‘I’ On Culture
The new Spider-Man: Homecoming is a terrific summer film. Yes, it is the sixth in the series, but it is by far the best and freshest. It is fun, down to earth and actually grapples with some real issues. I really liked Wonder Woman, and this is possibly better, although by a whisker.
Director Jon Watts keeps the film grounded in real life. While some of the superheroes fight for all of mankind, to preserve life on Earth, Spidey deals with life as a wannabee Avenger, who is also a 10th-grader in Queens. In the past, Spidey swung from tall Manhattan skyscrapers. Here he deals with the elevated subway running down Queens Blvd.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is a brilliant kid taking advanced courses, but mostly waiting to hear from his mentor Tony Stark/Ironman about his next mission. Stark assigns flunky Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to take the calls and, after being annoyed by the constant calls, he simply puts off the boy. In the meantime, the kid just goes out and tries to do good in the neighborhood, occasionally screwing up, as when he arrests a man for breaking into his own car while the alarm Spidey set off disturbs the neighborhood.
But then Spider-Man sees a group of men breaking into a bank and discovers that they have incredible weapons. It turns out they were the weapons used by the aliens in Avengers 2. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), the man who was supposed to clean up the mess, had been pushed off the contract by Tony Stark’s company. He was in financial trouble, and Toomes stayed afloat by selling a few of the weapons to criminals. He also created his own flying suit and called himself Vulture. Spider-Man goes after him and is not wildly effective, still learning his own powers.
In the meantime, Peter tries to survive at school. He is crazy over senior Liz (Laura Harrier), the leader of his Academic Decathlon team, but at first gets nowhere, despite her crush on Spider-Man. His best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovers his big secret and becomes, also not very effectively, his wingman. There are a few staged scenes, most really good, that eventually lead to the final confrontation.
What makes the film shine is the great cast. The most recent two actors who played Spider-Man (Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield) were both far older than the part, and the scripts had to be adjusted. Tom Holland was 19 when he first played the part and was 20 when he played this role. He looks and behaves like the 15-year-old he is supposed to be. He is likable and vulnerable, and that works well.
Keaton is exceptional as the villain. He is far more a person, a real one, than the typical Marvel Universe villain, and his explanations for why he does what he does are effective. After all, Tony Stark used alien tech and made money from it. Why shouldn’t he?
The rest of the cast was excellent. Batalon as the friend was both funny and likable, often stealing scenes. Harrier came across as intelligent and interesting. Favreau managed to take a part designed for a clown and turn his character into a real person, able to show his motivations. Marisa Tomei as Aunt May was funny as a woman who could not understand why every man around seemed to fall for her. And, of course, Robert Downey Jr. is always amazing as Stark. For a change, he was more bewildered mentor, seeming at a total loss in terms of dealing with a teenager, than superhero.
Being well-grounded in reality was a real plus for this film. Yes, Spidey has superpowers and Ironman and Vulture have their fancy suits (and it should be mentioned that Spider-Man’s “new and improved” suit provides some great laughs), but instead of make-believe cities and large numbers of other mutants, we have real people. Peter’s problems in terms of relationships, his real work at trying to be a normal kid while saving others, provide laughs and real warmth.
This is a charming film, well worth the cost of tickets. It may turn out to be the biggest movie of the summer but, more importantly, you are very likely to enjoy it.