Saturday 8 July 2017

Spider-Man - Homecoming

Fifty Shades Parker

Spider-Man - Homecoming
2017 USA Directed by Jon Watts 
UK cinema release print.

One of the things they’ve managed to do in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), in the nine years since it’s been going in the current incarnation of it, is to take some second tier Marvel characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Ant-Man and Thor and do something truly wonderful with them in their cinematic incarnations that, as far as the other non-MCU franchises go, they have emerged triumphant and very much become the first tier characters that they never quite managed to be in the comic books... outshining the majority of the films produced from genuine top tier characters like Spider-Man and The X-Men.

However, when they made a deal for the movie rights to the Spider-Man character so they can use him in conjunction with another company and bring him into the MCU proper... well, they made a real good go of it with his debut appearance in Captain America - Civil War (reviewed here) and one of the positive things I’ll say about both that movie and this one, Spider-Man - Homecoming, is that they have managed to take a character who has already headlined, in different incarnations, a number of big budget theatrical releases and still find a way to breathe new life into the character. Although you’ve seen it all before in terms of the Spider-Man character... you also haven’t, in that they manage to side step the strengths and weaknesses of previous versions and change things up enough that the character feels like a new MCU character. Rather than, say, a stray from another movie.

What this means, though, is that a lot of the things that people loved about the original comics are thrown out with the radioactive bathwater and I think some audience members, myself included to a certain degree, might find it a bit of a shame. I’ve only ever read the first hundred or so issues of the original comic myself but what I’m trying to say here is, if you are looking for a version of the character which finally matches the way he and his supporting cast are in the comic books then look no further than... the 1967 animated TV show because, honestly, that’s probably the closest thing you’ll find. So all of you classic spider-fans are forewarned... this isn’t like the version you remember from the comics.

For instance, the character’s Spider sense isn’t mentioned once here and seems to have been replaced by the voice of Jennifer Connelly as his ‘in suit’ computer on the costume which Tony Stark has manufactured for him. Which has a nice continuity in some ways because Connelly is married to Paul Betany who played the voice of Jarvis in the original Iron Man suit before he was ‘evolved’ into the live-action character of The Vision in Avengers - Age Of Ultron (reviewed here).

So yeah, there are some things which I feel are mis-steps in the new film. Mainly in the casting and characterisations.

For example, we finally have a version of Betty Brant in this version but, instead of looking like the character should look (done so well but without the star billing that Peter Parker’s original love interest should have had in what amounted to cameos in the Sam Raimi versions), she is way too young and has blonde hair instead of her classic look. Flash Thompson, instead of looking like his namesake Flash Gordon looks anything but and Pete’s other love interest from the early days, Liz Allen, rather than being the drop dead blonde from the comics, is 'beyond brunette'. In fact, I’m not sure that even was supposed to be Liz Allen because of the ‘thing’ which comes to light later on in the movie which, I surely won’t spoil for you here. As for MJ? Well here’s she’s not a Mary at all... instead she's Michelle so... don’t know where their heading with that one. Face it tiger... we don’t know quite where that jackpot is coming from as yet. So it’s all a bit of a mess although, it has to be said, the actors and actresses involved in bringing them to life here are all pretty likeable and watchable... so there’s that.

Tom Holland is pretty cool in the role, doing what he’s doing and, so is Jacob Batalon as his best friend Ned. Then there’s the usual MCU characters creeping in here who really work well with Holland’s portrayal, including the always watchable Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark and his former Iron Man director Jon Favreau reprising his Happy Hogan role. There’s also a great little cameo near the end of the movie by someone who I really didn’t think we’d be seeing return to the MCU franchise and that was a great little moment but... again, won’t mention who that is because I don’t want to spoil it.

So there’s all that and, of course, we have the truly brilliant Michael Keaton playing The Vulture as the main bad guy in this one. Now, this version of the character is, again, nothing like the one who made his debut in the pages of the third issue of Spider-Man’s comic book history, The Amazing Spider-Man Issue 2 from 1963... but the spirit of the character is in tact to a certain extent, although Keaton manages to play him with a lot more sympathy and I was really pleased that Marvel have continued with their uncanny knack for casting just the right people for the right roles because, as you’d expect from Keaton, his performance here is amazing. Especially in a certain scene in a car journey when a certain penny finally drops (aided by a nice moment in the way his face is lit) and you can see the wheels turning in his mind.

The film is a real hoot too. It’s crackingly paced, whizzing by very fast so that you won’t necessarily have time to catch your breath and notice certain weaker points of the film like how it fits into the timeline of the current crop of Marvel movies...

