Cinema Dispatch: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Spider-Man: Homecoming and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures

Directed by Jon Watts

So after a decade of crappy reboots and custody battles, Spider-Man is finally gonna start living with BOTH his parents; sticking with Sony but being able to visit Disney on the weekends.  To celebrate these two studios begrudgingly working together to make a lot of money, we have the third reboot of the Spider-Man franchise getting a whole move all its own with a little from column Sony and a little from column MCU.  Considering how bad things had gotten for the character with the two Amazing Spider-Man movies and how reliable the MCU is when it comes to making above average blockbusters, it’s unlikely that this will end up a disappointment for anyone who’s been hoping to see a Spider-Man movie with the official Marvel stamp of approval, but if it can ONLY manage to be better than the previous iteration… well I can hardly think of a more textbook definition of Damning with Faint Praise.  Does this manage to stand on its own as a great film, or has Marvel finally met its match by having to work with another studio for once!?  Let’s find out!!

The movie picks up right after Civil War where Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is spending his day doing his Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man thing, but is getting antsy over the fact that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) won’t return his calls.  Neither will Happy (Jon Favreau) who’s supposed to be keeping an eye on him and is clearly doing a poor job of it since even a LITTLE bit of attention might have kept him from doing something stupid!  Said stupid thing is when he starts tracking down a group of alien gun smuggles head up by Adrian Toomes who played by Michael Keaton (Oh hey!  I guess he DID live long enough to become the villain!) and soon finds himself in over his head.  Not only does he have to deal with REAL tough guys instead of street thugs, he also has to deal with the problems of being a teenager such as having a crush on a senior named Liz (Laura Harrier) trying to sneak around Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and having to deal with his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) who accidently found out his secret identity.  Can Spider-Man stop the bad guys AND get his math homework done?  Will Tony Stark eventually notice him once he takes down such a dangerous criminal, or will that only make things worse between them?  Oh I’m sure he can handle all this!  He’s a super hero, right!?

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SYMBOLISM!!

As far as a Marvel film, this probably the most UNIQUELY enjoyable one we’ve gotten since Ant-Man, and while I can’t really say I liked it MORE than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it’s a real breath of fresh air for a cinematic universe that can sometimes feel stale or like it’s spinning its wheels (*cough* Civil War *cough*).  However, it unfortunately cannot touch any of the Sam Raimi films (okay MAYBE a bit better than the third one) as far as being an ACTUAL Spider-Man film, and that’s where the film’s biggest problems lie.  This franchise being brought under the Marvel/Disney umbrella is certainly why it’s better than anything Sony has attempted in almost a decade, but I also can’t help but feel like it’s put a ceiling on JUST how good a Spider-Man movie can be.  The first wave Marvel movies didn’t have the problem of being part of a fully realized shared universe, and there were even a few of the second wave movies like the first Guardians and Ant Man that managed to skirt that problem, but by now there’s just too much weight that ends up saddled on a film that should be very singular and focused.  As yet another byproduct of the unstoppable money making empire that is the MCU, it’s one of the better entries we’ve gotten in a while.  As a Spider-Man movie… well no one said it’d be easy to take the crown from Sam Raimi.

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“It’s good to be the king.”     “Is it now?”

The movie’s two biggest strengths lie in its personality and scale; both of which are probably more reminiscent of Ant-Man than anything else considering we’re not dealing with an end of the world situation.  Similar to that movie, the breadth of the villains plan is rather small in scope which means that the conflict is ultimately about something more; something that goes beyond whether the bad guy will succeed in killing the planet or whatever.  When this movie focuses on Peter Parker chasing after The Vulture, it’s absolutely spot on and feels just as much like a classic Holmes/Moriarty battle of wills as it does a physical confrontation.  Okay, that MIGHT be selling it a bit much and it’s not like a character’s ideals haven’t been challenged in other Marvel films (*cough* The Winter Solider *cough*), but Spider-Man has always worked best when there is some sort of personal stake in what he’s doing beyond the purely humanitarian ideals that come with being a super hero which is what this film manages to deliver whenever we focus on these two characters.  Michael Keaton turns out to be a really great foil in this regard as there’s a certain amount of depth afforded to him that is honestly rarely there for other Marvel villains (*cough* Mads Mikkelsen *cough*) and there’s a twist in the third act I REALLY should have seen coming but was a pleasant surprise when it came up.  I’m not sure if he’s going to appeal to EVERYONE because he’s playing a rather tired archetype at this point (yet another white dude in the Walter White mold who turns to crime in defiance of a system trying to keep him down), but Keaton’s performance sells it fantastically well and he even gets to ham it up a bit at certain points (particularly an awkward car ride towards the end of the movie) that comes close to the majesty of what Willem Dafoe brought to Norman Osborn in the first Raimi film.

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“I offered you friendship, and you spat in my face!”     “…”     “Look!  My hand’s just sitting here, and you chose to leave it hanging!  What’s up with that!?”

