Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya
The best news about the third Spider-Man reboot (now in the hands of Marvel, still a product of Sony like the previous five installments), is they forgo the origin story. No spider bite, no dead uncle, we’ve been origin story’d to death with these reboots. Director Jon Watts (“Natural Selection”, “Cop Car”) takes a cue from Tim Burton’s “Batman”, and starts the film with Michael Keaton’s back story, much the way the 1989 superhero film started with Jack Nicholson. Keaton, my generations childhood Batman, has coincidentally made the transition from bat, to “Birdman” and now Vulture. Watts (or one of the eight! screenwriters) borrows a concept from Christopher Nolan’s use of villain in “The Dark Knight” trilogy, I’ll let you figure out what I’m hinting at after you see the film.
15-year-old sophomore Peter Parker is on cloud nine after returning from his Spider-Man debut, working with the Avengers. His Aunt, May (Tomei) only knows he has an internship with Tony Stark (Downey), nothing more. After a taste of danger and heroics, Parker can’t stop calling and texting his contact Happy Hogan (Favreau), whose busy helping the Stark corporation move upstate to a new facility. Being the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is fun and all, but Parker wanting more purpose, gets in over his head seeking out danger. He comes across Adrian Toomes (Keaton) and thugs, who are illegally stealing and modifying leftover weapons from the last Avengers battle to fill their pockets. Parker tries to balance his childhood with his heroism and Iron Man ends up being a babysitter, putting the web-slinger on notice.
It all comes down to Holland’s performance, and there are no complaints.
While the second of the two opening sequences is more clever and entertaining than an origin story, Spider-Man Homing doesn’t make it’s mark until “the doorbell rings”. Midway through the two-hour plus summer blockbuster, the writers pull off one of Marvel’s most welcome surprises. Prior to that point in the film, while the filmmakers thankfully also spare us another swinging sequence through New York skyscrapers, it does hit some generic mini action scenes like the predictable elevator saving sequence. In the 2002 version Aunt May was played by then 75-year-old Rosemary Harris, ten years later reinvented by Sally Field at 66. Tomei, 52, was introduced at the most recent version of Spider-Man’s caretaker in “Captain America: Civil War”. Constant quips about her looks are scattered around the film, but 21-year-old Holland is shirtless in multiple scenes, including only his underwear to balance things out apparently.
The slow burn on the villains, equipping them with actual motivation, not simply just being evil because, helps keep things honest and grounded. Keaton has always excelled in darker rolls, and when he threatens Parker, there is no hesitation in that gruff, wrinkled face and dead stare. With everything that’s been put into this film, it all comes down to Holland’s performance, and there are no complaints. If you saw his feature film debut in The Impossible (2012) you knew he had talent. The script allows Parker a childhood, which is also something we haven’t seen before. He struggles with the notion of using his super powers to gain friends and popularity (which 15-year-old wouldn’t), spending time with his best friend building Lego’s or putting on his suit and being alone. Subtly is hard to find in a Marvel movie, but Homecoming understands the importance of less is more to a degree we have almost lost in big budget film. “The world’s changing. It’s time we change too,” Toomes says. Holland and Watts have made the right changes, maybe this third attempt will keep the Spider-Man franchise uniquely grounded and striving for originality in a way that allows us to forget all those false starts.
Indie director Jon Watts brings subtly and originality back to the franchise with some much-needed tricks and surprises up his sleeve.