Friday, July 28, 2017

Movie Review - Spiderman: Homecoming

Spiderman: Homecoming is a largely successful attempt to return to the fun-loving roots of the character.

  I went to see Spiderman: Homecoming last week at the local movie theatre on Saturday night along with Kathy, Ben, and 9 other movie goers. This is the second reboot of the character following the acclaimed 2002-2007 trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and the less than successful 2012-2014 reboot starring Andrew Garfield. The Maguire films were revolutionary for the time with iconic characters like The Green Goblin, Sandman, Venom, and Doctor Octopus brought to life battling with Spiderman across Manhattan and to my recollection was the first movies to make super hero battles look like they were really taking place in New York city with our heroes (and the bewildered onlookers) having to dodge bricks and edifices falling from the tall buildings surrounding them. This decade’s reboot was still financially successful but seemed too dark and out of tune with the generally light-hearted tone of the comic Spiderman I remember. In the comics it took years to lead to the death of Captain Stacy and then another couple of years for the demise of his daughter Gwen Stacy but the reboot led off with these two darkest moments of the comic series. The lack of overwhelming success led Sony (who own the license for Spiderman and related characters from Marvel) to delay their plans to create a ‘Spiderman Cinematic Universe’ and re-license the Spiderman character back to Marvel. Spiderman made his Marvel Studios debut in last years ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and was well received with teenage Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) mentored and given a spider suit by none other than Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) who proceeds to put the moves on the rebooted franchise’s younger attractive Aunt May. The Spiderman character looked great in Civil War and whetted my appetite for his return to the screen this year.

  I was pleased to see this reboot skip right past the origin and Uncle Ben getting killed. Instead we get to see the origins of the villain of the piece, Adrian Toomes (aka The Vulture), who is a general contractor that made a winning bid on cleaning up the wreckage of the Avengers HQ from the first Avengers movie when he is put out of business by the government and Tony Stark’s decision to clean up the wreckage using their own personnel for security reasons. These reasons prove to be well founded when Toomes and his exceptionally technologically proficient cleanup crew fashion devastating weaponry out of the alien technology they found on the job site. The weaponry includes Toomes’ Vulture suit, the Shocker’s powerful glove, and enough tools to allow the crew to steal more alien technology from the official cleanup crew.

  The movie centers itself around Peter Parker as a high school sophomore and his balancing act between his school life at the talented and gifted school he attends and his secret identity of Spiderman. Parker’s internship with Tony Stark allows him the freedom to stay out late fighting crime without undue scrutiny from his aunt or classmates. And it’s a good thing too because the movie spends a large amount of time in Peter Parker’s high school training for the academic decathlon challenge, or in detention, or preparing for the Homecoming dance. One good thing about the emphasis on the school is that Parker has a buddy (Ned) who learns his identity and even hacks into his Tony Stark designed spider suit to allow access to the suits advanced features which include a personal assistant named Karen. Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spiderman seems more suited to playing a light-hearted character and needed a foil to bounce lines off. It was a welcome change from the brooding Spiderman with the weight of the world perpetually on his shoulders although those aspects of the character do make their way into the movie occasionally.

  The school stuff is pretty boring but the action more than makes up for it. Michael Keaton is a great Vulture, menacing and brilliant and tough while being a devoted family man and a perfect Spiderman anti-villain and there is a great plot twist written for him. His crew is mostly a bunch of dimwitted goons but their enhanced weaponry make them at least able to compete with Spiderman. The Vulture’s crew seem best at making high powered laser beams so there are plenty of buildings, cars, planes, and boats being sliced and diced for Spiderman to contend with. My favorite action sequence was Spidey being scared of heights while climbing the Washington Monument and his inability to break the thick window to get inside. The task is eventually accomplished but the limits of Spiderman’s powers make him more of a likable superhero that has to use his wits to get by.

  There are a few plot holes like the absence of any media speculation as to why Spiderman was in Washington in the first place without anyone trying to figure out his secret identity. Too much of the action was set at night where the action was hard to follow. I think Spiderman is better off in the daylight looking like an insect set against the skyscrapers of New York. There were guest appearances by Captain America in high school motivational videos that served as welcome comic relief with the Tony Stark/Happy Hogan/Iron Man interactions serving more as plot devices to keep the story moving along. The high school dramatics were a little much for someone like me that is almost 40 years out of high school but maybe younger people have a more favorable view. I liked the new take on Parker’s high school friends with the exception of Flash Thompson changing from a jock/bully into a spoiled rich kid with a fancy car who teases Parker instead of physically threatening him.

  I think Spiderman: Homecoming was a small cut below the Maguire series in terms of quality and storytelling but it would fit in and if this was the first ever Spiderman movie I think it would have been a huge hit. I found it superior to the Garfield pair of movies. It was light hearted, well-made, showed Spiderman/Peter Parker in an understandable light without going overboard on the teen angst, and the Vulture was an awesome villain that I hope will return someday. I don’t think it is a must see theatre movie for non-comicphiles but I think this movie was looking at a larger audience.

  Despite starring what is THE iconic character of the Marvel Comics universe, this film has grossed a fairly disappointing $250 million in its first three weeks which is in line with the last reboot despite having the guest appearance in ‘Captain America : Civil War’ as a lead in. I see a number of factors for the less than overwhelming box office numbers. This is the first Marvel character to have its THIRD reboot. Batman can be successfully rebooted since he (and the Joker) can be played by a-list actors that will attract moviegoers who want to see their favorite actor’s interpretation of the iconic characters to offset the lack of excitement at yet another retelling of the Batman origin, etc… As a teenager, Spiderman will almost always be played by an actor without that kind of following which leaves nothing to offset the inevitable character fatigue. The X-Men franchise suffered slippage at the box office with its reboot and we have yet to see Marvel Studios replace Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc… which they will surely have to do over the next half dozen years as the actors age beyond the point of believably.

  This reboot places Spiderman at a much younger age with the Daily Bugle, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, Curt Connors, etc... still to come. I think this movie was more of an investment in the future than a cashing in of the present value of the character. By going so young I think Marvel is hoping to attract a younger audience that can grow along with the character as apposed to yet another Marvel superhero movie. This was a large part of the initial attraction of Spiderman in his debut over 50 years ago. Peter Parker was the same age as the DC sidekick heroes like Robin, Kid Flash, Speedy, and Wonder Girl but was a full-fledged hero with real world problems instead of a second banana to the real hero with a secret identity of a well-heeled ward to a rich superhero. In this sense Spiderman has truly had a homecoming and perhaps a realistic chance at reclaiming his place at the head of the Marvel Universe.