Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-Watch: Spider-Man - Homecoming

So, I hadn't actually paid all that much attention to Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) prior to showing up to see it in the theater Thursday night.  Sure, I'd watched the trailer and was pleased they went with The Vulture for a villain.

At this point, I'm fine with just noting the release date of a Marvel movie, paying my money and showing up.  Marvel hasn't always knocked it out of the park, but I'm generally guaranteed a pretty good time out at the movies, and some of the films have been spectacular, reminding me both why I love superheroes and a trip to the movies.

It wasn't too hard to figure out that this Spider-Man film would stick to the high-school years, abandon comic canon (all the Marvel movies have done that), but stick to the core of what makes the character work (also, all the Marvel moves have done that).  After feeling let down by Sony's reboot of Spidey with The Amazing Spider-Man - so much so (gulp) I never watched the sequel - I was thrilled that Marvel and Sony saw the light (and potential for profit) enough to bridge differences and make it work.

I'm pleased to say I enjoyed myself as much as I did at Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and many other Marvel films of the past decade.  And, while there are huge changes from the comics, Spider-Man: Homecoming reminded me why I ever liked Spider-Man, his world, and his niche in the Marvel Universe.  And, that I am very much not alone in wanting to see Peter Parker swinging from a web and trying his hardest.

I'd really liked the kid (Tom Holland) they cast for Captain America: Civil War as Spidey, even if it's been a while since I thought all that much about Peter Parker as a teen-ager.  After all, when I came to Spider-Man comics, we were well into the 1980's by then and Peter was supposed to be in his mid-20's, I guess.  Heck, it was just when he and MJ tied the knot.  So my relation to Spider-Man as a high school kid is mostly via me blasting through some "Marvel Essentials" collections back after the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie came out (and I consider the first 80-100 issues of Spidey literal essential reading for any superhero comics fan).

Spider-Man: Homecoming plays fast and loose with the comics, and it's a Spider-Man well entrenched in a Marvel Universe that's already well underway, directly impacting the life and story of Spidey.  But, true to form, he's swinging a bit under the radar of the splashier heroes of The Avengers (just like the dang 'ol comics in that respect). As we know from Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark found and recruited 15-year-old Peter Parker to help him out in trying to slow down/ capture Cap and Crew.  And, of course, Stark gave him a pretty neat costume, answering the most impossible question of the two prior Spidey-incarnations. And everyone is aware of the assault on Manhattan by Loki and Co.  There's both continuity and longterm effects from prior films.  Heck, Damage Control gets more than name-dropped in the film.

Locally - Aunt May is no longer geriatric but the, uh, very healthy Marisa Tomei. Peter has a side-kick, a la Miles Morales' buddy I've seen in the stray Miles comics I've picked up.  The film never mentions Uncle Ben, let alone anything about Peter's parents or past - and it's okay.  The Sam Raimi directed films covered that story as well as anyone was going to, and the Marc Webb films went unnecessarily far into trying to tie everything together from Peter's past and present, picking up a storyline which was one of the ones that pushed me away from the comics back in the day.

From when I was first introduced to Spider-Man via The Electric Company shorts and then Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (and, to a lesser extent, a belt buckle my mom gave me when I was very little), I liked Spidey for the same reasons we all did.  He was cool, kind of awkward and weird but funny, and he got no respect.  His gig was being the hard-luck every(young)man.  Placing Spidey in high-school just heightens that idea.  As someone wiser than myself has observed - high school stories resonate not just because it's from a point in our lives when every experience is cranked up to 11, but because it's one of the last shared experiences we have as Americans.  A huge majority of us went to some form of high school, and all of us felt baffled by the entire experience (only to be dumped into something like adulthood upon graduation, utterly unprepared).

While the removal of mention of Uncle Ben means the movie lacks the weight of guilt the Raimi movies imported from the early-era Spider-Man comics, it also opens us up to a Spider-Man in motion, and there's no reason we can't go back to that element in future installments.  For now, though, we get a bit more of a high school comedy, with jocks and nerds and pretty girls who maybe will go out with you.

