Swinging Into Action This Summer
After the battle of New York depicted in The Avengers, demolition contractor Adrian Toomes [Keaton] invests a great deal of money to restore the city to a working state. Thanks to Tony Stark [Downey Jnr] “giving back to the people,” Toomes loses his contract when a private company turn up to safely dispose of the debris. Bitter about being shunned and losing out when the men he’s hired need work the most, Toomes decides to establish an illegal organisation, salvaging elements from various superhero battles and repurposing them to be sold on the black market. Several years later, we are given a brief re-treading of the events of Captain America: Civil War from Peter Parker’s [Holland] aka Spider-Man’s perspective, before detailing the life and exploits of the frustrated teenager who wants nothing more than to help people and impress his idol Tony Stark. Despite operating under the radar for so long, Peter stumbles across Toomes’ operation when more and more elaborate tools and weapons make their way to his neighbourhood and the two find themselves becoming entangled in each other’s affairs.
Much like Spider-Man 2, one of the huge contributory factors to this film’s success is the strength of the lead hero and villain. On the one hand, we finally have a great Peter Parker/Spidey combo performance that embodies not only the core values and principles of the character but genuinely feels like pretty much every iteration in the comics boiled down to one compelling portrayal. Altruistic, honourable and ultimately very real, there’s something relatable to this young man’s struggle but most importantly the film doesn’t forget that Parker is essentially still a boy and showing him weak, afraid and emotionally vulnerable was an incredibly wise move. Additionally, having the good sense to step away from the origin and regurgitate lines about “great power and great responsibility,” also frees up a lot of time to actually explore this individual as a human being rather than a list of powers or rehash of old territory. On the other side we have a truly threatening and interesting villain, who is equally strangely relatable, in the form of Toomes/the Vulture. Keaton perfectly draws on a sense of embittered abandonment that many people have felt over the last decade, left behind by governments, society and in this case, heroes. One of Marvel’s greatest drawbacks is the lack of development and disposability of its villains but Keaton brings a malevolence and self-deceit that combines to create some sort of justification for his actions. We also have a handful of really funny grab-bag fellow classmates that feel real to the extent that we’re not utterly traumatised by the bullying nor frowning at the apparent age issues of people pushing thirty acting half their age. I’d say Aunt May could have had a bit more of a presence but this version is far from poor, if anything I’ve never liked the idea that a fifteen year old’s aunt needs to be well into her 80’s and a frail physical manifestation of the bloody 1950s. Having said that, she’s still underused. Last thing I’ll say is that Tony Stark is the fucking worst. Setting aside how cool it is that Spider-Man featured in Civil War, a fifty year old man recruiting a teenager to a fight is frankly insane and then to go one step further and force lessons on him like an absentee father is astonishing. I mean, the film openly acknowledges that Stark has no idea how to be a parent or mentor and defaults to acting like his own father, not to mention Peter actively saying nothing bad would have happened if Stark had just listened to him in the first place (a staple of all decent kid/teenager stories)… but still, more evidence is a spoilt man-baby and terrible human being. One last point about the characters before moving on, I get the feeling this series will make the same mistake of having so many people knowing or discovering Peter’s secret identity. No matter how clever, it weakens the point of the secret identity in the first place but that remains to be seen.
The first and most noticeable difference between this film and other Spider-Man films – even other Marvel films – is the tone. After over a decade of dark and gritty post-9/11 releases we’re getting back to the stage where these stories can have a serious focus but still feel quintessentially bright and fun. More so than that, there is a distinct separation from the other Marvel films by keeping the narrative centred on the life and priorities of a child. As with the comics, so many kids watch these superhero films and think, “I want to be like Thor or Batman” but Spider-Man has the unique ability to prompt kids to think, “That is me!” in a Harry Potter sort of way. Subsequently what we end up with is a refreshingly kid/family friendly film with legitimate street-level superhero antics that doesn’t talk down to kids or ostracise adults. The best embodiment of this John Hughes-esque attitude is when Spider-Man interrogates a criminal, played by Donald Glover, which illustrates the teen’s innocence, naivety and eagerness to prove himself.
One can’t watch contemporary franchise features without questioning or at least addressing the big picture; in this case, the MCU at large. Much like Ant-Man this film exists on the peripheral to the main releases without being so far disconnected that it feels like the various TV series. This affords it the opportunity to revel in a very different setting with very different stakes. For an audience, this is the breath of fresh air or palate cleanser that one needs amid the heady galactic escapades and dour political machinations of the other stories but Sony’s track record and ridiculous plans thus far feel like this could be a great launch that continually flounders without the heavy guiding hand of Marvel. Hopefully that won’t be the case and the established foundations will be enough to build an exciting set of releases around but with the film closing on dialogue about groups of villains teaming up to combat the menace of Spider-Man, it would be all too easy to fall into old habits.
Initially I walked out of the cinema feeling like this was a 3/5 due to some glaring issue that I couldn’t quite put my finger on; the story was good, the acting was great, the technical aspects were more than competent. I wrestled with what it might be before realising that the biggest problems are things that the narrative isn’t directly responsible for; specifically the spoiler-happy marketing and the weight of the Spider-Man movies that came before it. Marketing is and has always been an unfortunate necessity and it seems the more prominent a release, the lazier and safer the marketing becomes. This means the trailers give away all the key developments and the best shots while the posters are insultingly poor collages of brandable material without any consideration for composition, pleasing aesthetic or creativity. But again, that’s not the fault of the film. There’s also the fact that this is the sixth Spider-Man feature released in this century and so much has been covered that whenever things deviate or feel missing they become irksome. No mention of the words “Uncle Ben,” no Daily Bugle, no Gwen Stacey or Mary Jane Watson, some will like this version of May, some won’t. What we end up with is the X-Men problem. There have been so many little changes and variations over the years that you can’t help but feel something is missing or at least sense a distraction; key components that worked better in previous releases or are improved upon here. But once again, that’s not the fault of the film. All in all, this is a great release and a very enjoyable superhero adventure that fills the gap left in a lot of contemporary superhero films, i.e. patrolling the streets and saving people. Where the franchise goes from here, who knows but as it stands, fans will be hard-pressed to slate this film.. although, admittedly, they’ve had more than enough chances to get it right so that’s not really saying much.
7th July 2017
The Scene To Look Out For:
Not since 2002’s Spider-Man have we seen a Spider-Man film about the titular character continuously having fun with his self-imposed calling. The best example of this takes place in the early scenes which detail Peter’s extracurricular stint performing services for the citizens of his borough. He zips around the city stopping petty criminal acts but the most amusing part is when he interrupts a carjacking, setting off the car’s alarm. Before leaving the individual explains that it’s his car and Peter nervously apologises but is suddenly beset by several neighbours who chastise the hero for various reasons, reiterating that the individual owns the car. It’s chaotic, funny and very indicative of city life which has been missing from these films.
Peter’s suit having unlockable abilities made a great deal of sense and was used wonderfully. One of the key components to this is the introduction of KAREN, a JARVIS-esque artificial intelligence that adds a lot of levity and gives someone for Peter to quip to and talk about his problems with, without resorting to excessive monologuing or an unnecessarily sprawling wave of confidents. The hiring of Jennifer Connelly, the wife of the voice of the voice of JARVIS was also particularly amusing and logical; not to mention the fact that Connelly gives a wonderful rendition of such a simplistic role.
“Thank you Captain. I’m pretty sure he’s a war criminal now.. but whatever, the state says I have to show you these videos”
In A Few Words:
“A fun, breezy feature that finally gives younger generations a hero they can genuinely relate to as well as aspire to”
Total Score: 4/5