New­est Spi­der-Man a per­fect mix of su­per­hero genre in­gre­di­ents

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - COLIN COVERT

Ev­ery­one knows the back-arch­ing twists that Peter Parker uses when swing­ing sky­scraper to sky­scraper across New York City. But never have you seen your friendly neigh­bour­hood web slinger face story twists like those in the ir­re­sistibly en­ter­tain­ing “Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing.” The new­est star sys­tem in the Mar­vel Cine­matic Uni­verse is packed with sur­prises, ex­cite­ment and quick-wit­ted laughs.

Peter (the win­ning Tom Hol­land) was re­born in last year’s “Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War” as an adorable crime-fight­ing teen geek. He was totally jazzed to be re­cruited as a ju­nior var­sity Avenger, join­ing Iron Man, Black Widow, Ant Man and more for a su­per­power smack­down at Ger­many’s Leipzig/Halle Air­port. Near the start of “Home­com­ing,” we see a selfie video doc­u­men­tary of Peter be­ing flown there by Tony Stark’s pri­vate jet from his home base in New York, his first air­plane ride ever. He’s thrilled to smithereens at be­ing in­vited to join the ac­tion, jump­ing with joy on his ho­tel bed like a tram­po­line. That in­fec­tious de­light sets the tone for the en­tire film.

Spidey’s re­turn in a story of his own is great right out of the gate. The film is sharply fo­cused on cre­at­ing fresh ways to frame its very fa­mil­iar ma­te­rial and build solid con­nec­tions to modern cul­ture. The tem­plate of choice is a char­ac­ter-rich teen com­edy, with splashes of head-spin­ning ac­tion. Hav­ing just turned 15 (Hol­land is 21, but passes), Peter is a good kid and a sci­ence whiz and is se­cretly su­per­strong. He’s just not a su­per­hero. Yet.

While Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his driver Happy Ho­gan ( Jon Favreau)

keep their eyes on him, he stum­bles through in­ex­pe­ri­enced ef­forts to fight evil. That means help­ing el­derly women find their way around and jump­ing on guys who sort of look like they prob­a­bly might be do­ing some­thing that could pos­si­bly be wrong.

Be­tween those ex­ploits, he sits on apart­ment fire es­capes, looks at the Man­hat­tan sky­line and waits for an “Avengers as­sem­ble” bul­letin that never ar­rives.

Michael Keaton, whose great white shark grin has a peer­less tal­ent for mak­ing us feel ner­vous, then laugh, then re­peat, brings his A Game to the bad guy part. His Adrian Toomes is no run-of-the mill galac­tic over­lord. He’s a small-busi­ness con­trac­tor clean­ing up the de­bris that was left the last time the Avengers and alien evil­do­ers smashed the Big Ap­ple into ap­ple­sauce. Then a govern­ment task force re­vokes his li­cence in or­der to keep con­trol of the busted alien tech weapons scat­tered ev­ery­where.

Adrian, deep in debt, snatches as many scraps as he can, de­ter­mined to find ways to re­pur­pose them and sell them on the black mar­ket. His plan re­sults in ex­tremely vi­o­lent con­se­quences and re­peated one-on-one bat­tles with a short­ish, slen­der, light-voiced do-gooder.

So far, so stan­dard. What sets “Home­com­ing” apart is how richly thought through it all is.

Keaton gives us a heavy who’s more am­bi­tious and greedy than text­book evil. He doesn’t have a world-seiz­ing master plan, a se­cret iden­tity or a vil­lain­ous code name. He’s just a guy. That’s ge­nius. Par­tic­u­larly be­cause he lulls us into the story about Peter’s home­made mis­sions in­ter­rupt­ing his ro­man­tic hopes and need to get to class on time.

And then we get the big­gest third-act sur­prise in many a year. It’s un­com­mon for a film to star­tle me so much that I feel like I was clob­bered in the head with a polo mal­let, but this one got me for real.

There are a thou­sand ra­zor-sharp gags, and not many give you the sense you’ve heard the joke be­fore.

There’s won­der­ful char­ac­ter work among Peter’s high school class­mates. Tony Revolori from “The Grand Budapest Ho­tel,” the per­fectly cast ac­tress/ac­tivist Zen­daya and new­comer Ja­cob Bat­alon turn their light sup­port­ing roles bliss­fully funny. And Tony Stark’s sar­casm goes on hold for sev­eral mo­ments of gen­uine tough-love men­tor­ing to Peter.

It’s not a breach of spoiler pro­to­col to say what a movie doesn’t do, es­pe­cially when it brushes off su­per­flu­ous con­cepts. If you don’t al­ready know who Spi­der-Man is, you have clearly en­tered the wrong theatre.

So we don’t see a spi­der bite or any sort of ori­gin story folderol. There’s no men­tion of the boy’s beloved Un­cle Ben. (We don’t need a back story on Aunt May, be­cause when Marisa Tomei plays a char­ac­ter, it’s al­ways clear who she is and what she’s about.) There’s no en­counter with blowhard news­pa­per ty­coon J. Jonah Jame­son. The clas­sic Spi­der-Man theme is part of the score for only a muted mo­ment. We don’t even see Spidey whoosh his way across Man­hat­tan.

The slam-bam overkill that has turned the Warner Bros. DC fran­chise into or­gies of ex­cess is held in check. Noth­ing is pushed to over­dose, not even the manda­tory dis­as­ter set pieces. Most of the cli­mac­tic ac­tion takes place around Coney Is­land, not in de­mol­ish­ing the fer­ris wheel and other rides, but as a mano-a-mano slugfest on the beach.

This is the work of a cre­ative team that knows smart is more im­por­tant than loud, and enough is far bet­ter than ex­tra. This movie uses very good in­gre­di­ents and uses them just right.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

, SONY PIC­TURES

"Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing" is a char­ac­ter-rich teen com­edy with head-spin­ning ac­tion.

Jon Favreau, left, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Hol­land in "Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing."

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