In the words of Robin Williams’ character in Jumanji, “What year is it?” Here we are in 2017 and we’re getting the third attempt at a Spider-Man universe in the past 15 years when the unwritten rule is to wait 10 to 20 years per reboot. I’ve been a huge fan of the web-slinger since before I got addicted to graphic novels. I read the comics, watched the shows on Saturday morning, played the video games, everything. Spider-Man and Peter Parker were very relatable in trying to balance multiple lives while also being a responsible human being. And that was smartly conveyed through both the Raimi trilogy and the Webb Duology. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy set the stage for other franchises to follow after the late 90’s pretty much nuked the superhero summer experience to February 31st with “classics” like Spawn, Barb Wire and Batman and Robin. A few years ago, Mark Webb duology would improve on certain aspects that didn’t age too well concerning the trilogy, but it couldn’t stand on its own without alluding to the now cancelled sequels. And after all these years, Sony has finally decided to team up with Marvel Studios to bring one of the most celebrated characters to the multi-billion dollar plan just after the earth-shattering break up in Captain America: Civil War. With new director, Tom Watts, is there any new tricks left up the sleeve of this old web slinger?.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is trying to live a normal high school life with his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). However his internship with mentors, Tony Stark and Happy Hogan (Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau) is becoming an addiction to escape his non-existent social life. But there’s a new set of wings in Queens in the form of the Vulture (Batman himself, Michael Keaton) who’s seeking revenge on Stark Industries for robbing him of his living 8 years after the battle of New York. Secretly constructing weapons of other worldly destruction, he and his crew are intercepted by the wall crawler as a means to prove himself to Iron Man that he’s qualified for the Avengers roster. All the while, Parker is trying to ask his crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), to the homecoming dance.
As you can tell, that’s a lot of plot to squeeze into a two hour set up for a character who’s had a long history of adaptations outside the pages. But despite, there’s no rehashing of the past, in fact most everything feels fresh from the villain to the setting. Tom Holland once again embodies both halves of Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield with and without the mask while also showing great chemistry with Jacob Batalon as Ned. All of which lead to so much hilarious, laugh out loud fun. It’s been far too long since a movie cast real high-schoolers instead of mid-twenties college graduates trying to pass as high-schoolers. And the idea of major competition with the smartest people in the school adds to the competition even if it’s a little odd that Peter is still the only geek who gets picked on out of all the smart alecks who are just as ripe for the inside of a locker. There’s so much light-hearted charm around every corner from the different clubs to even the teachers. Infact, the entire leading cast, including Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau keep the jokes fresh and constantly going.
And Batman himself, Michael Keaton, also steals the show as one of the best Marvel villains (a Achilles heel that’s been improved upon since Doctor Strange), which is ironic since Vulture wasn’t as memorable in the comics as the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus or Venom. He’s much more relatable in his backstory to the point where you much rather be on his side that Parker’s because of his experience with the world. And that same tension from Birdman is just as fierce when push comes to shove, including a surprise twist that sucker punches the stakes.
There are a couple downsides that keep it from being the best Spider-Man movie. They’re not down right awful, in fact most of them are fan boy gripes, but they’re things that were done better in the last two incarnations. First, the comedy is done so well that there’s never any establishment of who’s who in this particular rendition. Just because a majority of the audience is familiar with the previous two attempts doesn’t excuse rushing in without visually establishing backstory. In 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Bruce’s full origin was condensed into an opening montage whether or not anyone saw the Ang Lee film. Batman vs Superman, too its very little credit, also displayed Bruce Wayne’s tragedy in five visually, somber story-telling minutes. But here, there’s very little establishment outside of the best friend, Tony Stark and Happy Hogan. I wouldn’t make a big deal of it except Aunt May is no longer portrayed by either Rosemary Harris or Sally Field. Second, the action is very sub-par. They’re a lot of fun, especially during an intense ferry boat outing. But they’re very light on punches and kicks compared to anything from the past like a train tussle or an electric power plant showdown. Third, where is his Spider Sense? Out of all the powers to omit, especially since his suit comes with everything but the Stark minibar, the spider sense was way too important to leave out considering there were multiple moments where he should’ve felt danger from over a mile away. Lastly, one of the character’s who pretty much stands on their own is revealed to be an important, sequel baiting catch. Had they been their own character, they would’ve been great, but as is they’re really funny up until they drop the ball on their real name. I get that it’s trying to go a different route, especially after suffering fatigue from recreating this universe again and again, but having knowledge of the past two doesn’t help in the long run when each adaptation is apples and oranges that keeps pulling the rug out from under our feet.
The thing about Spider-man Homecoming is that, as a movie goer it’s a fun time with plenty of comedy, an empathetic villain, and the best high school Peter Parker in a long time. But as a Spider-Man fan, it just repeated the same cycle except with different people like the past two times. And the changes, while a breath of fresh air, are really alienating to someone who really wanted the best of Raimi and Webb coming together as one. Personally this ties with Spider-Man 2 while Spider-Man and the other Webb movies are tangled over. Looking back and on this, I don’t think any of the Spider-Man movies are the best because adaptation has that one element that’s done so well that no future reboots could fully replicate it. With the Raimi films, it was the villains and the simple story. With the Webb films, it was Garfield and Stone’s Romance. Here, it’s the villain, the comedy and the high school authenticity. One delves into the conflict of responsibility in a dramedy while the other is more of a Breakfast Club romp that has two jobs to pull off: stand-alone and connect to a universe. It’s as if we’re in a infinite time loop of the same pros and cons but with a different cast and crew. Like with Power Rangers, I recommend this to newcomers so that they don’t have the source material to cloud their judgement as it did with mine. I think Robert Walker, who’s also a huge Spider-Man fan put it best by saying, “I’ve got to accept the sad reality that there will never be that one Spider-Man movie that truly gets the source material because each one has their own slice of the pie.” But it could always be worse. Parker could be strolling down the street in another gothic jacket again (shudder).
Note: The 3D is fine, but nowhere near as promising as it looked in the trailer. Also the post-credit scene is the most educational for any movie goer hoping to cherish even the longest credit scrolls in cinema history.
Pros: Leading cast, light-hearted tone, empathetic villain, friendship chemistry, constant comedy, best Peter Parker
Cons: No Spider-Sense, sub-par action, character changes
In Memory of Joan Lee
February 5th 1924- July 6th, 2017