Film Review: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (USA 2017) ***

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spiderman homecomingFollowing the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Peter Parker attempts to balance his life in high school with his career as the web-slinging superhero Spider-Man.

Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Jonathan Goldstein (screenplay), John Francis Daley (screenplay)
Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow

Review by Gilbert Seah

The second re-boot of SPIDER-MAN arrives with all the hype and with it fear that the new look would result in a film as disastrous as the D.C. extended universe films MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN or SUICIDE SQUAD. Thankfully, the new Marvel Cinematic Universe SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING is not so bad and promises a much better sequel in the making.

The film opens with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) arriving with all his super spider powers intact. Instead of learning to control his new found powers, Parker has to learn how to be Spider-Man. He has arrived several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and subject to the help of his mentor Tony Stark aka IRONMAN (Robert Downey Jr.), learns to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens, New York City with fighting crime.
The villain of the piece is introduced at the start of the film as an enterprising business man, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Forced out of his business by the big boys, Toomes ends up taking revenge on the city by turning himself into the Vulture that eventually battles Spidey. Keaton is exceptionally cynical in his role, the only problem arising is that Toomes is so victimized that one cannot help but root for this poor victim. At one point in the film, Toomes is so convincing in naming Stark Enterprises as the villain that one cannot help but almost believe him. The Vulture’s costume looks too much like Keaton’s Birdman’s outfit, as if reminding the audience of his Best Actor Oscar nominated role.

The climatic battle between the Vulture and Spidey looks too one sided, on the side of the Vulture who seems imminent to win the battle but of course wouldn’t. When Toomes finally ends up beaten, it seems quite unbelievable.

Despite being an action film, the film’s best moments are the interrogation scenes – one where Toomes questions Parker in the car and reveals that he is aware of Parker’s secret identity. The other is Spider-Man questioning one of the crooks regarding Toomes’ activities. Both segments expertly balance humour and surprise while displaying good dialogue expected from the team of the film’s 6 writers.

HOMECOMING is the lightest and goofiest of all the SPIDER-MAN films. But one will eventually get annoyed at Spider-Man’s inability to fight his opponents properly before gaining control of his suit. Instead of learning to use his super powers, Spidey has to learn to use Stark Enterprises’ new Spider-Man suit. In one action set-up, Spider-Man is constantly bungling and falling around learning how to use his suit in extended power mode.

The film features an eclectic cast that carries it out a bit too far. Spidey’s love interest Liz is played by African American, Laura Harrier. His school principal is played by Korean Kenneth Choi and his best friend, Ned by Filipino Jacob Batalon. Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson: Peter’s rival and classmate is latino. The script invests a bit too much time in Ned’s character, his repeated remarks on Spider-Man often ending up more annoying than funny. He is at least given something to do (computer hacking) in the story. The film feels like a teen movie with the humour and high school setting. But one can notice that all the high school kids are performed by actors over 21, Holland included (at 22 playing a 15-year old). The film is not without teen dick jokes (Flash’s song as a d.j.) and the ending song with the lyrics sounding like the ‘f’ word.

It is surprising that director Watts has ended up making more an action comedy than an action hero movie. Watts made two serious films, the thriller COP CAR and the horror chiller CLOWN prior to this. But better funny than too serious. Look what happened to the James Bond and the Planet of the Apes films?

With all the goofiness and Spidey’s learning curve out of the way in this re-boot, the sequel should promise a more mature Spider-Man and hopefully a more mature action film as well – with a better balance between action and humour.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0D3AOldjMU

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