Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Director: Jon Watts
Screenplay: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: July 7, 2017
Scott, let’s get into the swing of things and start reviewing the latest Spider-Man movie.
I marvel at your pun-manship, Greg. Let’s recap.
In the prologue, we’re introduced to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) – an everyman contractor responsible for cleaning up the alien tech left over from the last battle the Avengers had with beings from beyond the stars. He’s interrupted by a federal official who is taking over the salvage operation since the tech is so dangerous. But Toomes isn’t deterred and goes underground selling the alien tech on the black market.
Meanwhile, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has already had some notoriety as Spider Man after fighting in the Avengers Civil War. Now, he’s sitting in Tony Stark’s limo getting some mentoring. Stark passes his responsibilities on to “Happy” (Jon Favreau) – his man Friday – who must keep tabs on the new young superhero.
While waiting for Stark to contact him to fight crime alongside the other Avengers, Peter passes up a lot of opportunities for extracurricular activities such as joining the debate team. Meanwhile, he is attracted to a young girl named Liz (Laura Harrier) who is on the debate team and who Peter wants to take to the prom. While breaking up an ATM robbery one night, Peter accidentally reveals his identity to his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). The two work together to try to win favor with Tony Stark, but it isn’t easy.
Scott, we’ve come to expect a lot from Marvel films. They are strongly character-based and still have great plots. It’s a hard combination to master, but Marvel generally does it. However, they let me down with Spider-Man: Homecoming. The coming- of-age story for young Peter Parker is not very compelling and the it had a lot of holes in it. I left the film feeling disappointed.
For one thing, the villain character never comes off as particularly evil. He’s just a guy trying to provide for his family. He accidentally kills one of his henchmen rather than overtly dispatching him. While he appears to steal the alien ‘junk’ – we never see him do it. Keaton’s bad guy just isn’t bad enough.
Perhaps this incarnation of Spider-Man is aimed more at a younger audience, say tweens (10-12 year olds) rather than teens and twenty-somethings. There was a clear lack of blood and violence. And the language was similarly subdued. Even Peter Parker is a younger version of Spider-Men of years gone by – just age 14 (or 15). If this is Marvel’s attempt to cater to a younger audience, then this sort of “Avengers-lite” presentation makes sense.
You’re right about Marvel films, Greg. They are so consistently polished and gleaming that part of me resents their formulaic success and actively roots for one of their movies to fail. The problem is that for Marvel, failure is not an option. I’m forced to report that Spider-Man: Homecoming continues Marvel’s almost monotonous tradition of excellence. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a terrific movie, Greg. I tried not to like it, I really did! But Tom Holland is just perfect in the role of a young Spider-Boy. He has puppy dog eyes, a squeaky (clean) adolescent voice, and a charming and naive do-gooder attitude that in combination are all perfect for a young superhero who is coming of age.
We never want our villains to suffer from the dullness of being purely evil, and Michael Keaton as Toomes strikes the perfect dark grey shade of villainy. He’s not a terrible man but he’s bad enough to wreak havoc on society and even kill people in the name of profit. In addition to Toomes, the ensemble supporting characters add depth to the strong story. Girlfriend Liz, buddy Ned, Aunt May, Toomes, and Tony Stark supply humor, heft, and a spirited energy that won me over.
Young Peter Parker is a great heroic character. He is virtuous and strong but not egotistical. His major flaw is the desire to be a super hero on par with his Avenger contemporaries. He’s too impatient to wait for his maturity to catch up with his super powers. This is where Tony Stark (and to a lesser degree, Happy) come in as mentors. Sadly, their mentoring is little more than a pep talk before and after events. I did like the sort of reluctant mentoring that Tony gives Peter. Tony is uncertain as to how to advise the younger hero and so his advice is often too terse to have good effect (not to mention that he has delegated this responsibility to Happy and literally phones his mentoring in from time to time). But, of course, that is where the fun lies as Peter makes mistake after super-mistake when not taking heed of Tony’s advice and wisdom.
There are plenty of transformations here. Peter grows as a young man as he approaches dating the object of his desire, Liz. He also grows in confidence as he first learns to use the extended powers of his super suit, and then later to act without it.
I am concerned, though, about that suit. I think Spider-Man is on the same path as Iron Man was. Is it the suit or the man who is the hero? In older incarnations of Spider-Man, Peter Parker has only a few super powers: super strength, “Spidey Sense”, and advanced intelligence. The only devices he uses are the web-slinging apparatus. So, Spider-Man has (up until now) been all about the wit, charm, and intelligence of a mostly mortal against advanced powers of his villains. I fear this new incarnation of Spider-Man, with his sophisticated suit, will devolve into “gadget of the week” where it’s the suit that becomes the object of interest, not the man.
Mentoring can go one of two ways — either the mentor has to encourage a fledgling hero who lacks self-confidence, or the mentor has to knock an overconfident hero down a peg. The latter occurs with this rendition of Spider-Man. Tony Stark takes this peg-knocking to a new level with his rather dismissive attitude toward young Peter, telling the arachnid to basically give up hope of joining the Avengers. But Stark also shares an extremely important insight, namely, that if Peter only thinks he’s something in the suit, then he’s not worthy of the suit. So naturally, young Peter confronts a situation in which he proves himself sans suit.
As this film tells a coming-of-age story, we do witness Peter Parker transform himself from a small-time hero operating with training wheels to a stronger, smarter hero who uses both his wits and his emerging skills to take down criminal bad-asses. And he can’t do it without help from others. He needs his buddy Ned to lend a hand, and he also needs Tony Stark’s dismissiveness as added fuel. I wish I could say that Peter needs Liz and Aunt May, but alas, these women are relegated to distant supporting roles.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is an entertaining film filled with special effects and a new take on a classic hero. Like other films this season, CGI gives way to good storytelling. It’s a perfect allegory for the Spider-Man problem. Peter Parker must learn that technology is only the sugar coating to true heroism – just as CGI is the sugar coating to a great story. If you don’t have a great core, the whole suffers. I can only give Spider-Man: Homecoming 4 out of 5 Reels.
Peter Parker is a proto-hero. This is the story of how Peter Parker becomes the true Spider-Man. At the beginning of the story he’s a clumsy super hero. Then he becomes overconfident in the power of the suit. Finally, he throws off the suit and becomes the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. It’s a great hero origin story. I give Peter Parker 5 out of 5 Heroes.
Peter’s transformation is a good one. He grows emotionally by realizing that heroism comes from within – not from without. I give this film 3 out of 5 Deltas.
Spider-Man: Homecoming continues Marvel’s marvelous run of first-rate comic book superhero film extravaganzas. Young actor Tom Holland shines as a budding young super-arachnid who is desperate to prove himself and prove his mentor Tony Stark wrong. This movie offers an entertaining blend of humor, adventure, and superheroism. I also award it 4 Reels out of 5.
I agree with you, Greg, that we have here an exemplary coming-of-age story of heroic development. Peter Parker is fearless in confronting bad guys no matter how dangerous the job, and he shows a willingness to sacrifice a romance with his high school crush, Liz, in order to fight crime. All the elements of the classic hero’s journey are here — the call to adventure, the mentor, the villain, the belly of the whale, and the transformation into a full-blown spidery hero. I’ll also give him 5 out of 5 Hero points.
Parker’s transformation is also terrific to behold, as he grows from boy to man right before our eyes. We witness the genesis of transformation — a good mentor figure in Starks as well as a steely courage from Parker during his darkest hour without his suit. I award him 4 transformation Deltas out of 5.