’ uncle). It's a bit sad to see Spiderman call
him a criminal and his character's drawl have little of the quippiness everyone wanted him to
inhabit, but it still shows an awareness of modern culture, much moreso than the glacial pace at
which most blockbusters move. Even when skilled people like Martin Starr, Hannibal Burress,
Michael Mando, Selenis Leyva, Marisa Tomei and Michael Chernus don't get to exactly spread
their wings and fly, the movie tries to make good use of great actors. The standout is Holland as
Spiderman/Parker, because he gets the time to sell Parker as a kid impatient to join the Avengers,
coming down after the high of the tarmac fight in Civil War. Bored by his mostly friendly
neighborhood, with Stark Industries ignoring his texts, he in turn ignores Aunt May (Marisa Tomei),
his friends, and his commitment to the Academic Decathlon.
The small moments about high school are well-observed, the bigger moments standard. As
with the Dark Knight series, there's a ferry sequence that doesn't quite work and 9/11 echoes we
don't need (Parker painfully crawls his way out of rubble as in the comics, an Avengers cargo jet
crashes into a skyline). It's too long, and even though I loved its combination of different story
threads in its prom/final battle, I was a bit numb at the end. I'm biased, I'm jealous, and it's all I
have: I won't ever have the keys to this kingdom and if I did it wouldn't let me do more than what's
here, good character work on the same plot template Marvel ironed out long ago.
Film Review: Spiderman Homecoming
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Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Michael Keaton