Saturday, July 29, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man Homecoming (2017)

The other day I saw the newest Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Spider-Man Homecoming, at the North DeKalb Mall movie theater where you can still get matinee tickets for less than $5. I'd skipped Doctor Strange due to a combination of other obligations and because it looked kind of trippy (like Inception), so this was my first time back in the MCU in awhile.

The Plot

In the aftermath of the Battle of New York, contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), hired by the city of New York to help clean up Grand Central Station, is unceremoniously kicked off the job by a bunch of Men In Black types. It turns out Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has set up a public-private partnership with the federal government to rebuild the city, cutting Toomes' company out entirely even though he's bought lots of new equipment and hired new people for the job.

Despite having lost the contract, Toomes still has some captured Chitauri technology, which he proceeds to reverse-engineer into weapons to sell and winged powered armor for himself. After doing this under-the-radar for eight years, careless subordinates bring him into conflict with Queens' friendly-neighborhood superhero, Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

The Good

*As you can tell by my plot description, my favorite character overall was the Vulture. In this movie, he's far more sympathetic than Tony Stark. I've griped about how Iron Man III reduced the legendary Mandarin to yet another (white) military-industrial type with a grudge against Tony, but this movie does a really good job with the villain's characterization even though it differs from the comic version. The MCU Vulture shows that even though Tony isn't the narcissistic jerk he was before the events of the first Iron Man film, his self-absorption continues to cause problems. He attempted to enforce the Sokovia Accords on his own allies in Captain America Civil War due to HIS guilt for Ultron and he screwed over Toomes due to HIS desire to help clean up the mess of NYC and HIS desire to keep control over alien technology. If Tony had just bought out Toomes or paid him compensation, this whole mess could have been avoided, but he couldn't be bothered with the details.

And Michael Keaton does an excellent job playing the Vulture. I liked the character's sense of honor and fair play, his general swagger, his hardass attitude when required, his delivery of his lines, and his facial expressions and attitude during a scene where he rides in the car with Peter for an extended period. Very, very good. I also liked the combination of his WWII bomber jacket and all the high-tech stuff.

*Peter's friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who I'm not spoiling anything by revealing that he learns that Peter is Spider-Man early in the film, is pretty funny too. He pesters Peter about his superpowers, how he got them, etc. and talks about how he wants to be "the guy in the chair" who sends Peter out on missions. He even has a hilarious moment of glory late in the film.

*I'm glad they didn't do yet another origin story for Spider-Man. We've seen the spider bite and Uncle Ben die in Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man already, with a revisionist take in Spider-Man III to boot. Captain America Civil War introduced us to a young man who'd already been superheroing for some time, so the whole radioactive (or genetically-mutated) spider and the death of Uncle Ben is in the past.

*I'm usually not sympathetic to the demands of the social-justice set (well, beyond the "don't be jerk" parts), but I did like the increased ethnic diversity of the cast. Queens in the early 21st Century and Queens in the 1960s when Spider-Man premiered are vastly different places ethnically. Back then blue-collar whites like the Parker family would have been the dominant group and the 1965 Immigration Act would not have had time to make an impact. These days many of the lower-class whites (or their grandchildren) would have moved elsewhere, with large Hispanic, African-American, and Asian population moving in. Making Peter's friend Ned Filipino, his rival Flash Guatemalan (although until I looked up the actor I thought he was Indian), and his argumentative fellow Academic Decathlon player Michelle biracial (actress Zendaya has a black father and a white mother) accurately reflects reality without being preachy or heavy-handed. And there's an amusing bit where he helps a lost Dominican lady (and she buys him a churro) and an Easter Egg involving a criminal's nephew revealing that in this world, Miles Morales (Ultimate Spider-Man's Afro-Latino successor) exists.

*The film emphasizes the sacrifices Peter makes in order to be Spider-Man--he gives up extracurricular activities, gets into trouble at school, and misses out on social opportunities and alienates his peers.

*The film goes to Washington DC (where we get a nice Easter Egg with the rebuilding of the SHIELD Triskelion complex after the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier) in a completely non-forced way.

*The very end of the film unleashes a major twist to the Spider-Man mythology involving Aunt May. I won't go into it for reasons of spoilers though.

*The "friendly neighborhood" aspect of Spider-Man is emphasized--per my above comment he helps a lost Dominican lady and takes down a guy who's recklessly riding a bike down a sidewalk and knocking people over. Perhaps that's why the cops tolerate him despite the Sokovia Accords--he's more of a local mascot than a law-undermining vigilante.

The Bad

*The high-school stuff was boring and in some cases actively painful to watch. Not in the pathos drama sense, but in the "CAN THIS END" sense. I know an important part of his character is that he's balancing trying to be a normal teen and a superhero, but most if it really wasn't that interesting.

*Although as I said before I'm glad this isn't yet another origin story, Peter doesn't seem to have the guilt for the death of Uncle Ben driving him, nor does he ever unleash his tag-line about with great power coming great responsibility. Instead he seems motivated purely by "holy crap I can do that" joie de vivre a high-school sophomore discovering he has superpowers would have and a general-purpose desire to help people. Peter alludes to his aunt suffering a great trauma, but Uncle Ben would have for all intents and purposes been his father, so the death of Uncle Ben would have hurt him a lot too.

*One of the more interesting aspects of the original Flash character was that although he sneered at and bullied Peter, he greatly admired Spider-Man. That was something missing from the characterization of Flash this time around. It wouldn't have been hard to work that in--in the scene where Ned starts telling people Peter knows Spider-Man, Flash could say something like, "Spider-Man is too cool to hang out with some loser like you" or something to that effect. Or if they wanted to make this something that develops with his character, maybe he could become the big Spider-Man fanboy after the Washington Monument sequence.

The Verdict

The superheroics are fun, but the high school stuff had me looking at my watch many times. 7.5 out of 10.

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