Three versions of this plot in my lifetime is where things should start to feel old, you know? Raimi busted out when I was a kid with a live-action version of the character that excited me, and his sequel is still considered one of the best comic-book films ever made. Then Marc Webb got a shot and…well, let’s say it saw mixed results. Needless to say it was cancelled and we now have our third incarnation of Peter Parker in under twenty years – Tom Holland.
I was excited when I saw him swing onscreen during last year’s Captain America: Civil
War because despite having that moment wrecked by the trailer it managed to be a blast (that airport scene may still be the most “comic-booky” thing a movie has done). I was pretty uninterested in seeing a solo Spidey film, though, because we’ve seen his origin multiple times already and had very little to be done different. Sure, Aunt May is hot now and I’ll watch Marisa Tomei in anything, but with trailers that made it look like the film would be 50% Iron Man snark and a pretty standard Marvel film I just had very little interest. This hasn’t been helped by Amy Pascal seemingly trying to destroy the collaboration with Marvel that Sony has pulled off, with their nonsense about having Tom Holland films that don’t cross over and those that do. There’s a great line in this new film – “There’s a little grey area, and that’s where you operate.” That line describes the Spider-man stuff we want to a disturbing degree.
But with all of this behind the scenes wheeling and dealing, the negotiations and deals with the devils at various studios…how was the film?
It’s pretty damned good actually.
We’ve been subjected to “teenage” Peter Parker before but it was never truly like this before. This time they’ve cast someone who can continue to play a high-school student for several years to come, not someone who quickly graduates so that the fact they’re 30 can be hidden, and Tom Holland plays this age excellently. He’s full of problems, riddled with mistakes, and that’s okay because American teenagers are angst and mistakes and they make mountains out of molehills. They’re not quite adults, but they desperately want to be treated like them and that shines through in every moment of Tom Holland’s performance.
He gets a pretty awesome villain as well, one that I think broke the Marvel problem to a degree. And let’s talk about the Marvel problem – thin villains, brewed like a weak tea
that’s there just because it’s required. Michael Keaton, however, is more than the sum of these formulaic parts and manages to be both menacing and genuine. These aren’t world-ending stakes that he plays with, Keaton’s interpretation of Adrian Toomes just wants to make money. He’s supporting his family and after being screwed over by the government in the fallout of the NY Incident in The Avengers. This guy is something different because he’s a dark Robin Hood, robbing the rich and vicious to fund his family and friends. He’s taking care of the little guy here, and he’s one of those little guys, but it has begun to go to his head. We aren’t dealing with Thanos, nothing like Tyler Durden or King Ghidorah, nothing that will have national or even global repercussions. Toomes is just screwing up Queens with alien weaponry, stolen and sold to get back at those who dropped him on the bottom in the first place.
The fact that these two can play such normal individuals in an abnormal world works like a charm, and while they are smarmy and quippy like Marvel heroes and villains tend to be the jokes are dialed back a bit here, allowing the story to come through more instead and this is relatively old-school for the studio. The jokes fly in a family-friendly mode for the most part, and even with the random porn joke it somehow works. Still less surprising than the masturbation joke from Guardians of the Galaxy.
Our supporting cast is interesting here. Marisa Tomei isn’t given much to do but they’ve drastically updated the Aunt May character with this incarnation, with her clearly more of a party child of the late 80’s/early 90’s instead of the old woman. The character gets younger with each incarnation but this is a welcome surprise as Peter really relies on her. He doesn’t get girls, so he asks Aunt May. He feels comfortable with her and the chemistry between the two works, despite it not getting much attention. The character of
Ned is an interesting one, given that he’s just a renamed Ganke, but he’s serviceable as the “best friend” archetype. Laura Harrier is fine as Liz Allan, not many issues there, and rounding out that supporting cast is Zendaya as Michelle, who just seems to be enjoying herself in the role of “fun weirdo”. There is, however, one awesome thing that we get and that is Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson. I was surprised to see him in this, given the traditional beefcake embodiment of the character, and I was even more shocked at his portrayal but it really works. This time around we’ve seen what really is a 2017 bully, a snide asshole who comes from money that picks on someone because they’re smarter than him. He calls Peter “Penis Parker”, he puts him on display and teases him, and these things don’t
ever cross into violence (Flash usually punches Peter at least once in these films) but it’s enough that it would really bother some kids. What really did it for me, though, is that Revolori’s character is a geek! He’s on the academic decathlon team with Liz, Ned, Michelle, and Peter and he’s a clever individual. He’s just not as smart as Peter and seems jealous of the praise the other boy gets, which helps make the bullying work. This was just a fully surprising and wonderful portrayal of the character, updated but still containing enough aspects that it works.
So now we have to talk about the issues and I have to continue a rant I’ve been on for years. Michael Giacchino is, to me, one of the worst composers working in the industry today and I cringe at the mere mention of him scoring something I want to see. He’s derivative, he’s lazy, and he’s most interesting when he’s just using someone else’s work instead of creating his own. I don’t enjoy his puns, I don’t enjoy his silliness, because it all comes off as egotistical and frustrating because of how lazy his music is. I get it, the score for The Incredibles was dope, but that was ages ago and he needs to do something interesting again. This score is bland, forgettable, lazy, and just choppy. It’s better than what he did for Doctor Strange, but not by much. I really can’t stand him and was devastated that he took over Rogue One from Alexandre Desplat but…oh well, what can you do, you know?
There are other issues – cheesy moments, an instance of hammy voiceover that is rough to get through, and a couple of one-liners that don’t work, but for the most part the film is great. The frustrating thing is that, in a film so close to being incredible, these moments (and that awful score) stand out as glaring problems in an otherwise great film. I actually can’t wait for the fanedits on this one because some of that will be super-easy to fix with a quick polish.
Issues aside this really was the most fun I’ve had at a Marvel film in awhile. I loved Cap 3, but Cap 2 was better and this is probably the best movie they’ve had since that. I got excited about Spider-man again, something that hasn’t happened for me since 2004 when I got to see Alfred Molina’s wonderful Doctor Octopus onscreen for the first time. I spent most of this movie laughing, tense in my seat at parts, and really just enjoying a superhero film in a way I haven’t for a long time. Despite having small problems, Marvel delivers us a Spider-man we’ve been wanting for years and it’s a great portrayal of the character in a new world. I’ve no doubt Sony will botch it (they’re already trying, it seems), but until they do let’s just enjoy this, yeah?