15 years ago, the first Spider-Man hit theaters. It starred Tobey Maguire who embodied the character as an awkward geek. Maguire was in his late twenties and did bring a more adult slant unintentionally or not. He was good in the role but still was an awkward fit. After five years, Maguire was done. It was only a few years later that Sony Pictures decided to reboot the franchise with Andrew Garfield. The tone and attitude had obviously been influenced by the success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). There was a darker and grittier edge to Garfield’s 2012 film. The sequel pushed it toward Joel Schumacher territory, but Garfield’s performance fell more on the side of emo than sassy.
When the character was rebooted and re-introduced yet again in Captain America: Civil War last year, the hero in red tights was mainly the comic relief, a healthy dose of teenage witticism. As this movie unfolds, that quip-filled sidekick or guy with snappy one-liners is not the predominant thing. What comes across instead is a kid trying to prove something. Why he’s trying to prove something was hinted in Captain America: Civil War and hinted again here, but it’s never made explicit. It’s something that an origin story would have explained, but this time around the origin story was skipped or simply truncated, which is fine. It’s not needed, but it also felt like this film wasn’t mining for character depths. It mainly remains light, which is typical of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, and it also puts this movie tonally in between what Maguire was doing and what Garfield was doing.
Tom Holland (The Impossible and The Lost City of Z) stars as Peter Parker, a 15-year-old and sophomore at Midtown Tech, a school of science and technology in Queens, New York. He’s very smart in various fields, including chemistry and mechanics, but he has no clue how to talk to the pretty girl he likes, despite being the most adorable kid in his class and future, matinee idol with killer abs. His best friend is a super-hero fan and computer hacker named Ned, played by Jacob Batalon (pictured above on left), a new actor from Hawaii and of Filipino-descent.
Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder and Chaplin) reprises his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, the billionaire inventor who has created artificially intelligent suits that give the person wearing the suits super powers. Tony recruited Peter, not without a few wise-cracks, and provided him with a super suit in the design of the iconic costume that’s been seen in the Maguire and Garfield films. Tony is also an absentee father-figure, mentoring Peter from afar and occasionally by phone. Jon Favreau (Iron Man and Chef) also reprises his role as Happy Hogan, the liaison between Tony and Peter who might seem like just a chauffeur but who is more.
Director and co-writer Jon Watts (Cop Car and Clown), along with the myriad of other writers, craft a fun and breezy story that ping-pongs back and forth between Peter trying to juggle an average teenager’s life, and mostly failing at it, with his drive to be a member of the Avengers, which Tony manages. The pace is good. The humor works. The action works very well. In fact, most of it is more interesting because unlike the previous Spider-Man movies, this one doesn’t utilize the typical imagery of the web-slinger flinging himself through Manhattan. Thankfully, Watts doesn’t really use Manhattan at all. The movie even goes to Maryland, a place known for not having skyscrapers, so it changes the aerial acrobatics that is associated with the character.
Michael Keaton (Birdman and Spotlight) co-stars as Adrian Toomes, a contractor who is the leader of a salvage crew that’s supposed to help clean up the wreckage in New York City in the wake of the destruction left by the Avengers fighting there. When he basically gets fired from the job, he becomes resentful and steals some of the alien technology in that wreckage. He uses it to become an under-the-radar villain known as Vulture. He is particularly resentful of Tony Stark whom he sees as the one-percent, too privileged and exploitative of the lower class. It’s just a throwaway line. More could have been made of the alleged class warfare.
Adrian Toomes’ personal life is kept a mystery, purposefully, but it doesn’t help with any emotionality the movie could have had in its climax. As a result, the movie doesn’t have the same impact as the ending to Spider-Man (2002) or Spider-Man 2 (2004). It certainly doesn’t have the same emotional impact as Wonder Woman.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 13 mins.