Wednesday, July 12, 2017

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – Third Time’s an Epic Charm

For those who were old enough to keep track, there have been six major live-action films (in the 21st Century) adapting the iconic Marvel character Spider-Man. Of these movies, the story of the wall-crawling and web-swinging superhero has already been revisited three times, with three different actors to boot. The first was a trilogy with Tobey Maguire that started strong but fizzled out on its second sequel. The second with British-American Andrew Garfield had decent characterization but a weak story. With Spider-Man film rights holder Sony deciding to come to agreement with Marvel Studios, the web-head gets another shot at a story, this time as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At long last, Spider-Man has come home.
That last sentence was on purpose, calling to mind the new film’s title – “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. It is the 16th feature film installment of the now-massive MCU, and does double-duty of establishing one of Marvel’s powerhouse characters as part of the sprawling film franchise and giving a quick once-over of his own background amidst the universe he is now included in. Part of the work was already done by introducing the character in advance during 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”, and this standalone adventure for him completes his fleshing out.
Portraying Spider-Man and his civilian alter ego Peter Parker is British stage and film actor Tom Holland. His casting is one of the most brilliant moves in both the MCU and in Spider-films in general. Maguire and Garfield were both twenty-something during their times in the red-and-blue costume, but their takes on Parker saw him spend very little time in high school (when his adventures started back in the comics) before transitioning into young adulthood (when his comic stories started getting meatier). Holland was 19-20 when he played the part during “Civil War”. Come “Homecoming” he is 21, but he pulls the teenager thing really flawlessly. Holland makes you believe he is Peter Parker in high school.
“Homecoming” picks up where “Civil War” left off where Spider-Man is concerned. Having been drafted as a “child soldier” in a war between superheroes, Peter Parker – whose prior experience in hero work was stopping street crime in Queens, NYC using a homemade costume – is now owner of a high-tech suit and possessed with a wanderlust to take on even bigger threats. His benefactor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) however is aware that he had crossed a line in getting Parker involved in the Civil War, so he tries to dial down Peter back to being a “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” again like before. Good luck with that.
While Parker returns to his home life and school, he is putting himself in a holding pattern, just waiting for a heavyweight crime to stop. This comes in the form of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Toomes is a salvage contractor who was going to strike it rich cleaning up debris from superhero battles like in “Avengers” which left New York littered with alien junk. Unfortunately Stark and the federal government create a new department that takes away his line of work. Pissed at the people above and trying to make work for his crew, he turns to using salvaged alien and super-tech to craft super-weapons to sell on the black market. His personal gadget is a wicked winged flight pack that looks both feasible and fantastic at the same time.
It’s not very long until Spider-Man encounters this illegal super-arms dealership, but Iron Man deigns it above Peter’s weight class and tries to dissuade him from investigating further. This only spurs him, in typical teen fashion, to keep digging up the dirt with the help of a new confidante in classmate Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon). He also has other concerns; the school homecoming dance is approaching and he would like to try his luck asking out his scholastic decathlon leader Liz (Laura Harrier) to be his date, all while another classmate Michelle (Zendaya) snarks at his lame-seeming life. Things come to a head, secrets are suddenly revealed, and it’s all high-flying high-swinging action in between, and it works so brilliantly like you wouldn’t believe.
Sony has got to be counting their blessings at having allowed Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to handle the actual movie-making for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” this time around, rather than make another attempt wholly in-house. And Marvel itself is so over the moon at getting creative control over Peter Parker back that they pretty much snuck in a lot of shout-outs in the film, from the orchestrated thme music of the 60s cartoon (during the studio IDs), to tie-ins with past MCU installments, to hints of possible future storylines (a crook played by Donald Glover is the uncle of another teen who takes up the mantle of Spider-Man in the comics), to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (not kidding!), plus one epic scene that is lifted from one of the most famous issues (#33) of the classic prints. No doubt about it, “Homecoming” is packed to the brim.
Welcome home indeed, Spider-Man. Here’s hoping your next MCU adventure fares just as well.
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