Thursday, July 6, 2017

I saw Spidey Come Home...

After the mush-maddened and ticket-slipping "Amazing Spider-man 2", an overhaul seemed required for the webslinger’s cinematic image. Either the Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield format had to be revamped or Spidey needed to go into hiding a few years before a reboot (perhaps one even in the Sam Raimi vein) was summoned. The powers-that-be decided to move fast, however, with Sony, Marvel and Disney ironing out contractual concerns to make Tom Holland's Peter Park a spry, supporting part of "Captain America: Civil War". With Spidey’s significant but brief participation pleasing fans, he gained another headlining effort.

Jon "Cop Car" Watts was enlisted for this big revitalization, assigned to direct but also to develop the story, along with John Francis Daley; Christopher Ford; Jonathan Goldstein; Chris McKenna; and Erik Sommers. 

The result, "Spider-man: Homecoming", picks up where "Civil War" left off (well, at least after a couple flashbacks), its main carryover Avenger being Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Stark again takes Parker under his wing, advancing the youngster's suit to an even greater level, but the entrepreneur also relegates the youth to Manhattan's confines. Despite the lad's amazing abilities, Stark doesn’t see Parker as full-fledged Avenger material...not yet, anyway. (For the record, per comic lore, Spidey is always glad to assist the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men and the like, but never yearns to be a permanent part of any team.)  

At any rate, Parker's need to impress Stark becomes the film’s predominate theme: the story of a boy who so desperately wants to impress his mentor by helping others that he stumbles along the way and well, you know the rest. (BTW: The film's subtitle implies Parker's coming to terms with his strengths and weaknesses, his notions of right and wrong, paving a symbolic path that will lead him home, so to speak.)

The script also focuses on Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes, aka, the Vulture: a former salvage contractor, who after being financially stomped, grows a craving for conquest and with some extra cash (via some refurbished, alien technology) makes his ambitions a reality. It's sure fun to see Keaton in this ironic, villainous turn, though he more than tested the dark waters in "RoboCop ’15". It's also cool how the Vulture reflects Keaton's "Birdman" persona, which in its own right parodies his Caped Crusader portrayal, while simultaneously representing the type of baddie Batman would love to batter. 

Alas, there's no Daily Bugle to lure Parker and therefore no J. Jonah Jameson to berate him (pity, since the ol' hothead was physically non-existent in Webb's version). Stark's loyal pal, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is there, though, as well as the alluring Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Chris Evans also cameos as Cap America, along with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. 

In addition, the film features some new faces and reinterpretations of old favorites, which include Parker's this-time unrequited love, Liz Allan (Laura Harrier)--and don't let that darn surname fool ya--who's offset by cynical Michelle "M.J." Jones (Zendaya). There's also wide-eye, golly-gee chum, Ned (Jacob Batalon), who may or may not be the Bugle's Ned Leeds; naive Coach Wilson (Hannibal Buress); encouraging Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr); and trusty rival Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), revised with copious smugness. 

Interestingly enough, Jennifer Connelly portrays Karen, the offscreen "Suit Lady", who guides Spidey through his fabric guise. For what it's worth, Connelly already held an Avengers link before winning the role, being married to Paul Bettany, who plays the Vision and prior to such, having voiced J.A.R.V.I.S.  Nonetheless, it's too bad we weren't granted a sly "Hulk" tie-in through the actress, but I guess the past is the past when it comes to certain ill-fated, Marvel ventures, though recasting is clearly okay. (Say, wouldn't Eric Bana make a terrific Kraven the Hunter?)

On the new henchmen end, we're introduced to Logan Marshall-Green's Jackson Brice/Shocker and Bookem Woodbine's Herman Shultz/Shocker (yep, two Shockers for the price of one!); Donald Glover's Aaron Davis, aka the Prowler; and Michael Mando's Mac Gargan, aka the Scorpion. (Indeed, lots of history is being spread here, but wasn't that also characteristic of the previous flicks? Sometimes this layering-the-tracks can be clever, but other times too much, too soon. We can only keep our fingers crossed for Watt's restart.)

As seen in "Civil War", Holland (despite that brief, far-too-cocky run-in with Cap) is likable as high-schooler and superhero. However, this finely tuned double standard wouldn’t have quite the impact if not for Keaton’s embittered villainy. 

The Vulture (one of Spidey's oldest foes, though others beyond Toomes have seized the alias) becomes the film's most ubiquitous persona. Keaton's intensity heightens the conflict, injecting an unreasonable angst that makes the story's primary nemesis as intriguing as its titular hero. For the beleaguered Parker, Toomes becomes a devilish obsession, in which we can take delight sharing. Indeed, we don’t want the Vulture to reign supreme, but we can appreciate the madman's decisive drive, while despising his misguided motives.  

This tottering dynamic gives the film a winsome spurt: a big relief since there's lots riding on "Homecoming'"s success. In fact, I had stated last year that if "Homecoming" adhered to "The Legend of Tarzan" format, it could succeed. However, “Tarzan” had several drawbacks that went against its hero's grain. "Homecoming" at least stays truer to its source, again retelling a tale that doesn’t need to be retold, but due to its faithful delivery, rises above expectations to retake its core audience. That’s not to say "Homecoming" is flawless or presents the perfect place and time for its hero, but even so, it respects the dutiful traits that Stan Lee/Steve Ditko invested in their creation. 

All the same, there must come a point when Spider-man truly becomes a man. Tobey Maquire and Andrew Garfield lost the chance to mature in their roles. With Holland, we’ll have to wait a decent spell for sure, due to the actor's overwhelmingly youthful guise. Will there be enough sequels for the new Spidey to reach logical adulthood? One can only hope...presume. Keep in mind, Kal-El didn’t remain Superboy his entire life. The same goes for Spidey, and this should be addressed on the big screen, just as it was on the short-lived (and inexplicably shamed) CBS television series.

If those now attached to the saga wish to do right by this character (i.e., get him ever closer to his symbolic home base), they must set forth a progressive path and maybe along the line implant some seriousness to the cause. More sophistication would allow the movies to improve, thus making the ongoing adventure more than a coming-of-age rehash and finally a franchise where the only costumed entity our hero needs to impress is himself. 


  1. Just for the sake of reference: There's an Avengers nod in "Birdman" when Keaton's character, Riggan Thomson, catches Downey on television, when the actor's role of Iron Man is referenced. Extra cool, with all considering...

    1. Oh, and dig this for a "Birdman"/"Amazing Spider-man" overlap: Emma Stone plays opposite Keaton in the former and in the latter set, Gwen Stacy, Spidey's ill-fated love.