Saturday, July 15, 2017

Brief thoughts on Spider-Man: Homecoming - 300th Post!

How many times you gonna do it, Spidey? Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man films were crucial events in the infancy of modern Superflicks, perfecting the mold that had been established with X-Men, and delivering on all the fabulous campiness, lightness, sweetness, and even downright horror of Peter Parker's universe with the definitive representation of the character to date. Unfortunately, this came crashing down when Sony (the holders to the production rights) decided to interfere with Raimi's work by overstuffing Spider-Man 3.

Cut to five years later, and in an attempt to keep the rights from reverting, as well as to copy the successful moves of his former owners at Marvel, decided to create their own expanded universe, leading to the apathetic Amazing Spider-Man that retread the familiar origin story, and the spectacular disaster of its sequel, not to mention laughable proposals like a spin-off with Sally Field's Aunt May as a secret agent. Having reached an agreement to share the character rights, Sony's partnership with Marvel finally allowed the beloved webhead to join the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, first debuting the character in Civil War.

This seemed to be a move that indicated great things to come, especially since Tom Holland's Spidey made for a great scene-stealer in his limited screentime. But upon exiting Spider-Man: Homecoming, I can't help but feel my apathy resurfacing yet again. This is my first true disappointment of Marvel's otherwise highly enjoyable universe.

At the very least, this new incarnation of Spider-Man does earn points for at least trying to put a clever new spin on things, doubling down on the eccentricities and sarcastic attitude of Spidey that were sparingly used within either of Sony's prior incarnations, and deliberately attempting to scale back on the huge set-pieces within those films, as well as a significant scale-back of Marvel's usual standard for action. Unlike the initially awestruck respect from New Yorkers in prior incarnations, an interesting diversion for this new entry is on Spider-Man's overall representation, as he acts incredibly overeager in his daily vigilantism, oftentimes seeming to do more harm than good despite his best intentions. From overkill by webbing up a thief for stealing a bike, and not even knowing who to return it to, to trailing a group of thieves stealing valuable Chitauri weaponry, and screwing up his own stealth operations at every turn.

In many ways, it feels as if all the power of the suit is going to his head, frequently biting off more than he can chew in stopping criminal activity, all the while stressed out over the turbulence of high school life, and forming and maintaining those connections with the friends and loved ones in his life. It's here where the film manages to get some decent mileage, no doubt likely to hit home for the younger viewers this skewers towards, and allows one wonderful showcase for Tom Holland. There's no denying that Holland has absolutely nailed the nature of Peter Parker directly on the head, relaying the rapidly moving stream-of-consciousness in Peter's mind with infectious delight, making for an equally snarky but charming central figure, and whose own youthful touch aids him in effortlessly tapping into the rush and chaos of a young teenager's life. If a tad overexpressive and mugging, and his actions towards the third act tend to feel very boy scout-ish, he still brings a delightful touch to the movie that it desperately needs. Because I mean it when I say it, this movie desperately needed that same passion in every other area.

As much as I want to be excited for Spider-Man: Homecoming, I simply can't do that because... it just isn't a good movie. Despite the fact that the movie wisely avoids padding itself unnecessarily by sidestepping the origin story (taking for granted the fact that we're already aware of Peter's spiderbite and the death of Uncle Ben), at its heart it still feels as if it's conforming to them in some way, running us through familiar motions at overextended length. Even laying familiarity aside as someone who's usually forgiving of Marvel's ongoing formula, the movie simply falls flat at recreating the novelty and excitement of prior entries, with the welcome diversion into a smaller scale ironically also working against it, pulling the focus off of the superheroics to such a degree, and establishing connections to the larger universe so moot, that the movie feels immediately disposable, yet another filler entry as we await the next Avengers crossover. Speaking of which, with a clever rewrite, the returning likes of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan could simply be erased, here as guides and mentors to Peter, yet contribute so little to the actual narrative that perfectly highlight what a needlessly crowbarred addition they are.

But that's not even the worst of it, because Spider-Man: Homecoming's greatest sin is how wildly erratic the script is, something that doesn't surprise me when I discovered it took no less than *SIX* screenwriters to bring it to life. While Peter himself is a highly enjoyable character, the supporting cast surrounding him is so poorly utilized and defined, especially egregious coming off the heels of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Much has been made of Michael Keaton's return to the superhero genre, here subverting his image as main baddie the Vulture (once envisioned for Sam Raimi's trilogy), and even though you can tell Keaton is clearly enjoying himself and giving the role more dignity than it deserves, the Vulture is such an unengaging and unintimidating villain who doesn't even feel credible as a genuine threat. This certainly isn't helped by the fact that Keaton spends very long stretches of the movie on the sidelines, which is deliberate so as to hide key plot developments later on, but whose overall impact - clever as it may be - feels too little, too very late. Keaton's own Batman/Birdman background also feels poorly capitalized on, as casting him as an opponent to Stark via Norman Osborn would have felt like a much better usage of his talents, and would have been a hilarious continuation of the "rivalry" established between Keaton and Downey in Birdman.

Jacob Batalon gets the most exposure out of all the supporting players as the one person in on Peter's secret from the start, attempting to add some levity to the film, but more often comes across as obnoxious. It's usually hard not to "larb" Marisa Tomei, who gives her younger Aunt May a loving and sweet presence (and gave me the single biggest laugh of the film), but is never onscreen enough to liven the film up like it needs to. Laura Harrier is solely here to be the obligatory love interest, Tony Revolori is squandered as lunkhead Flash Thompson, and Disney idol Zendaya merely exists to be a walking snark machine, at least until that inevitable point where we're supposed to go "Oh, so that's why you're here." Also, Shocker's in the movie. I know that seems out of place and awkward to put here, but so is he.

But... even that's not it. Despite sharing production credit with Marvel Studios, you can still feel Sony's fingerprints running all throughout this movie, as it seems they are still sticking with their Amazing Spider-Man 2 mold by establishing a larger Spidey universe. The film feels this obnoxious and overbearing need to shove in as much callbacks and references to the comics as possible to appease the fandom, in a manner that borders on condescending with how obviously they're spelled out, which include references to Miles Morales, Scorpion, even down to one of Peter's most iconic love interests, and possible build-up to a Sinister Six plotline. Not to say there aren't some brilliant little touches, including Michael Giacchino's amusing arrangement of the original Spider-Man TV show theme that plays over the Marvel Studios logo, but the film never seems to take that less is more approach to heart. It all adds up to what could arguably be the most fan-servicey film in the MCU, and given that company includes Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron (whose head coincidentally makes an appearance), that's saying a lot.

At the very least, the film is enjoyable despite its many faults, and should be a light and entertaining watch for the teen crowd, but I simply cannot give this film a pass for that. If anything, this further solidifies my belief that Sony hasn't learned anything from their past mistakes, content on overstuffing their movie yet again, as the overall narrative runs amok in disparate fashion. Even the usually reliable quality control of Marvel isn't enough to save it, the typically rousing and enjoyable action beats feeling cheap rather than bombastic, and even the reliable character work has suffered a steep decline this entry. Is this a case that the MCU is finally starting to show cracks in its foundation, or is it merely a fluke that has more to do with the now burned and worn out novelty of Spider-Man? Time will tell in the next chapters of the continuing Avengers universe, but for now, maybe it's best that the old webhead take a breather.

**1/2 / *****

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