The awkwardly titled newest entry in the Spider-Man series generally succeeds in rebooting the series, and turns into one of the most enjoyable—and funny—mainstream films of the year. There are pitfalls aplenty in rebooting a series so often in such a short timeframe, but this film avoids most of them, only falling apart at the end.
The newest Spider-Man, already introduced in Captain America: Civil War (apparently, Spider-Man liked colons), is played by superhero newcomer Tom Holland, 19 years young (and looking younger) at the time of shooting. Holland of course was hardly a newcomer to performing. He was one of the Billys in Billy Elliot the Musical in London’s West End, and has the dancing and gymnastic skills that add to his graceful action sequences. He was also in The Lost City of Z, In the Heart of the Sea, The Impossible, and TV’s Wolf Hall, among many other shows. But this is his first lead, and he carries the weight of the film on his small shoulders with ease. One critic described previous Spider-Man Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (then a real-life couple as well as a screen pair) as more adorable than a basket of puppies. That was true, but Holland has his own brand of cute and adorable, and the film builds easily around that trait.
This is a reboot that doesn’t just go back to a younger Spider-Man, but the youngest yet, and does so with a completely new attitude. Adding a best friend to Peter Parker (spoiler alert) who knows pretty much right off the top of the film that Peter is Spider-Man, adds a double dose of “I can’t believe I/you can do that” gee-whiz geek factor that is carried slightly too far, but which otherwise infuses the film with a joy of discovery that rejuvenates the entire idea of this superhero. There are also layers of discovery that keep adding life and joy throughout the film.
This Spider-Man focuses less on crime-fighting than on trying to figure out what being Spider-Man means when you’re a high school sophomore who lives with his aunt and has a crush on an older student. Oh, and of course, you’re a science and engineering nerd who is part of a competitive team going to nationals. So yes, there are lots of challenges in this coming-of-age story.
Michael Keaton plays Vulture, the villain of this entry. It was hard for this writer to erase his comic persona from my viewing of the film, but Keaton gives it everything he has. Unfortunately, Keaton’s film history aside from his persona gets in the way. He was Batman, then Birdman, and now wears the wings for a third time as the bad guy. Let’s hope for wingless performance soon.
Where the film falls apart is at the end, where the film’s innocence and sweetness gives way to the corporate mandate of a huge CGI battle. This trend seems to have begun to get out of hand in the Man of Steel battle between Superman and General Zod, and recently crammed its way into Wonder Woman, threatening to ruin the film. The tensions between Peter and Vulture build up unexpectedly and could easily have come to a head without the requisite (and by now, tired) attempt to destroy a city. Please, Marvel and DC, find another kind of climax—please!
What there isn’t enough of is Aunt May, played by Marisa Tomei. The ending of the film indicates there might be more of her in the sequel. We can only hope—a film can’t have enough Marisa Tomei in it.
The film is a bit overstuffed, both with characters and plot points. But the main sparks work. One set of sparks is between Spider-Man and Iron-Man, who takes on a typically snarky but more paternal role with Peter, a connection that works surprisingly well with both characters. The other sparks are provided by Peter and his best friend and Peter and his classmates. This is where Holland is at his most vulnerable and sweet, and where he demonstrates his strongest ability to carry a film. He’s major star material.
There are a couple of surprises along the way, one being something of a shock/twist. Can’t say more, of course, except that it’s totally unexpected and yet makes sense as the film progresses.
This latest reboot has taken the series in a positive direction, exploring new attitudes of innocence and discovery, all hanging on the shoulders of a smart, endearing, and multi-talented young man. It may be the most enjoyable and entertaining of the series. It’s certainly a refreshing new beginning.