I'll take the lighter tone, especially if it works as well as it does in this movie.

Of course, the comics were always a lot more convoluted, and, frankly, angstier than the TV shows and other adaptations.  Peter Parker bore the weight of the world on his shoulders in a way that always felt more personal than other super-folk and wore guilt as tightly and all over as his red-and-blue super-suit.  Which is actually a pretty good hook when you're a teen-ager or young adult reading Spidey.

Our Spidey has glimpsed the possibilities of working for Tony Stark, of joining the Avengers.  Instead of unconditionally-loving Uncle Ben, we have the benefit of seeing Tony as a father figure or sorts (as much as Tony can muster) providing guidance to Peter - and if you've been following these movies, it actually has some weight.  For Peter, if high school felt transitory before, it's now a prison keeping him in a life among the muggles.

But that doesn't mean he's not a teen-ager.  And if any movie has ever captured the constant state of confusion and alarm of being a fifteen year-old boy, it may be the one about the kid in the red and blue costume.  From the mystery of girls, to having a best pal to the various ways adults approach you (loving parent, exasperated educator, mentor, threat) - and all of them authority figures to be navigated.  That Peter can put on a mask and become anonymous and deal with the world on different terms doesn't change who he is, but it does mean no one is writing him off as a teenager.  But, of course, being a superhero is maybe not as straight forward as the movies have made it.

The Vulture was the second Spider-Man villain I ever really paid attention to thanks to a Spider-Man digest I picked up at the grocery when I was a kid.*  I don't actually want to give much away about Michael Keaton's take on the character, but it's a reminder that Keaton is a force on the screen, and we all need to apologize to him for underutilizing him during the 00's.  But it's great to see a villain with a legitimate motivation, and one that works astoundingly well in the film.  And, of course, The Vulture costume is straight up cool, which - who'd of thunk it?

We also get Bokeem Woodbine (Fargo, Season 2) as a compatriot of The Vulture, and, again, I don't want to give too much away.

Other appearances include Donald Glover as a small-time hood (and a reminder - he coulda been Spidey if cooler heads prevailed at Sony), apparent star to a younger generation Zendaya as "Michelle", Martin Starr as a teacher, Hannibal Buress as a coach, Chris Evans as Cap (appearing in a series of educational videos), and Jon Favreau returns to the movies as Happy Hogan - always great.  Plus, a ton of other cameos and other appearances.  Heck, Tyne Daly shows up.  Tyne Daly!

I mean, people love Spidey as much or more than Superman (and toy sales say they love Spidey more than all superheroes combined), so I'm not surprised folks jumped at the chance to be in the movie for even walk on parts.

As per Tom Holland and the treatment of Peter Parker - it's not the classic Lee/ Ditko or Lee/ Romita eras, but it's pretty great.  The Amazing Spider-Man take was so broody and angsty, when Peter puts on the mask and goes after thugs, it's out of anger.  The quips and joy that should come with watching Spider-Man were right on the line with a bit of bullying.  But Holland's take is jittery joy.  His moods are all earned and sympathetic, his ups are something you can ride on like a wave.  And the kid is just funny.

While not *worrying* that Marvel seems to be going for more laughs in its films - Civil War aside - and comedy is absolutely tonally appropriate to any Spider-Man movie, I'll be curious to see if this is the new mandate for all Marvel films. But I can't imagine Infinity War would allow for that, given the content.  We can always raise the stakes for Spidey, and it'd be appropriate to do so.

It was a bit weird that the movie took no time to really get into Peter's actual powers.  No discussion of Spidey sense.  No discussion of anything but strength and wall-crawling, really.  But I guess - if we all know Spidey...  Anyway.

