Saturday AM Movie Review: SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING

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.So, let's just get this out of the way...SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING IS EXCELLENT!

Seriously, it's much, much more than mere "good".

This is easily the Best SPIDERMAN movie EVER!

BEST MCU MOVIE? --- well, let's say it's in the top 3 or 4 but for many, it'll be the favorite.

It's literally re-watchable. Many, many times over.

I'm nearly 30hrs from a pre-screening ( the movie opens July 7th) and I'm just buzzing for the chance to see it again. That's a big deal cuz as a 40-something comic fan who has seen MANY COMICBOOK, SUPERHERO MOVIES -- I've found myself extremely jaded over the last few years. Special effects have given us so many possibilities that previously only comic books and animated productions could visualize. Imaginative new worlds and ideas that were the exclusive province of truly gifted animators, writers, and/or comic artists are now easily presented for the masses via a living, 3D cinematic expressions in movies and a rising number of TV shows.

But something has happened.

I noticed it when I went to a Licensing Executives-only screening of Peter Jackson's KING KONG (many years ago--- God, I'm getting old) and that was this emptiness. By emptiness, I mean....this lack of spark, personality, and/or life. Think Big Trouble in Little China, GHOSTBUSTERS (the original) and the original Superman. Those films have a personality and I remember watching that kick-ass foot catch by Jackson's Kong thinking "WOW - this wouldn't have happened with the 1970's or 30's version of Kong". On the other hand, I left that screening thinking the plot was contrived and characters were lame. It had the technical wizardry but little heart.

I think WB / DC COMICS DCEU is the modern day example of this. Clearly, Snyder's Superman is displaying his powers in ways that had never been seen on screen before. There are shots in MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN that are lifted straight from the comic books. That said, both of those movies have storylines and acting that are so...lukewarm (if not, straight juvenile) that the franchise is just getting decimated by Marvel Studios despite DC/WB having a damn near 30 years headstart on Marvel with successful film adaptations (Donner Superman and Burton's Batman) and the fact that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are the most popular superhero characters globally by a wide margin  

SPIDERMAN HOMECOMING could have fallen under the weight of franchise fatigue (this is the 7th Spiderman film in 17 years) and/or just the behemoth that Marvel has wrought on the global box office and yet this film does not suffer from the things that afflict so many effects-heavy cinematic spectacles. This film has so much charm and personality that it's just...amazing! A lot of the reason for that is the story and the focus on a YOUNG PETER PARKER. Another reason for that is for one of the most diverse and accurate portrayals of high school --- ever.

Now A LOT has been made about the diverse cast in this movie and it should never be a shock to fans of Saturday AM how many people in the GEEK space bring negative, bigoted views to comics and anime. To be clear, SPIDERMAN's cast is incredibly charming from top to bottom. Tom Holland's Peter Parker has a Queens accent, loves Legos, and has the perfect wide-eyed enthusiasm. I am in for this kid big-time. He has so much charm and earnestness and he's not trying to 'play the nerd' ala Maguire or be the lonely heartthrob ala Garfield. There are two scenes that really stand out to me - one when Peter screws up on the Ferry (from the trailers, great scene folks) and then another during his first actual moment with the Vulture (it's in a car and it will shock you) and his simple reactions to both moments are so well-acted and so perfectly rendered to the story that for me it cemented the idea that HOLLAND IS THE PERFECT SPIDERMAN!

His class/ school, however, is where the film truly shines. Laura Harrier plays Liz, Spiderman's crush while the famous Zendaya plays a character sure to pop up in future films named Michelle. That there are two female leads and they are both women of color is some Saturday AM level stuff! I mean it. The same arguments I've had about having a minority main character in a manga and the refrain (laughably from other minorities at that) "it would just be forced to add a person of color" as if it's NOT forced to add in white/ European looking characters into Japanese society or future worlds (ala Attack on Titan). I can only imagine that some Sony exec tried to pull the same stunt -- "Hey, you can't have two women in Spiderman that he likes or hangs out with be black!!!" As if Queens, NY is an all-white town. Now, not everyone works. I will say that Flash Thompson played by Tony Revolori seems miscast for reasons other than his skin color -- the lack of menace, the height all conspire to make him a jarring choice for being the well-known bully. That said, the diversity adds so much to this film because it feels REAL, RELATABLE to everyone. From the school principal to the deli owner to the kids in the hallway of Peter's school, seeing so many people of color just adds such texture to the world that Peter inhabits and makes the idea that this is the MCU from the street level surprisingly feel more accurate than Marvel's Netflix shows.

This point, is brought home by the gym teacher played by a hilariously deadpan, Hannibal Burres, adds some great comedy when he suggests the Captain America school videos (which has a great payoff later in the film) is inappropriate because he's probably a "war criminal, now" (thanks, CIVIL WAR). But this diversity message really applies to two characters who are CRUCIAL to the success of this new Spiderman film and series. First up, the VULTURE.

Now, I won't ruin the twist to this film but not only is it a solid one but it really sells the whole idea of this version of the B-grade Spiderman villain. From the first frame of the film, we learn what life is really like for the hard working folks in a THOR, IRON MAN led-MCU and how that may affect a potential villain like the Vulture. Keep in mind, we just elected TRUMP in the US -- so the idea of the people feeling desperate enough to do something crazy is something we should all be able to relate to. And that's where Michal Keaton's character really shines. His actions are logical and while he's the bad guy - you can see how different his life could have gone had he gotten luckier in life -- just like our little Peter Parker.

Likewise, his redesign is AWESOME! I genuinely loved this look. It was creative in its' associations with the Vulture motif while also being synonymous with this world of the MCU. You could see how it could be terrifying in its' own right. I've seen a few reviews where folks have lamented some of the action scenes and while I disagree wholeheartedly (the Washington monument and Boat Ferry were both spectacular and remind of the classic train scene from Spiderman 2) I DO understand the lack of thrill in the battles between Vulture and Spiderman. At this point, neither has really fought to the death against another super-powered character (Spidey's Civil War romp was like a field trip to Peter -- we come to learn) and thus the battles are perfectly thrilling, intimate affairs rather than spectacle IMO. This is a small film. The world is not at stake and in many ways, that's what makes these more precise action beats so strong.

 

Peter is still a nerd. He can't talk to girls and he wants to do the right thing even though those actions usually cause him and his loved one's problems. In fact, his friends are still intrinsically a part of his life (as we all can attest to regarding our own high school lives). Ned (played with such charm by Jacob Batalon) is the breakout star of this film. The young, portly best friend dreams of being Peter's "guy in the chair" and thus gives the film something desperately needed in the world of the MCU. He allows Peter to simply relate to someone with his secret without lazily needing to have it tie into a love triangle between the original trilogies' Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and the reboot's Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and the Spiderman persona. That the character is also diverse and clearly brought over from the Miles Morales Spiderman comic (he shares more than a passing resemblance to that series 'best friend', Ganke) is one thing - that he's lovable and funny as hell - is everything to this film.

SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING is fun, it's FUNNY, and it offers a different view of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that suggests that with CIVIL WAR, the original IRON MAN film and the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY -- Marvel Studios can tell ANY type of superhero story. This is crucial because given the battles between DC, Marvel and many others (c'est la vie, TMNT / Transformers) it means that we don't have to worry that this genre of film will feel stale. Spiderman Homecoming proves you can do funny films with a lot of heart!

Saturday AM score: 5/5

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