Directed by Jon Watts
Let’s be clear…I am not a fanboy. I haven’t picked up a comic book or graphic novel since I read “Maus”, thirty years ago. The only comic book I ever read religiously was a short-lived series from Howard Chaykin, called “American Flagg” in the mid-80’s. But these facts in no way preclude me from noticing that the growing issue for comics-based films these days is their need to be SOOOOOOOO serious… with thousands of people killed as collateral damage in the effort to “save” the world. Yet, amongst all these Marvel characters is a boy. At least there’s SUPPOSED to be a boy…a boy who is Spider-Man. A sixteen-year-old trying to juggle school, issues at home, puberty, and, yes, saving people from bad stuff. Yet, all the previous “Spidey” films gave us angst-filled young adults as Spider-Man, more worried about the “weight” of the responsibility that goes with the suit, than with managing life as a kid…and other dreadfully dull and adult issues. Zzzzzzzz…..
HOWEVER, I’m elated to report that someone FINALLY (and gratefully) got the memo! Spider-Man is best served as a stew consisting of a cup of “The Goonies”, two tablespoons of “The Breakfast Club”, and, yes, a pinch of the original “Iron Man”. This Spider-Man is an innocent…an aw-shucks kid with the greatest birthday present ever. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker cares just as much about the world around him as those heavier iterations, but he’s equally confused by it…and by, pretty much everything he comes in contact with. It’s a delightful change.
And that change is made all the more fun by the brilliantly funny – and eminently relate-able – script. Attributed to no less than SIX writers, the story maintains it’s teen-comedy appeal throughout…while still giving us a decent (if certainly not original) FX-laden super-hero story to sink our teeth in to (and it looks fantastic, to boot!). It’s made all the better since this story is not about saving the world – or alien worlds – or anything other than a good kid versus a bad guy. Sigh. It’s such a relief.
Of course this double-agent act doesn’t work if not filled with terrific performances. From those on the “good” side of the story, there is Holland, himself. With not a hint of self-awareness, sarcasm, or irony, he stumbles and bumbles his way through both super-hero-ing and trying to get the girl. Funny, charming, and occasionally heart-breaking, he is so much easier to root for…I mean, actually root for…than most of the other Marvel characters, who seem to wear their White Hat’s with stalactites of “wink wink nudge nudge” dripping precipitously off the brim.
The other kids in the John Hughes side of the story, Parker’s allies, are about as well cast as can be. Jacob Batalon, as Peter’s trusty, nerdy, and empathetic best friend, Ned, performs all those duties with concern, humor and GREAT timing. The Allison Reynolds character, played by a young pop singer named Zendaya, gives us all the delicious nerd/hipster/protest attitude and distance that masks someone who actually cares. And, of course, there’s the girl that’s just out of reach, as well as the rich kid who must diminish our hero at every turn. There’s even a lovable teacher played to perfection by “Silicon Valley’s” Gilfoyle, Martin Starr. Aaaaand about thirty cameo’s, some more effective than others.
And then there’s Michael Keaton as our bad guy. Perhaps a little flat in his performance, he, nonetheless, is better at 85% than most are at 100%. I’ll give him this…he’s the first Marvel bad guy I can remember who actually carries on as a real human being. He is OF this world, not above it, even if his character can fly (though, he’s not called “Birdman”). One of two father-figures to Peter, Robert Downey Jr. kinda phones it in. But John Favreau is the adult that comes closest to stealing the film. Earnest, funny, annoyed…he’s terrific, and the ears pick up any time he is on screen. As for Marisa Tomei, it’s not a terribly well-written role, but I’ve been in love with her for about two decades, so I think she was awesome (and, suddenly, I’m sixteen).
This is not the greatest action flick ever, nor is it something you must go out and see now. It is, however, a blast to watch, and I believe it will have the longest-lasting effect of all the Spider-Man movies, simply because it will become the kind of movie that, when it’s on cable a decade from now, you’ll stop flipping and stick with it until the end…again.
Oh, and a word of warning, if you are afraid of heights do not see the film in 3-D in a large format theater. Seriously.
Trailer gives away a LOT, but here it is if you so desire…
Written on 7/26/2017