It starts off extremely strongly with a pre-credits sequence showing why Keaton’s version of Adrian Toomes decided to become The Vulture and it’s a sequence starting off in the wake of the big alien battle at the end of the first Avengers movie (which I reviewed here). It also has Tyne Daley (Yeah, that’s Lacey from Cagney And Lacey right there!) as the comic book character Ms. Anne Marie Hoag in a nice moment where the Marvel movies finally acknowledge the existence of Damage Control, the people who clean up after various superheroes have wrecked the place in their battles and who have turned up in a number of comic book series' over the years. We then come to one of those other kinds of problems I alluded to a couple of paragraphs ago in that the rest of the pre-credits... and the movie proper...  takes place eight years on from the events at the end of that first Avengers movie. So you do the maths then. The first Avengers movie came out and was, presumably, set in 2012... that’s only five years ago in reality, right? So why the heck they chose to set this film (and presumably Captain America - Civil War) in the year 2020 is beyond me. Especially since it has a major ‘this doesn't make any sense’ knock on effect in terms of the other movies in the series.

However, like I said, it’s not the kind of movie you’re going to enjoy if you get mired in both expertise in adaptation and continuity logic. Let’s forgive it for now and move on...

The film continues to open strongly post credits with a big excerpt from Peter Parker’s video diary as an alternate, ‘first person’ version of his involvement of the events in Captain America - Civil War and we take that as our starting point for a movie which continues to be strong and totally entertaining all the way through. It sets the tone nicely and gives the title character a good starting point to launch and swing into action from and it’s truly a nice and unexpected touch. There’s also another little unexpected thing later on in the film which I really should have seen coming but I didn’t. This seems to be a bit of a rare year for movies taking me by surprise, it seems, what with the awesome Wonder Woman (reviewed here) also managing to pull the rug from under me (for the most part). It has to be said that the thing I wasn’t expecting here, which I have alluded to twice already (hopefully without potential ‘blind’ audience members noticing it) relies on the kind of silly, clichéd movie continuity that you would almost always only find in a Hollywood movie but.. that’s okay too. I don’t mind being fooled by these things every now and again... love it, in fact. Even though I was particularly dense on this one.

Another great strength of the movie is that it doesn’t feel like the MCU have just borrowed the character to plug into their own movie and are now returning the favour. This film is completely integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe like all the other films in that particular franchise and it doesn’t feel like any of the characters have been thoughtlessly added on. The various Avengers characters like the, kind of, appearance of Captain America (you saw some of that in the trailer for this movie so it’s not a spoiler) and the old Avengers tower and the new Avengers ‘mansion’ are all in here for a reason... well mostly... and feel like a natural element of the film and the story line/characterisation... so that’s pretty good. There’s also a major event that happens to Iron Man, in a way, which will obviously need to be alluded to in future Avengers movies, for sure.

And all of this is good stuff.

Another good thing is Michael Giacchino’s inclusion of a newly arranged version of the 1967 animated Spider-Man TV show theme tune which plays here over the Marvel logo at the start (it’s the version which you could see the recording session from in that video which surfaced on the internet a few months ago). As for the rest of the score... well I really like Giacchino but I was hoping he’d use that old theme throughout on this and I was having real trouble with the main Spider-Man theme here because it really sounded familiar from somewhere else... although I couldn’t quit place it. There are  few moments where he seems to be subtly referencing the old TV show theme here but, as far as I could hear, the pay off to that never materialised... at least not in the way I wanted it to. That being said, “as far as I could hear” is an apt comment, I feel, because this really was a movie where the score was maybe dialled down too much and wasn’t allowed to properly compete with the noisy, explosive action scenes when they were scored. So, yeah, looking forward to giving the CD a spin when it arrives so I can hear the score properly, to be honest.

And that’s that. The film is an absolute blast and, although it has an absolutely awful end credits animation which really seems to dumb down the characters completely in about as inappropriate a manner as you can imagine, Spider-Man - Homecoming is a really enjoyable piece of modern popcorn fodder and fans of the MCU films should like this one. There are two ‘post credits’ sequences for the film... one half way through which is actually quite relevant to the future of the Spider-Man movies, in one way or another, followed by one right at the end of the credits which is... completely irrelevant and which some people may well feel is not worth staying on for. Irrelevance aside, though, the movie gets a big recommendation from me... with the caveat that fans of the character as he appeared in the proper comics of the 1960s and early 1970s might have a hard time adapting to what Marvel have decided to do with him here. It is, however, a humdinger of a web spinner.

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