Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios 113 minutes PG-13
Is the third time a charm? This is the third time in the past 15 years the Spiderman franchise has received a re-boot and this may be the best of the lot. Spidey’s web sticks but the movie itself lags a bit in the middle. It comes back with a twist and a cool post credits scene worth waiting for.
Tom Holland is youthful, energetic and has good teen angst for the newly minted Spider Man. Cast at age 19, he is the youngest actor to be land the role. He is a gymnast and dancer who played the lead in Billy Elliott as a much younger kid. Holland plays a youthful superhero wannabe, who crawls on ceilings and does web slinging and swinging quite well. Watts does a pretty good job getting us in the middle of the action.
Peter is just back home with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) after his adventures with the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War. He’s still getting used to his new identity as Spiderman, under the watch of Iron Man, Tony Stark, (Robert Downey Jr.) Peter is a student recipient of a Stark Internship which is simply a cover for his training to be an Avenger.
Spidey’s vibe in this film takes us back to the original comic book feel for this character. Peter Parker was just a kid who was accidentally bitten by that radioactive spider. As opposed to Thor, who was a god, or Iron Man, who was a billionaire inventor, or Captain America, who was already a heroic soldier when he was frozen for 70 years. But there’s not much reference to the spider or the powers that he received as a result.
Tom Holland is from a creative British family. His Father’s a stand up comic and author, and his Mother is a photographer. He went undercover for the role at a high school in the Bronx, per Director Jon Watts’ orders, to find out what kids in a NYC high school were like. One kid figured out that he really wasn’t a high school kid. One girl asked him “What’s up with you, Dude?” and he whispered “I’m Spider-Man.” And she just rolled her eyes. More attitude.
The script strikes a fair balance. Eight writers, including Director Watts, worked on it together. Watts says it was a collaborative effort, all the way. There’s a satisfying mix of humor, satire, action, teen hormonal drive and peril. Watts auditioned a ton of kids and created roles for the most interesting rather than trying to fit the kid to a preconceived role. Zendaya is really known as a fashion plate/cover girl, but plays against type as Michelle. She’s messy and bookish carrying a stack of them hand-picked by the director, but has plenty of attitude. She goes to detention not because she’s supposed to, but because likes to see others suffer.
And there’s Peter’s best friend, Ned, played by Jacob Batalon. He is a big Avengers fan and is excited beyond belief when he realizes he is closer to the action than he bargained for. It’s somewhat refreshing but a little forced seeing how they interact and work together.
Michael Keaton is the Vulture, with a mechanical super powerful killing contraption, Keaton has Birdman-esque metal feathers and his trademark sneer. The Vulture sells weapons on the Black Market. He’s a bad guy but maybe the first villain to also be a family man with a cool house in the burbs. That influences his interactions with the young super hero.
Marisa Tomei is underused in the film. But even moreso, Robert Downey, Jr. When Stark appears, there’s good back and forth between he and Peter, but we would have liked to have seen more interplay. Stark is trying to guide the young, high-strung Spidey.
The costume, designed by Stark Industries, is wardrobe genius the way he pushes the spider on his chest and it fits like a glove. Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, says it’s a throwback to the suit in the classic comics. A scene in the film references a classic Spiderman moment getting one of the most romantic kisses ever captured on film. This time, spider hangs upside down in the Washington Monument waiting for his kiss again, this time from after saving high school beauty, Liz, played by Laura Harrier (One Life to Live, The Last Five Years). Does he get it?
Holland did as many stunts himself as they would allow, but, was unhappy he had to opt out of the climactic action sequence where Spider-Man uses his web to keep the Statten Island Ferry from splitting and sinking. Holland was injured, but not on the set. He embarrassingly says he was sidelined when he hurt himself falling down stairs at home.
There is a funny cameo showing more Marvel attitude between Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Stark, (Downey, Jr.) And a nice series of cameos with Captain America.
Is this the epitome of 2017 summer blockbuster? It’s going to make big box office, but it’s not altogether spectacular. Holland looks like he’s having fun with the role. He’s already on board for the next installment. We’re looking forward to seeing how Holland grows into his suit and casts his web further into the Avengers neighborhood.