If I have one snarky comment about the movie - and this is something of a SPOILER:

Look, having Tony Stark put every imaginable gizmo in the suit is cool for toy sales, but I don't want to ever hear anyone making fun of Superman II and the chest-shield net ever, ever again.  Or Superman suddenly manifesting powers.  I've always kind of let the "Tony Stark can magically build anything" bit with a grain of salt, but it was usually confined to Tony.  Once he's productizing his work...  well, why not give Hawkeye a rocket pack an Black Widow a flying surfboard that lets her fly through walls?  I mean, what difference does it make?

We tend to quantify superhero rumbles by what each brings to the table, and technology felt dangerously close to magic in this movie.  And not even rules-based magic like in Dr. Strange.


But, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

I won't lie - I still love the first two Sam Raimi movies as a weird alchemy of classic Spidey and Sam Raimi, and I was a young man when I saw them.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spidey I'd take my kids to (and it's pretty kid-friendly, I'd argue, in a way even Wonder Woman struggled with) - and the joy of seeing Spidey on the screen - and in a fully realized Marvel U (that "Homecoming" bit in the name is no joke) is tremendous.

Hopefully Fox will see this movie and realize - maybe it's time to hand the FF over to Marvel Studios and let them do this right.

*the first was Kraven, thanks to the "Kraven's Last Hunt" storyline, which kind of freaked me out as a kid


Groboclown said...

I haven't seen this yet, and this was the first time I've heard of Keaton being in it. I'm kind of curious if his role in Birdman has anything to do with the casting choice.

The League said...

In that Birdman riffed on Batman and this movie was made by people of our generation who think Michael Keaton is pretty cool.

J.S. said...

I finally saw this movie and really enjoyed it. I really thought that the writer (and director) portrayed teenage boys (or at least nerdy teenage boys) in one of the most realistic ways that I've recently seen in a movie. Peter wasn't just living among the other, regular, kind of stupid high school kids, but with a much smarter, wiser attitude. He was just a dumb kid who made a lot of mistakes and genuinely seemed to really need to grow up (from his hero worship of the Avengers, to considering dropping out of school to be a full time superhero, to his showboating in the neighborhood in order to impress the locals as Spiderman). He seemed really likable, but actually sort of a legitimate nerd at the same time, and that was really fun to see.

The League said...

Yeah, that was always the thing about Spider-Man I found appealing in the comics - he really *did* feel like the same screw up we all feel like. As old as the 1960's comics are, they still reflected some version of teen angst, and after Peter was done with school and college - it never really ended.

While I thought Tobey Maguire/ Raimi's version caught an aspect of that which really reflected 60's and 70's-era Spidey, it was great to see this cast and crew nail it.

Jake Shore said...

I think you've pretty much said it all. I really liked the movie. It's weird seeing a portrayal of Peter Parker so generationally removed from my own, and all that entails. As much as I loved this version of Spider-Man, I hope we'll see the early-mid twenties Peter Parker I grew up with in the 80s someday.

I am still perplexed by how Marvel keeps getting this right. I'm sure there's a formula, but it doesn't FEEL like a formula. Rather than appearing to be manufactured from a plot-a-tron (as you put it in another post), like the new Superman films or any Bruckheimer production, each Marvel film seems unique and different and, like the comics, very character driven. You're more perceptive than me about this stuff, how does Marvel Studios keep doing this? How do they seem to nail the character? Where do they find these writers who write (generally) tight, accessible spectacle films?

I do have one beef with the movie. I took my boys (9 & 11) to see it. My wife and I are pretty diligent about screening movies, but since virtually all the other Marvel films have PG-13 ratings with little to no inappropriate material aside from a little language, we felt confident about the content, especially given this is the one Marvel superhero film about a kid. And yet, there was the "What are you looking at" scene with Peter's friend. Now we are answer questions about what porn is (If you're wondering, we have very strict control of our sons' online access). Then there is the "What the "f$&%" line to end the movie. Now ultimately, these are not huge transgressions that amount to Aunt May pulling up her shirt. And it's my fault for not being more careful. It's just an odd choice, given that kids would likely be more drawn to this than say, Doctor Strange or Ant-Man, and yet, they felt this stuff necessary where other Marvel films did not.

And you are so right about Michael Keaton. So good!