Local Boy Makes Good Hero

6 Jul

Movie-watchers got their first look at Tom Holland in the Spider-suit last year, when the erstwhile Peter Parker was recruited by mentor Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) to help him in the fight against Captain America, et al. in Captain America: Civil War. Holland was such a blast of energy in the role that he practically stole the film right out from under stars Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans.

Now, Holland gets his own stand-alone Spider-Man film in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and shows that the inflated cameo was no fluke. This Spider-Man is the one we’ve been waiting for. Or, you might say, third time’s the charm.

Yes, Holland (who made a memorable impression in The Impossible) is the third actor to play Spider-Man in 15 years, following Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. But he’s the first to play him not as angsty and morose, with the weight and responsibility of his Uncle Ben’s death on his shoulders, but as a John Hughes–esque teenager overcome with excitement and possibility. And he’s the first of the Spideys to be part of the extended Marvel Cinematic Universe. And oh boy, is he.

(For the record, I enjoyed the first Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movie.)

Rather than telling the Spidey origin story again, Homecoming picks up right in the middle of the action. Right in the middle of Civil War, to be specific — except this time, we get to watch the action from Parker’s POV. And when Stark drops Parker off after their trip to Berlin, telling him, essentially, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” Parker is left to bide his time being what he really is: a high school sophomore in Queens — one with more down-to-earth challenges like Spanish tests and chemistry classes, and a secret crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), his senior teammate on the school’s Academic Decathlon team.

Yes, even though “Underoos” (as Stark called him) was an important part of the Avengers battle royale in Civil War, in this movie, he’s just a 15-year-old kid still adjusting to his new superpowers. So he seizes every opportunity to serve as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man: stopping bike thieves, giving out street directions, and rescuing the local bodega owner after a bank robbery gone wrong. Meanwhile, his friends and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, definitely not the grandmother type we’re used to seeing in this role) think he’s been spending all his spare time at a super-important “Stark Internship.”

And every day, Parker leaves voicemail messages for Stark’s assistant, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), begging for another chance at the big leagues, but he gets no response. Harumph.

Parker isn’t the only one frustrated by Stark: So is Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a New York City salvage contractor. Eight years ago, Toomes and his crew were hired to clean up the mess left after the Chitauri invasion in the first Avengers movie. (The timeline is a little off, given that Avengers only hit theaters five years ago, but just go with it.) But then Stark decided he was gonna handle cleanup himself, and, well, Toomes got pissed. Flash forward to today and Toomes has used some of the alien artifacts he snatched from the disaster site to turn himself into a flying menace named Vulture, and to create a bit of a side-hustle as a weapons distributor for wannabe supervillains and other amateurs (including one you might recognize).

Toomes doesn’t feel like as much of a threat as, say, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin or Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock did, but that’s alright. Keaton’s bad guy isn’t after much more than what he’s owed for the job he was hired to do, and he resents that now another superhero, Spider-Man, is getting in the way. But the parallel of having Stark be central to both men’s identities makes him an almost perfect foil for Holland’s Spider-Man, who is just starting to come into his own as a superhero.

(It should be noted, by the way, that thankfully, this movie isn’t Iron Man 4: The Next Generation. Downey Jr.’s presence is in it a lot more than he is.)

If you can’t tell from the description, Homecoming is, essentially, a movie about a superhero growing up, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Director Jon Watts and his five co-writers have packed the screenplay to the gills with laughs and gags (including multiple cameos by another member of the Avengers), and they’ve cast the perfect actor for the role. Holland may be 21 years old, but he makes a convincing 15-year-old.

In addition, Holland’s prior experience and training as a gymnast (and star of the stage production of Billy Elliot) makes him more physically convincing too. This Spider-Man is fast-moving and fast-thinking in a fight, and full of snappy quips in and out of costume. Holland’s enthusiastic performance, and his character’s dorky excitement about his superpowers and his famous friends, is nothing short of infectious.

Homecoming does have its serious side — scenes involving the Washington Monument and Staten Island Ferry are particularly tense — but it’s at its best when it’s just Spidey being Spidey, and a celebration of the fun that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unlike those glum DC Comics movies (yes, even the Christopher Nolan Batman ones), Marvel has always known how to make movies that blend humor and high stakes, and this one is no exception.

It’s truly super, and one of the best times you’ll have at the movies this summer.

I’m giving Spider-Man: Homecoming an A–.

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One Response to “Local Boy Makes Good Hero”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The 2017 Happiness Project | Martin's Musings - July 6, 2017

    […] 5 Today I finished writing my fourth new blog post in a week and queued it up for publishing tomorrow morning. That makes five posts in seven days […]

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