For a review of “Spiderman: Homecoming,”
Everyone knows the backarching twists that Peter Parker uses when swinging skyscraper to skyscraper across New York City. But never have you seen your friendly neighborhood web slinger face story twists like those in the irresistibly entertaining “SpiderMan: Homecoming.” The newest star system in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is packed with surprises, excitement and quickwitted laughs.
Peter ( 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 super powers mackdown 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 homebase in New York, his first airplane ride ever. He’s thrilled to smithereens at being invited to join the action, jumping with joy onhis hotel bed like a trampoline. That infectious delight sets the tone for the entire film.
Spidey’s return in a story of his owni s 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 super- strong. 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.
Like “Ant Man” before it, this is light, small- scale, bluecollar Marvel, where ripping off ATMs is high crime. And itworks.
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 smallbusiness contractor cleaning up the debris thatwas left the last time the Avengers and alien evildoers smashed the Big Apple into applesauce. Then a government task force revokes his license in order to keep control of the busted alien tech weapons scattered everywhere.
Adrian, deep in debt, snatches asmany scraps ashe 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.
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 razorsharp 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 theater.
Sowe 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 backstory 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 SpiderMan theme is part of the score for only a muted moment. We don’t even see Spidey whoosh hisway 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 indemolishing 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.
“Spider- Man: Homecoming,” a Columbia Pictures production, is Rated PG- 13 for scifi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. Running time: 2 hours, 13 minutes
“A Ghost Story”
Consider the white sheet. Such a simple, ubiquitous item can have so many loaded meanings. Abed, a costume, a shroud. The multifaceted uses of the sheet are explored in David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story,” a meditation on grief, loss and the essence of life from both sides of the veil. At times, this film is profoundly heartbreaking, in other moments, willfully obtuse, but always, there is the sheet, and what it symbolizes.
What better way to follow up an Academy Award than to don a sheet and remain hidden for the majority of a film?
Casey A ff le ck follows up his award- winning turn in the grief drama “Manchester By the Sea” with another tale about death and the cycles of life in “A Ghost Story.” Affleck stars opposite Rooney Mara, and the two are wonderful in the few scenes they share, as a young couple living in a humble, possibly haunted house. He dies in a car wreck and takes the form of a ghost, the kind of “Charlie Brown” Halloween specials — a sheet with two eye- holes — haunting his ownhome.
Lowery reverses the perspective of the grief process, to fascinating ends. We are aligned with his point of view as a ghost, and palpably feel his own sense of loss, of his life, of his wife slipping away fromhim as she continues living. He’s tethered to their modest house, as he was in life, and as she moves on, he remains, through new tenants, families with kids, wild parties, philosophical discussions on the earth’s existence. It’s the cycle of life— destruction, development, creation, crumbling and so on.
“A Ghost Story” is shot in Academy aspect ratio, a square frame with rounded edges, giving the film a feel of a private home movie. It offers a sense of intimacy that is almost claustrophobic at times. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo does beautiful work, utilizing ever so slow pans, tilts and precise dolly shots to gently telegraph story moments and inhabit a ghostly perspective. The score flutters and swoons on the strings and drums, coloring in the emotions internalized by Mara and Affleck.
Aswe drift farther fromthe central love story, “A Ghost Story” becomes more and more abstract, and therefore, less compelling. It feels, in a way, like the central nugget of the idea could have been a stunning short film and the rest is extra padding to fill out a feature length movie. A diversion down a historical path seems to want to illustrate the cyclical nature of time, but only serves to obfuscate the message further.
The true resonance of “A Ghost Story” lies in the interaction between the ghost and his grieving wife, struggling to findways to connect to each other again. Their missed connection, divided by the void of human existence, is also a beautifully sad and poignant representation for the ways in which we all strive or fail to connect in the present.
“A Ghost Story,” an A24 release, is Rated R for brief language and a disturbing image. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star in “A Ghost Story.”