Since I watched Spider Man: Homecoming, The Amazing Spider Man 2 has been on heavy rotation on TBS, and I’ve caught a few sequences over the past few days – enough to remind me how mediocre it was – indeed, some parts just descend into outright awfulness. I was never a fan of Andrew Garfield’s two movies – the first one was serviceable, but I joined the naysayers because of the rebooted origin. If there’s anyone alive who knows the character, they already have the origin story down. Dressing it up a little differently and adding a veneer or familial mystery didn’t disguise the fact it was a stupid idea to essentially reboot the character as if the Raimi movies never happened. At the very least, this is what Spider Man: Homecoming gets right.
Amazing 2 suffered from the exact same problems as Spider Man 3 – too many characters, too many villains, not enough characterization, and an unfocused plot. All ingredients that add up to a real mess. It’s no surprise that the movie was written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, two of the biggest writing hacks in Hollywood. Kurtzman’s most recent creatively bankrupt project is The Mummy, which could very well have killed off Universal’s proposed interconnected “Dark Universe” of lite-horror. When it was announced that Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures had reached a rights-sharing deal to fold the character into the cinematic Marvel Universe, it was done correctly. Spider Man’s inclusion in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War was a genius move – introducing the new Peter Parker (British actor Tom Holland, who resembles Jamie Bell) in such a huge, ensemble cast primed the audience perfectly for the character’s return in a solo franchise. In fact, if Marvel somehow can get the same deal out of Fox for the Fantastic Four property, this is probably the only way that franchise could ever survive, so badly it’s been handled over the years.
With memories of Spider Man’s breezy and exciting appearance in Civil War still fresh in audience minds, the fast tracking of Homecoming was also a smart decision, and it pays off. So too was the decision to cast Holland who – unlike Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield – still looks like he’s a high schooler. I’ll get it out of the way first – he’s the best thing about the movie. I’m waaaaay past my teenage years, and I never attended an American high school, but I’ve seen enough movies and tv set in that environment to compare it against, and I liked it. Let’s face it, when high school is depicted in media, it’s overwhelmingly stuffed with teenage drama and angst and while that is a huge part of these formative years, it isn’t the only part. I’m probably not alone when I say that my high school (it’s referred to as “Secondary School” in the UK) years were some of the most fun of my life. I found it particularly refreshing that I didn’t have to sit through another boring sequence where Peter is bullied by the jocks, by now a cliché as old as the hills (I hope you liked the irony of that). I didn’t particularly like the updating of Flash, but glad the writers (good grief, look at this list: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers) gave the character a brain and personality this time around. As far as Flash goes, the entire high school supporting cast didn’t thrill me too much, but I liked the diversity just fine. I felt there were too many, and they weren’t written all that strong. Combined, in small doses, they work. These scenes, and the end credit roll, both suggested to me a strong influence from Deadpool, take away the bad language in that movie, and you have essentially a juvenile comedy. There were many times when the movie reminded me of Deadpool, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Rounding out the cast to varying degrees of personal enjoyment are RDJ as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, and Jon Favreau returning as Happy Hogan. There’s a surprise (returning) Marvel Universe cast member that I enjoyed, but it’s little more than a cameo role. In terms of how their characters affect the plot, Downey Jr’s exerts a strong influence but his appearances do not overpower, nor do they seem like showboating – actually, I found that Stark’s appearance in the movie is almost necessary, for a number of important reasons. Favreau provides some comic relief, but it was nice to see him back. Tomei, though – I felt she got a raw deal, and that’s because her casting as May was a spectacularly great decision. I loved the dynamic she had with Holland, and indeed, there’s enough of her in the movie that showcases a fun, youthful character that can really add to the franchise. I wanted to see a LOT more of her, and hopefully in the next movie she gets a much bigger role. In some ways, her role in a sequel should be as important as Downey Jr’s was in this movie.
And then there’s Michael Keaton, who’s undergoing a critical and commercial renaissance. Cast as Adrian Toomes, he’s written with a greater amount of depth than the average superhero movie villain, but for me, like Tomei, I wanted to see him more. Every time he appears onscreen, he just adds more to the story. Much has been made of his blue collar, everyman character – but it didn’t ring true to me, I have to say. The movie opens with a scene that takes place immediately following the events of the first Avengers movie, where Keaton’s cleanup crew have been given the contract to haul away the destruction caused by the fight with the Chitauri and Loki, but then it gets pulled out from under them by a new government agency. Toomes’s anger and frustration is handled well, and I liked that he turned those feelings into a money making scheme, but I always felt there was a phoniness, a disingenuousness to the character that should have been called out by Spider Man after the one key reveal in the story. It would have added some more depth to a character that’s still pretty well written, and very well acted.
Things that didn’t really pop for me include the high school characters I mentioned before, and also the weary old plot device of someone finding out Spider Man’s secret identity. In Homecoming, it happens three times – adding to Stark and Hogan, who already know it. It’s mostly played for laughs, and also works in the more dramatic scenes (one in particular is really well done, I thought), but by the end of the movie I was thinking, “Come on, can’t we just have a Spider Man movie where nobody knows his true identity?” I don’t think it’s too much to ask, and I’m just not sure where the dramatic need comes from in every movie.
I also thought the story was a little less interesting than I expected. The high school scenes are light, but I felt there was too many of them, but that’s probably because I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters, and while the action is a lot less busier than the two Garfield ADD CGI-heavy sequences, it comes off as being hard to follow visually at times – for me, anyway. The biggest drawback to the story was (and again, this is just my own bias) the Stark-designed costume. It’s way too powerful, and I hope it’s something that gets ditched in the next movie. I did find it particularly ironic that Stark says, in the movie’s “teaching moment” that if Peter is nothing without the suit, he didn’t deserve the suit to begin with. It’s ironic here because while the sentiment is spot on, it would ring truer if the suit didn’t have so many bells and whistles, because theoretically they make the job of being Spider Man easier than it would be otherwise. Does Spider Man really need a drone, hundreds of different web shooting choices, an onboard Alexa/Siri/Cortana? I don’t think so – even if the features are mostly only mined for comic relief.
Overall, though, I enjoyed it. Enough to say it’s definitely the best Spider Man movie since Spider Man 2, and that I really like Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. But in terms of story, it once again feels a little generic, which is, unfortunately, a Marvel Studios trademark more often than not. Still, I thought it was miles ahead of Wonder Woman in terms of how much I enjoyed it, and I’m already looking forward to the character’s next cinematic appearance, which is likely to be in Avengers: Infinity War, out in 2018.
© Andrew Hope, 2017