Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

When I heard “Spider-Man: Homecoming” being span as a John Hughes-esque dramedy, I took it the same way I took “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” being span as a political thriller, “Ant-Man” a heist thriller, or, god forbid, “Captain America: Civil War” as a psychological thriller (which the directors quite literally described it as). Which is to say, I didn’t take it seriously in the slightest, and just took it as another insecure attempt to legitimise a genre that doesn’t need legitimising (clearly it connects with audiences), to coast off the goodwill of a genre viewers see as more “mature”, and to validate an experience I assume viewers recognise it at some level fundamentally juvenile.

It’s like how acclaimed horror movies often get reframed as thrillers, in some sort of maddening attempt to divorce them from their actual genre and give them some misguided concept of legitimacy from another. Superhero movies are superhero movies. When they embrace this fact, they can do incredible things, and more holistically actually adapt components of other genres instead of just aping them in the marketing phase (Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are superhero movies, but feature actual usage of elements from other genres, compared to the Captain America movies, whose cribbing of other genres is confined solely to their marketing).

So this all led to me not taking much of the marketing around “Spider-Man: Homecoming” too seriously. And lo and behold, it was a superhero movie, an action blockbuster peppered with quips, just like all the other efforts in this series. But comedy was baked into it in a level deeper than just endless snarky dialogue (it had plenty of that, but the dynamics of the movie felt actually set up for more natural comedy as well). It didn’t live up to its very specific, tailored hype, but it was an enjoyable movie in its own right.

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Tom Holland makes for a likable, funny Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and surrounding him with characters ostensibly of his own age worked well. When the movie would breathe a little and actually embrace its school moments, it all worked very entertainingly, and as much as a unique vision that could come of a third Spider-Man in so few years peeked through. Small touches like the casting of the bully Flash as a nerd instead of a jock were funny, and worked well.

Deploying Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture also worked disarmingly well, of course eventually the movie didn’t know quite what to do with a villain with such relatable and well-reasoned goals (”Captain America: Civil War” had that exact same issue, it seems whenever this series finally gets a strong villain working, they don’t know what to do with them at the ending of their films, perhaps due to the endless nature of the series).

Only one moment of the film properly frustrated me, and it made me feel duped, and like the impact of an earlier film in the series was retroactively robbed. A surprise cameo near the end of the film makes all the pathos evoked in an earlier film seem silly and just a product of the series’ constant stalling and reshuffling of actors and plot points to churn out and endless series of ever-escalating stories. Is Robert Downey Jr actually playing a character, or just deploying a precise amount of snark and worldbuilding points to sell future films? Why should I ever get invested in any of these characters or stories if they’ll just always be treated like chess pieces to move around to set-up more and more stories in the future? Perhaps a later film will develop that moment of the movie more and soften my feelings on it, but that’s the entire point that’s so frustrating, I’ll have to see that later movie to find out, and on and on it goes.

It’s certainly nowhere near as good a film as Sam Raimi’s brilliant, heartfelt Spider-Man films, but it’s a great deal more enjoyable than other films in this series, and a proper good time on its own terms. I give it three spider-drones, and a webshooter.

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