Teenage Spider-Man reboot is surprisingly good

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Posted

July 06, 2017 09:36:07

Of all the comic book adaptations, Spider-Man is the one that’s been rebooted the most in recent years.

This is the third Spider-Man we’ve seen so far this century, and it’s the result of a business deal struck between two studios: Sony and Marvel, a subsidiary of Disney.

Marvel of course invented Spidey, but they gave away the rights to make the movies long ago.

Now they have won joint custody, and are free to use him in the same cinematic universe as the Avengers — as they did in Captain America: Civil War.

Sony, meanwhile, continues making solo films like this one — hoping the Avengers link turbocharges what needs to become their new mega-franchise, given that the futures of their other big earners, Bond and Men In Black, are uncertain to say the least.

So what to make of this new film, Spider-Man: Homecoming? The answer is it’s pretty good.

Its title references the tradition of high school dances, and the story is rooted firmly in the terrain of teenage anxieties and romance.

As you’d expect from a $175 million movie, there are a few impressive action sequences.

One sees a New York ferry lasered in two. Another has Spidey (Tom Holland) face a mid-air crisis rescuing his best friends trapped inside the top of the Washington Monument.

And there’s a twist in the tale that, while a little cliche, should blow the minds of 13- to 14-year-old males, the key audience here.

(I didn’t see it coming either, but my blockbuster audience age hovers around the same level.)

What I liked most about Spider-Man: Homecoming is that its director, Jon Watts, getting his first big break after a couple of low-budget features, has a clear sense of place.

The film is mostly set in and around the Queens neighbourhood of Forest Hills where Peter Parker goes to school — the home town, incidentally, of The Ramones, who deliver a burst of bar chord punk on the soundtrack.

Various neighbourhood vignettes give a sense of texture and depth, like the corner bodega with its fat cat sleeping on the counter, or the Thai restaurant where Peter goes with his Aunt May.

Peter’s guardian is played by a vibrant but underutilised Marisa Tomei, a casting choice that diverges from the elderly character of the comics and inspires a self-conscious but tame gag early on that points out her middle-aged Italian-American hottie status, much to Peter’s annoyance.

The film is attuned to recent controversies over diversity, and the cast features a broad range of different faces and shapes.

Filipino-American actor Jacob Batalon plays Peter’s likeable, geeky best friend Ned, Tony Revolori — the bellhop in The Grand Budapest Hotel — is the popped-collar schoolyard rival, and the graceful African-American actress and former model Laura Harrier is Peter’s dream girl.

Meanwhile, the bad guy gets the wrinkled old white man treatment. Michael Keaton rises to the challenge as an arms dealer selling super weapons to the New York underworld. His prized bit of kit is a jet-pack with wings: a nod to his Oscar-winning role in Birdman.

It’s only a matter of time before his lucrative operation comes across the radar of arms magnate Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who, the film points out, is the other side of the same coin.

New York’s elite, and America generally, rely on dirty money, but this Trump-era hot take only flashes through the film’s consciousness, while its main focus remains on Peter Parker’s first shaky steps as an over-eager young superhero with a sweetheart to impress.

While lacking the sophistication of a film like Okja, released last week on Netflix, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a sensitive attempt at depicting the teenage anxieties of wanting prove oneself.

Its Trojan horse message of learning patience — rendered in comically farcical terms when Peter is locked overnight inside a secret government depot with only his Siri-like talking suit as a companion — is a welcome dose of wisdom from an industry not known for its understatement.

The Final Cut is the ABC’s home of film reviews, critiques and analysis. Subscribe now on iTunes, the ABC Radio app or your favourite podcasting app.

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