Friday, July 7, 2017


Opening this weekend:

Spider-Man: Homecoming--The latest Marvel feature depicts the "Web-Head" still in high school in Queens. Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) has taken part in one quick adventure with The Avengers, which we saw in last year's Captain America: Civil Wars, and now has an "internship" with Stark Industries.

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) clearly sees that Peter is a good kid with superhero potential, but also that he's impetuous, impulsive, reckless, in short, a teenager. He hasn't yet internalized the lesson that with great power comes...well, you know.

So Stark gives Peter a high-tech, interactive Spidey suit to replace the homemade costume he's been wearing, but encourages him to remain a "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" for the time being, rather than a full-fledged Avenger. Peter makes a pest of himself to Stark and his employees, but he also stumbles across a genuinely world-threatening criminal enterprise right in his own back yard, involving the sale of alien technology. Plus, there's the matter of his schoolwork, and the Academic Decathlon team, and the girl he has a crush on.

What ensues is a lively, fast-moving hybrid of superhero action saga and teenage angst comedy. The two tones don't always gel perfectly, but this slight unevenness only adds to the film's loose, free-swinging feel. After several years of curmudgeonly grumbling about turgid, apocalyptic, buildings-crumbling-to-rubble superhero flicks, I'm glad to admit that I've wholeheartedly enjoyed the last three big releases in that line: Dr. Strange, DC's Wonder Woman, and this one.

Director Jon Watts, working from a script by a gaggle including Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, serves up some memorable grand-scale set-pieces, among them one at the Washington Monument and one on the Staten Island Ferry, that feel epic without losing a sense of playful, colorful wit. And the cast is good company.

Holland hits the right note as Peter, callow and heartfelt but light-footed. Downey has played a beleaguered, glamorous father figure already, opposite Anton Yelchin in  2007's Charlie Bartlett; he did it beautifully then, and he does it beautifully here. Zendaya only gets a little to do as Peter's socially conscious classmate, but she's set up nicely for future films. And Marisa Tomei is charmingly showcased as Aunt May, re-conceived as a sexy young "cool" Aunt.

But the real reason that even somebody who wasn't particularly a fan of this sort of thing might consider Spider-Man: Homecoming is Michael Keaton. Returning to comic book movies 28 years after Batman, he brings real bite and originality to the role of Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture, a startlingly no-nonsense, blue-collar mastermind who seems almost sheepish about the trappings of supervilliany. 

Keaton plays the role quietly, with no zany, over-the-top antics, but with a clear-eyed intelligence and directness that makes his menace unusually authoritative. When he levels a threat, he isn't gloating or grandstanding; he honestly wants Spider-Man to back off, but you never doubt that it's a final warning. He makes pragmatism and sanity scary.

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