Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Holland Swings Out Of Garfield's Shadow


"Hey! Ho! Let's go!"
-The Ramones, "Blitzkrieg Bop"

If you read my blog with any level of religiosity, then you know that I, Ricky Pine, am the last of the great Andrew Garfield stans, and I will defend The Amazing Spider-Man movies, bar none the biggest influences on my own writing, to my dying day. Hell, the whole reason why I started this blog in the first place was to articulate my distress and disappointment when I learned that Garfield basically got fired from the franchise and Sony was starting from scratch. Even if they were finally incorporating Spidey into the MCU like nature intended, I thought that it was a massive mistake to recast everyone, especially Garfield, whose performances mirrored me and resonated with me like nobody else before or since ever has.

Then along came Tom Holland last year in Civil War, and for his relatively limited screentime in a jam-packed movie that was basically Avengers 2.5 as opposed to merely Cap 3, he made a strong, strong impression. I thought he did a great job giving a Spidey performance very distinct from Garfield and Maguire both, though I knew I'd never find him to be as spot-on a mirror to me as Garfield simply because I'd gotten too old. And that's okay, because hey, it allowed me a chance to write the dynamic between Garfield!Spidey and Holland!Spidey in my Deadpool Syndrome fanfics as mirrors of my relationships with those characters - with Garfield being me, and Holland being like a little brother. Pesky but not annoying, a ball of pure energy, the sun to Garfield's moon.

And in his first time headlining a Spidey-film, Holland builds beautifully on that sunshine. While The Amazing Spider-Man movies (especially the second) remain my platinum standards for fictional feels, Spider-Man: Homecoming joins the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy as my platinum standard for fictional fun.

I'll hear what he's hearing.

Let's face it, if you go into this movie a student of Holland's predecessors (though I'm more of a B student at best with the Raimi trilogy, as opposed to an A student for Marc Webb's Amazing duology), you'll be doomed to endlessly compare this movie to those predecessors in every way. But that kind of comparison is sorta moot because really, Amazing and Homecoming, they're awesome apples and outlandish oranges.

Though I can tell you this much - there's a lot that Homecoming vastly improves on compared to its predecessors. The casting, no longer so overwhelmingly white, feels far more typical of the movie's New York setting. Peter isn't the loner he used to be, not when he's got a loyal Hufflepuff like Ned Leeds in his corner (and why the hell have we never heard of Jacob Batalon until now?) This movie doesn't focus on how Peter got his powers and learned to use them, not now that that storyline's been done twice (including the death of Uncle Ben, who - get this - is never even mentioned in this movie!) Flash Thompson is no longer a big jock - what he is, well, just say "Rick Castle" super-fast and you'll get the idea. (Nobody tell him, though, how surprisingly spot-on his invented nickname for Peter is, not when Peter's name, unfortunately, happens to be synonymous with "dick" in the right context.) Peter isn't paired with MJ or Gwen this time around - and while the romantic subplot between him and Liz is low-key compared to the Peter/Harry/MJ love triangle or the Stonefield-enhanced natural chemistry of Peter and Gwen, it's no worse off for it.

And the villain. Marvel had the right idea, bringing in a villain who hasn't had his time to shine in any Spidey film to date (though I hear the abandoned Spider-Man 4 from the Raimi days would've cast John Malkovich in that role.) Michael Keaton, however, is a downright deadly and awesome Vulture, up there with Ultron and Zemo and Ego and Loki on my list of Top 5 MCU villains. This owes not only to his fearsome wingsuit (you can feel the rumble when he's coming in with that unwieldy, deadly sharp monstrosity), but also to his surprisingly sympathetic motivations - the prologue reveals him to have been a contractor working salvage after the Battle of New York, only for the Damage Control team to come in and basically fire him - so, of course, he takes to the black market to undermine them in revenge, because he has a family to support, gorrammit!

(In other news, I'm now kinda glad that ABC passed on the planned Damage Control MCU work-com series, because this movie makes them look like a bunch of bureaucratic assbutts.)

When Vulture finally crosses Peter's radar, he has no choice but to go after him - but Tony Stark doesn't seem to agree. Stark is basically Peter's father figure, but like a lot of fictional fathers (including his own), Stark is distant and constantly critical of the younger guy he's supposed to be sort of mentoring (and STILL hitting on May, because, well, he's Stark.) That said, though, he's given Peter a suit full of nifty little gizmos and gadgets, including an AI whom Peter names Karen, has conversations with, and she constantly tries to get Peter to use the most ludicrous - and ludicrously lethal - features he has at his disposal after she activates. (How he manages to activate her despite the "Training Wheels Protocol" being in place, I'm still not sure, though. It feels a bit like the writers pulled that out of their half-dozen asses, but I'll forgive this little flaw.)

