Badger The Witness — Spiderman: Homecoming

by Dan T. Badger

After several months of hype and buildup Spiderman: Homecoming hits the big  screen this week.  I took the young man to our local dinner and movie house.  We entered a packed nerdatorium and tried to find seats before the first trailers started.

If we didn’t get the last two seats, it was two of the last eight seats available.  The decent sized theater was packed with an even mix of hardcore Spider-Man fans and families there to enjoy the latest superhero movie.

The first trailer was for The Dark Tower.  Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, and what appears to be a reworking of the story from Stephen King’s seven volume work.   I will see this in the theater.  Those who wait for cable have forgotten the face of their father.

Next was another reboot.  This time it was Jumanji.  It appears to start out like the Breakfast Club and then switches over to some hilarious star studded jungle hi-jinks.  Mindless entertainment.  But it has The Rock and Jack Black, so it should be worth a viewing.

Then the main event started.  As always, I will keep this as spoiler free as possible.  The traditional Marvel Comics flash montage opened with a nice musical reference.  It was the first of many clues that this offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be filled with nods and winks to fans of all levels.

We meet the villain first.  If you don’t already know who it is, he has a penchant for playing people inspired by flying things.  He could be the best Spider-Man villain to date.  He creates sympathy for his plight and actions early on.  A hard working every-man who is nearly crushed by a big government bureaucracy.  The agency in question is actually based on one of Marvel Comics’ more questionable offerings from the 90’s (avoid the link if you don’t want a slight spoiler).

In a very Shakespearean manner, the villain is created or at least catalyzed by the actions of the big guns from the MCU.  If you watched the earlier Marvel movies, perhaps you wondered who was going to clean all this stuff up?   Or, perhaps you thought: all of the weaponry and equipment laying around after the battle looks dangerous.  The villain thought about that too,  and acted on those thoughts.  In doing so he became the best villain in the Spiderverse to date.

Part of it is the actor, but more of it is the way he shifts from sympathetic guy in a bad situation to full blown psychotic.  Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin was the best villain up until this one.  He was crazy and smart and amoral.  The Lizard from the Andrew Garfield series provided some good thrills and had an interesting back story.  Doctor Octopus was more pathetic than anything.  Green Goblin II was not very good.  Venom was bad.  Electro was a joke.  The Sandman was underused and married to that idiotic costume.  This latest villain tears things up.  He calculates.  He provides at least half a dozen jump in your seat moments when fighting Spiderman.

Which brings us to the title character.  Another example of this movie firing on all cylinders.   There is a too short sequence of Spider-Man being himself that would have kept me entertained for the whole running time.  He does funny stuff; he does stupid stuff; and he does teenager stuff.

In many ways, this film does a lot to show why the original 1960’s Spider-Man revolutionized comics and superheroes. He had problems.  He let people down.  He was afraid of girls.  He got bullied.  All of those things let the original fans and readers relate to him.

The 2017 film version takes the best of those flaws and traits, and mashes them up with revamps, reboots, and reworks that succeed. His secret identity is a thorn in his side.  His desire to prove himself motivates him and causes him problems.  The tweaks and changes made to his character and surroundings work well.  The creators take a lot of familiar names and transformed the characters.  Flash, Betty, Liz, and Ned all appear in nearly unrecognizable forms.  But they work.  This Peter Parker is exceptionally smart.  He goes to an elite school.  He knows the answers to tough academic questions.  Also, like a true nerd, he has a deep appreciation for Star Wars.  It is a pretty good laugh when that gets worked in to the story itself.  It is also fun to see because it shows Spider-Man as not only a member of the MCU, but a resident of a universe that shares a lot of our pop culture.  The title dance even has an 80’s theme.  Speaking of which, the musical soundtrack is better than most.  Big studio dollars allows for good music.   

Those studio dollars also allowed for a great cast of leads, supporting, and minor actors.  Robert Downey, Jr., Jon Favreau, Hannibal Burress, Bokeem Woodbine, Donald Glover, and quite a few others  make appearances that elicit reactions that range from hilarious to “was that who I thought it was?”

 

Even though Robert Downey, Jr. is in the movie, he doesn’t turn it into Iron Man IV.  He has enough minutes to keep it interesting without being too much.  Mainly here is there to facilitate the new way Spider-Man operates.  I for one enjoyed the new version.  Judging by the theater audience so did everyone else.  It should be appreciated by all but the die hard purists.

The story itself is entertaining.  Spider-Man/Peter Parker have to overcome the same type of problems.  They are trying to discover who they are and where they belong.  Both aspects of the character have to struggle with cliques, acceptance problems, and serious setbacks.  Spider-Man/Peter Parker deal with people who make it look easier than it is.  Both feel cast as fringe players looking in from the outside.

As these developments speed towards resolution, we get some nice contrast with the villain and his problems.  As the hero and the Bernie Sanders inspired villain (there’s a millionaires and billionaires speech) head towards the final faceoff it pays off well.  There’s at least one tremendous development that hits pretty hard and some excellent effects for the final smash up battle.

All in all this was a fun ride.  There are at least half dozen heart in the mouth moments.  The major characters and the minor ones have believable paths.  The story can exist on its own and also moves things further along in the MCU.  There are a couple of post credit scenes.  In keeping with the movie itself, there is one that pokes fun at post credit scenes and the MCU story so far.  Go see it.  It’s worth the money.