Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Zendaya
Have I Seen it Before: Absolutely.
Did I Like It: I think it’s pretty perfect.
And, no, that’s not just because Michael Keaton is actually in the movie.
It’s a little bit about that, but there are other things, too.
Let’s talk about basics. This film presents—or more accurately, continues from Captain America Civil War (2016)—the second cinematic reboot of the wall-crawler. As opposed to the tedious The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), this new version of the character justifies his existence by being existing in a world different than what we might normally expect from the character.
Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is not an old bitty (not that there is anything inherently wrong with being an old bitty). MJ (Zendaya) isn’t really MJ, and in fact there may not be a real MJ. Also, we may never have to see some teen beat cover boy react as a spider bites his hand. We’ve seen it. We don’t need to see it again. For that matter, what we don’t know what the hell Uncle Ben looks like in this iteration, and that’s refreshing, too. I want to say Bradley Whitford, but I just want to keep putting cast members of The West Wing in everything (the only thing that the Garfield series got right, by the way). Comic book purists might have cause to complain, but they really need to lighten up. Variety is the spice of life, or at least the spice of summer tentpole movies.
Beyond that, it works in its own rights, completely divorced from either the large Spider-Man mythos or the large MCU. It’s one of the more engaging teen comedies produced in the last several years. Tom Holland channels the best parts of Matthew Broderick and Michael J. Fox to makes a character that may not always seem like a reel teen, but certainly seems like a character from a real teen movie a la the era of John Hughes prime. The idea that Toomes (Keaton) is both Parker’s arch-nemesis and his girlfriend’s dad is the right layer of conflict for one of these movies. It’s an amazing twist that feels organic and surprising, even after having seen it a couple of times.
I really can’t gush about this film more. Like the original Iron Man (2008), it’s a revelation when I was only expecting a diversion. It’s outstanding that my review of the film has gone this long without mentioning one more performance by Downey Jr. While I’ve been in light mourning for Tony Stark, I’m reminded by this film that there is probably plenty of life in the Marvel movies yet. Even if Gwyneth Paltrow receives far more credit (in this instance only) than she may fully deserve.
On one more strange note: Is it weird that this film is in the running for best Captain America film, and the last Captain America film also has a competitive play for best Spider-Man movie? What a time to be alive and watching movies in the summer.