Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

3/4

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Jon Favreau

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence, Some Language and Brief Suggestive Comments

Those who know me know how utterly sick I am of superhero movies.  That's mainly because I find them so boring.  Not all (I liked the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies and "Wonder Woman" is easily the best movie of the summer...not like there's much competition), but most.  The wide majority of them are fan-only movies.  They're meant for the proud nerds who hang out in coffee shops, internet forums, and are as equally obsessed as Joss Whedon.  Movies like "Logan," "The Avengers" and "Thor: The Dark World" bank on Easter Eggs and comic book references for good writing and fan loyalty instead of good filmmaking.  That's all well and good for the die-hards, but it means boredom for people like me who aren't intimately familiar with superheroes (despite my best attempts).

This movie takes place shortly after the events of "Captain America: Civil War."  Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Holland) has tasted his first morsel of being an Avenger and is hungry for more.  But Tony Stark (Downey Jr). advises him to wait and cut his teeth more.  To satiate his appetite, Stark gives Peter a new high tech suit complete with a computer assistant (an uncredited Jennifer Connelly).  While foiling an ATM robbery, Peter finds himself up against some supernatural weapons.  He tries to get Stark's attention but he is rebuffed.  Now he's on his own to find Adrian Toomes (Keaton), who flies around in a winged suit.  All while trying to avoid Stark or his assistant, Happy Hogan (Favreau) from finding out.

In many ways, this is the best movie Marvel has had in a while.  It's bright, it's fun, it doesn't get bogged down in existential darkness (apologies to Christopher Nolan) and it doesn't overdo the fan service.  There is some, but it's well integrated (such as cameos at the end and a hilarious series of cheesy PSAs from Captain America).  While it's a little too long, it does contain something rare: action scenes that are actually exciting.  There are also times when the dialogue is too knowing or too ironic to be funny, but at the same time there are some amusing bits.

The performances are top-notch.  Tom Holland is a charming Peter Parker, easily better than Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield.  He's got the perfect mix of awkwardness, enthusiasm and drive to make him endearing.  He's instantly likable.  Robert Downey Jr. tones down the arrogance to make Stark a good mentor.  Michael Keaton, continuing his resurgence brought on by his Oscar nod for "Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" a few years ago, makes for a good villain, successfully navigating the campiness of Willem Dafoe in the original and the viciousness of any good movie baddie.  And Zendaya is an adorable everygirl.  She and Holland have good chemistry because the movie doesn't try to make either of them impossibly perfect.

And yet, I hesitate to recommend it outright.  Why, even after I gave it a positive, if not glowing, review despite my boredom with superhero oversaturation?  Because Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter's obligatory best friend Ned, is so annoying that he nearly tanks the film.  Overeager to the point of overbearing, obnoxious to the point of irritation and, worst, he has far too much screen time.  It's hard to imagine why Peter actually hangs around this walking zit.  Or why anyone had the utter stupidity to cast him in the role.  Even though he gets less irritating as the film goes on (primarily because he doesn't have a lot of screen time), his mere appearance is enough to cast a pall on the proceedings.  He approaches the level of Seth Rogen or Enid, and that's saying something.  And yes, Stan Lee continues to whore himself and his creations out to Hollywood and makes another irritating cameo, but that's to be expected in every Marvel movie.

Aside from the major fail of the year's most irritating character, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is a lot of fun.  Enough to stomach through the scenes with Ned.  Barely, but enough.

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