On top of the movie having the guts to be small enough to tell a more interesting and personal story, the film also manages to look really great and has some sharp humor throughout.   It has a distinct style all its own that is much more grounded than the Sam Raimi universe which was basically the original sixties Spider-Man mixed in with some (at the time) modern day iconography.  This is very much a contemporary film and feels distinctly New York where the Raimi films felt more like a stylized facsimile; something that worked in that movie, but wouldn’t have worked in this one.  You get a much more complete and lived-in sense of the world around him which goes along with the action that is so much more low-key than anything else we’ve seen from the Marvel universe and therefore has a lot more room for actual character moments to take place within them which gives the action beats so much more impact.  There’s nothing here that ends up overwhelming the look and feel of the world which can sometimes happen in other Marvel films, though not for a lack of trying which nicely segues us into the problems with the film.

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“It’s like looking into a mirror.”     “Don’t sass me!  I look good in this!”

So there’s a REALLY fundamental problem that goes to the very core of this movie, but let’s talk about a few of its lesser issues first.  For the most part, the Tony Stark stuff comes off rather lukewarm.  Not necessarily stopping the movie dead, but also adding very little to the overall story.  I’m still confused why Tony as well as Happy constantly IGNORE this kid yet manage to find time for him whenever he’s fucking up which I GUESS we can chalk it up to Tony being an asshole, but it also makes it hard to understand the YOU’RE NOT READY YET arc when there’s no one around to give the kid any freaking guidance.  There’s even a plot point where he and Ned jailbreak his suit out of “training mode” which unlocks FRIDAY (the AI that replaced JARVIS in Age of Ultron) and all I could think was that having the AI available from the start would have gone a long way towards helping this kid become a better hero.  At the very least, it would have been someone for him to talk to which would have gotten him off of Tony’s and Happy’s backs!  It’s stuff like that which makes the integration of the MCU into this Spider-Man story feel all the more awkward and like a marketing ploy than anything else, which… well was probably the case, but it’s still not supposed to be this obvious!  Oh, also Ned and Aunt May feel rather extraneous in the movie as the former barely shows up for the first two third and the latter doesn’t do anything useful until the very end.  It feels like they might have been shoved to the side to make more room for Avengers teasing which is a shame considering how talented these two actors are and how ultimately lacking the MCU stuff wound up being.

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Scene Not Appearing In This Film

The biggest problem with this movie though, is that it’s just not quite a Spider-Man movie and doesn’t fully understand what the character is all about.  I hate to say it, but I almost wish they actually HAD redone the Uncle Ben story, because this movie certainly didn’t understand what that part of Peter Parker’s origin story meant to the character.  Spider-Man (AT LEAST TO ME), despite being about a fun and badass character, is ultimately a tragedy.  Uncle Ben dying is his first great failure once he gets his super powers, and as we know from the other major Spider-Man stories, is far from his last one.  He’s not Tony Stark with limitless resources or Captain America who has the advantage of experience and wisdom to guide his actions.  He’s exceedingly average in almost all ways other than his intellect which he rarely puts to good use, or at least not to uses that will give him any real personal gain; a mortal pretending to be more than he is and without a real support system to back him up when it starts to destroy his life.  Raimi understood this when he was making those movies which all managed to be both fun flights of fantasy and grounded (somewhat depressing) melodramas about a guy who will never be allowed to have what he wants.  He’s doomed to barely scrape by because he was given these amazing gifts, because WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY; something that is not said once in this movie.  I never got the sense that this Spider-Man ever had to genuinely struggle for something, which… granted he’s still a teenager, but there should have been more of a personal struggle in there for this to feel like a real Spider-Man film.  There are moments in here where it TRIES to echo some of the stuff that was done in the first Raimi film (particularly in the second half when shit starts to get real), but it all falls short of that original movie.  It seems like being part of the MCU is kind of like being in one of those giant Comic Shake-Up Events.  You don’t get to have the spotlight, even in your own book, because so much is about the event itself and making sure all they tie up all the continuity loose ends.  This is BETTER than some of the other Marvel films that fall into those kind of problems, but when we have two (I’d even argue three) of the best super hero movies of all time to directly compare this to, it just becomes clear why this cinematic universe for all its benefits has rarely (if ever) produced a film that is as satisfying as ones that were made by a truly visionary director free from the baggage of Franchise Management.

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“Remember, kids!  Always check the Wikipedia page before seeing one of our movies to see if you forgot one!  If you did, the blu ray box sets can be yours for $99.99!!”

If you think it’s unfair to compare this movie to the Sam Raimi ones, you’ll probably end up liking it a lot more than I did which means you’ll LOVE it because I really did enjoy this movie immensely.  For me, I just couldn’t get past the fact that this movie is missing such a fundamental aspect of the character which is why my enthusiasm is somewhat tempered (that, as well as the underwhelming Tony Stark moments) but it’s still absolutely worth seeing as it’s still one of the best Marvel films we’ve gotten in a while.  It has so much going for it in terms of scope, humor, action, and ACTUALLY having a halfway decent villain that its flaws can’t really overwhelm so many positive steps in the right direction that future MCU projects should learn from (*cough* Squirrel Girl movie NOW *cough*).  The Sam Raimi films are neigh untouchable at this point, at least in my opinion, so while I feel it to be an indisputable fact that this is weaker than those films, it shouldn’t be a deterrent to seeing this… though it DOES kind of put a depressing spotlight on WHY those films have yet to be surpassed.

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