Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael Chernus, Tyne Daly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Evans, Jennifer Connelly (voice)
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Directed by: Jon Watts
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Running Time: 133
Date: 07/07/2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Swing Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Over the past year, I have been pondering the Marvel Cinematic Universe series, which, with Spider-Man: Homecoming, has reached its sixteenth entry. That's sixteen films since 2008, and all of them are good. Most of them are excellent, and even the worst ones are okay or at least worth seeing. How can this be? Most other series that have run past three films have sunk at some point, wandered off course, or included at least one notoriously awful entry.

Then it hit me. These films came about in a time that television has surpassed cinema. Many of the greatest television shows of all time have debuted since 1999, after the bar was raised by The Simpsons, Twin Peaks, and The Sopranos, and others, as well as the emergence of cable and streaming, and it's all due to superb writing. Writers have simply tried harder, stepped up their game. Originally headed up by Joss Whedon, a former TV man, the Avengers films have the arc of a giant-sized TV series, full of drama, twists, relatable characters, and the human condition, as well as action and thrills.

In the comics, Spider-Man has only been a tangential part of the Avengers, but director Jon Watts and several co-writers have found a way to make this a proper Avengers film, while still a Spider-Man film. Since this Spidey, played by the appealing Tom Holland, was introduced in Captain America: Civil War (episode 13), it starts from there. Peter Parker is super-excited to be recruited to help in the big super-hero battle of that film, and when it's over, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) drop him at home, saying, "we'll call you if we need you again."

So he goes back to school, telling friends that he has an "internship" with Stark, and waiting for his call. In his neighborhood of Queens, he stops a few bike thieves and gives directions to old ladies. High school dramas come up. His best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovers his identity and must keep his trap shut. Peter has a crush on the older Liz (Laura Harrier) and is bullied by Flash (Tony Revolori). He keeps having to ditch his friends when Spider business comes up.

Meanwhile, there's Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). He and his men were cheated out of a clean-up contract years ago and decided to keep some alien technology they already had loaded up in their trucks. Now they make and sell crazy, advanced weapons using the alien tech. Spider-Man comes across these weapons and tries to save the day. But Toomes has also created a super-villain suit; his powerful alter-ego is called the Vulture.

Marisa Tomei is Aunt May, far prettier than the sweet little old lady depicted in the comics and in previous shows and movies. Donald Glover plays a thief who attempts to buy one of the space-weapons, and Bokeem Woodbine plays one of Vulture's goons. Jennifer Connelly provides the voice of Spider-Man's high-tech suit. (It's really refreshing how multi-cultural the cast is here.) Occasionally Iron Man shows up to scold Spidey for his amateur blunders, and Captain America (Chris Evans) has a few funny cameos, appearing in public service videos. But this is all Spidey's show.

Following the other films, director Watts does his bit with a remarkable job of pacing, clarity, action, humor, etc. His action scenes are genuinely exciting and tense, and his character interactions are funny and warm. Everything is bright and colorful and kinetic and fluid, with very little that's clunky or confusing. The six credited screenwriters include Watts and his creative partner Christopher Ford, whose Cop Car is a terrific indie thriller, as well as two guys who write comedy (Horrible Bosses, etc.) and two guys who tie it all together with a great comic superhero movie (The Lego Batman Movie). The combination seems to have worked just right, as a writer's room on a TV series would have.

An interesting comparison can be made with the last couple of Spider-Man films, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). Neither of there were terrible; they both had some fun moments, and some good casting, but they both felt like they were going through the motions, as if they had been the result of corporate meetings rather than made by someone being excited to tell a story. And, as much as I still love Sam Raimi's films Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004), it's hard to defend some of the decisions he made on the bloated, lunatic Spider-Man 3 (2007).

Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like it has a reason to be here, and it's another Marvel triumph. Yet it's a mystery to me how this series really works. I had been worried when a director I didn't particularly like was hired to make one of the earlier films, and somehow his work turned out to mesh well with all the other films. Is someone still in charge of everything? Is there something like a series bible that helps? I have no idea, but whatever they have done, Spider-Man: Homecoming is refreshing, exhilarating, entertaining, and joyous in ways that all summer blockbusters ought to be.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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