2017. As the opening title suggests so very cinematically, the Marvel Universe marches on: so many successful, entertaining movies, and with the arrangement struck with Sony, last spring’s Civil War reunited them with the company’s flagship character: the best selling merchandise character in the entire world by a wide margin. Now, Spider-Man’s on, more or less, his new solo debut. We’re getting a lot of things I’ve longed for: no Origin Story repeat, for one, the most formulaic aspect of these wildly-popular movies. Humor. A full Marvel Universe. But as I read a few interviews to prepare a preview, some questions roll into my mind.
Is Heroism still hip? Is altruism relatable to modern audiences? What sort of attitude will Pete have?
How much actual teenager culture will we see in Peter’s life?
Any room for friends? After all: who’s a complete loner anymore?
How different will this villain be- from previous Marvel villains and from his comics incarnation?
Speaking of friends: how different will Spider-Man be with mentor Tony Stark as a supporting character? Not always, but most of the time, Peter was alone against trouble, alone in the angst of his secret identity- especially emphasized in his earliest years under Ditko.
The day’s finally come. Before we get to any spoilers, I have to tell you Spider-Man: Homecoming’s A-grade entertaining! The three ladies who went with me all enjoyed the movie very much- but Spidey always did seem like the type of personality appreciated as much by fans regardless of gender. The ten year-old boy joining us says “It was amazing!” Kids almost always enjoy a Spider-Man movie, and hey, most of all, this is definitely for them! The diverse cast offers a friendly attitude towards a future, in America and around the world. Classic fans get Liz, Betty Brant, an MJ, and best of all, a Flash Thompson, the popular kid who picks relentlessly on our nerdy hero.
As for the origin, with a pretty decent one featured in a film just five years back, maybe the “super-abilities” part is as simple as Presley put it: “I think someone getting bitten by a spider and gaining powers is cool!” Uncle Ben’s loss gets a meaningful glimpse in a line about keeping his I.D. secret from May, and the implicit “power/responsibility” part’s something we see Peter still learning all through Homecoming. Space that went towards the Twilight Zone-twist origin and the Daily Bugle and ever-curmugeonly J. Jonah Jameson, this time out, goes instead to Peter’s high school life. For once, he’s definitely a teenager- just as he began under Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Some of that space also goes to Tony Stark and his trusted valet, Happy Hogan, reprised by Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau. This gives Avengers fans- of which there’s so very, very many brought together by the organically-grown super storyline dating back to Iron Man (2008). This brings, to many, the deepest structural changes to the Spider-Man mythology this time out: he’s the junior superhero in every since. Captain America PSA’s are shown in the high school. (Hannibal Burress plays the gym teacher with the line: “...although I’m pretty sure Cap’s a war criminal or something by now, but I’m required by the state to show these!”
The move from Avengers Tower to the new upstate New York compound creates a huge part of the plot, and its climax. The fallout on the streets of New York from the battles of aliens and gods directly effect the life of that villain to whom I alluded earlier: a pleasantly-fleshed-out Vulture, complete with much more realistic and dangerous-looking equipment with which to take to the air, played by Michael (Birdman, Batman!) Keaton. I’ll publish another post with the spoilers, but let’s just say his alter ego springs a fascinating surprise- and gets one himself- based on his private life.
Like in Civil War Iron Man’s again a support character instead of the lead. But his part doesn’t overshadow screen time for Spider-Man; in fact, there’s a long Marvel tradition of loose cannon Spidey getting down-country from the officially licensed Avengers. The close personal tie provides a rich surrogate older-brother figure, or some might say, a father-figure. Paternal instincts make an interesting mix with the aging but still vivacious playboy.
I loved the casting. The other big change, on a more subtle level, gives Peter- and Spider-Man- someone with whom he can talk. Ned’s an engaging best friend (played with fanboy awe and geeky charm by Jacob Batalon). And Karen’s maybe an even bigger change- but from director Jon Watts’ point of view, this A.I. gives Spider-Man another screwball companion to allow for extended suspense sequences that aren’t played in awkward, boring silence. AS my pal Dave Kraft, a dyed-in-the-wool pulp aficionado who grew up thinking of Spidey as a “second-stringer”- but eventually got to write him in many popular media-put it, Spider-Man’s a very talkative, witty, wise-ass guy. The movie plays up that part beautifully. His youthful naivete is touching, realistic, and grounded. Tom Holland above all really shines.
Stunts, special effects – a part they’ve been getting very right in Marvel Cinemaverse. The final battle’s unique nonetheless in its mid-air and Coney Island isolation.
Spider-Man, in the comics’ fifty-five year search for novel approaches, has basically evolved into a type of Tony Stark-like boss of his own technological corporation. I’m glad we didn’t have to experience that level of shock. Back to high school, and more ground-level simplicity than ever, while presenting novel gimmicks that enhance action and the ongoing comedy of Peter’s adjustment to his role: these six screen writers pulled together.
And oh yeah: is heroism hip? Oh, probably not. Without overwhelming the story in melancholy, Peter’s dual life, true to form (Parker Luck!), ruins everything he looks forward to as Peter Parker and complicates his every accomplishment. If one thing rings home, it’s as I told ten year-old Presley: “No matter how cool you become, stupid stuff still happens.” You just can’t be a spectacular figure in any realistic light without mixing it up with the occasional garbage can.
Jon Watts starts the myth anew with an appealing young star, an Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) with whom everyone’s flirting, a promising alliance with the Avengers- and a good old fashioned friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.