It's funny how when Spidey wasn't part of any cinematic universe, he had pretty much no friends, but now he does. Metaphor much? But seriously, Peter's friends really help liven up this movie like nothing else. They're all smart as whips - well, it's Midtown School of Science and Technology, so that's a given, and they're academic decathletes besides. But the standouts, of course, are the aforementioned Ned (hilarious as hell), Liz (a real sweetheart like you wouldn't believe, and refreshingly sincere and un-ironic about it too), and Michelle. Though she's a little underused, and she comes off cold and condescending sometimes, she's got more than enough of a deadpan sense of humor (like outside the Washington Monument where she says she won't go in because it was built by slaves - and, selling the scene, the nearby tour guide silently agrees with her!), not to mention her damn good sketching skills. I still ship her with Peter largely because Tom Holland and Zendaya play off each other terrifically outside the movie (like in a few Freeform-specific promo pieces, and on Lip Sync Battle where he cosplayed Rihanna and she cosplayed Bruno Mars), but also because, well, they each remind me a little of Brian and Allison from The Breakfast Club, and I always shipped those two because A) I'm that geekboy nobody's given a chance romantically, and B) I like Ally Sheedy and I'm not afraid to admit it.

That was another thing I couldn't help but love about this movie - it being, as promised, a love letter to the work of John Hughes. The references vary from on the nose (Michelle going into detention just 'cause she felt like it, again like Allison; Peter running through a bunch of backyards like in Ferris Bueller - and he even catches some people watching that movie and compliments their taste) to general aesthetic appreciation of 80s teen movies (Peter and Ned's dynamic being strongly reminiscent of Weird Science, the Homecoming dance helping set the stage for the movie's climax...until it doesn't, because twists, you know.) Further helping in this regard is the movie's soundtrack, one of the best of any Spidey-movie ever. Though Raimi's trilogy had Danny Elfman's iconic score, and Webb gave us some great musical cues in Coldplay's "Till Kingdom Come" and Philip Phillips' "Gone Gone Gone" (and of course "My Enemy," Electro's sinister leitmotif), this movie was loaded with not only a toe-tapping Michael Giacchino score (which featured a soaring orchestral rendition of the classic Spidey theme over the Marvel Studios logos), but also some of the best retro music. Including the Ramones - which, now I think about it, was something the Amazing movies sorely lacked, especially given that Garfield's version of Peter once wore a Ramones T-shirt.

Between the general John Hughes vibe, the smaller and more personal nature compared to other MCU entries (yeah, Joss Whedon, you promised that on Age of Ultron, but you didn't pull that off, did you?), and the bold and bright color palette, it's no wonder that I spent a good 75% or so of this movie with a big old smile on my face - the antidote I needed to the devastating ending of Cassandra Clare's Lord of Shadows, which I finished reading last night. As for the remaining 15%, well, there were a few downbeat moments, of course...but those make up only about 2% of the movie overall. The remaining 23% are amazingly kick-ass action scenes. Jon Watts proves himself a great director, commanding all the visual panache of Raimi or Webb at their best and then some. There are so many great action sequences to choose from in this movie - the climactic final fight between Spidey and Vulture (which takes place on and around a camouflaged plane), the Staten Island Ferry ripping apart from stolen alien weaponry gone awry, Spidey being literally dragged through the streets by Vulture's goons in a van...but none beat the Washington Monument scene smack in the middle of this movie, a nearly symmetrical peak of white-knuckle action and acrophobia. It's truly iconic cinema - you heard it here first!

All in all, while Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn't manage to usurp the throne shared by TASM 1 and 2 in my heart (and nor did I expect it to), Holland takes the torch Garfield passes him, and takes it with A+ aplomb, continuing the MCU's hot streak - a streak I don't anticipate ending anytime soon, not with the likes of Ragnarok, Black Panther, Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp on tap for the next 365 days or so. I'm really just very bummed that we have to wait two years now for the sequel to this movie - provided Sony doesn't have a fight with Marvel over the whole snarl of creative control and film rights. At least I know the franchise is in top-notch hands.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

And one more thing - when you stick around for the post-credits scene (and it amuses me that there are still those who don't - like, have they not learned about Marvel tradition yet?), be prepared for the greatest meta-twist on the post-credits formula since that of Deadpool. You'll love it.

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