What do Batman, Superman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman have in common? None of them has a hyphen in their name. So why does Spider-Man have one? It turns out that Stan Lee wanted to distinguish the web slinger from Superman. Both superheroes wear red and blue costumes and both have names that start with an “S” and end with “man”. Lee wanted to make sure we wouldn’t think that Spider-Man was just another Superman.
After watching SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, I can attest that they are two very different characters, at least as far as this story goes. Here, Peter Parker (21-year-old British actor, Tom Holland) is a 15-year-old student at a high school in New York for science nerds. On a high after helping out Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in last year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, Peter is eager to get more involved with the Avengers but Stark has other plans. He feels the teenager isn’t ready to become a full-fledged Avengers member and he encourages him to go back to his home with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and be a friendly, neighbourhood crime-fighter. To soothe Parker’s ego, Stark gives him a high-tech spidey-suit to replace the one Peter made for himself. Meanwhile, Stark has decided to put Avengers Tower in Manhattan up for sale and move the team and all the Chitauri weaponry that’s inside to a new facility upstate. When local salvage business operator, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, BIRDMAN), suddenly finds his company shut out of a very lucrative contract by Stark and the U.S. Department of Damage Control (DODC), Toomes decides to pocket some of the Chitauri gizmos as payback. With his team of mechanics, they tinker with them to turn them into powerful weapons. After Spider-Man stumbles upon a group of Toomes’ men robbing an ATM, he finds himself on a collision course with Toomes.
All told, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is a fairly entertaining film though, at 2-1/4 hours, it’s about 20 minutes longer than it needs to be. A lot of time is spent setting up the characters and their relationships, and some of scenes where Spidey is saving people play out for too long. But the script makes sense and the acting is quite solid throughout. Holland is wonderful as the young Peter with his mix of naiveté, joviality and fall-down-and-get-back-up-again exuberance. Keaton, meanwhile, adeptly plays the caring family man/business owner who decides to do something about the privilege accorded to the rich and powerful. Deep down, Toomes is not a bad guy. He’s just mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. I did have a hard time getting used to seeing Tomei as Aunt May though. The Spider-Man comic debuted in 1962, just before my fourth birthday and I remember Aunt May as probably remembering World War I. She was someone who wouldn’t have been able to understand space travel, birth control pills and flower power. Yes, it’s 55 years later and this Peter Parker is 15 years old, so it’s reasonable to assume that this Aunt May would be in her late 40s or early 50s but she should be more in touch with modernity. Granted, she may not understand the point of SnapChat or Tinder, but she should be able to wrap her head around them given half a chance. Yet this Aunt May is ambiguous. One the one hand, she drives a late-model Volvo – the epitome of blandness – and sports less-than-flattering eyewear, but on the other, she also wears very stylish yellow cropped pants. Would it have been so terrible if she was a little more hip? Maybe we’ll see her character grow in the next SPIDER-MAN film, due out in two years’ time.
Not surprisingly, other MARVEL characters feature prominently in the film along with Tony Stark. Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau, CHEF), Stark’s driver and bodyguard, appears throughout as Stark has assigned him to keep watch over Peter. Captain America (Chris Evans, BEFORE WE GO) appears in a number of humorous public service videos seen at the school. Together, they all remind us – perhaps a little too blatantly – that more Avengers films are coming our way. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is due out next May.
For first-time MARVEL director and co-writer Jon Watts, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING represents a huge step up from what he has previously done. Smartly, he made Peter’s school classmates a very diverse bunch – from his best friend, Ned Leeds (Filipino-American Jacob Batalon), to Flash Thompson (Latino Tony Revolori, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL), love interest Liz (biracial Laura Harrier), and Michelle (biracial Zendaya). At one point, a Hasidic Jewish boy can be seen in the school’s hall and one of Peter’s academic decathlon teammates has what is meant to be an African accent. This is very clearly not Spider-Man‘s 1962 America.
While not as enjoyable as WONDER WOMAN, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is still worth seeing in the cinema. If you should go see it in IMAX 3D, which I did, be sure to sit far back, which I did not. I sat in row F and I found that many times I had to refocus my eyes because the action was happening too fast to catch it all.
Listen the review on RTHK Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 25:00.)
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