I took the kids to see the new Spider-Man
and it's enjoyable enough but doesn't really follow through with the potential it sets up. Right off I'll admit when I was kid I had very little interest in superheroes (despite my dad's large comic book collection) but I was really into Spider-Man, so I guess deep down, despite the terrible Garfield ones and the blech ad campaign for this, I was looking forward to it and hoping it might get the character right; I think Raimi's second one is the only one that really worked, at least for me.
This film is not up to Raimi's second film, but infinitely better than his third one and those last couple. Holland's fine in the role, likeable enough, but he has this "gee-whiz, golly!" tone that can get a bit tiring. Still, I do like that they play up the fact he is, really, just a kid, which gets kind of lost in the other films. And this is also aided by the fact the film (rather surprisingly) plays up the high school angle to the story, far more than the other films, to the point where the high school story is actually more important than the story around the murderous flying psychopath creating weapons of mass destruction. I read comparisons to John Hughes (as though this could be a superhero film directed by Hughes) which is true to a degree, and I do like this part to the film, but the reality is the plotlines and relationships between the characters aren't anywhere near as interesting or engaging as what Hughes could have done. There are some cute and funny moments that ring true but they're ultimately not too involving. It's telling that the character-driven second Raimi film (which doesn't have a lot of action in comparison to this) can keep my son completely engaged, even during those more talky moments, yet he was getting impatient with this one, which does have a lot
of scenes in school.
There are other problems as well. The action scenes are fine, but the final bit is borderline incomprehensible and doesn't flow all that well. The insertion of Downey's Tony Stark/Iron Man feels tacked on and I wouldn't be surprised to learn he got paid millions of dollars for one afternoon's work. Same with Jon Favreau's character, though I'm sure Favreau didn't get paid millions. And I was thrilled to see Bokeem Woodbine was cast as another prominent Spider-Man villain (I won't spoil who) but was severely let down when he actually didn't get a lot to do, so I'm hoping he might show up in other films. I also have to say I'm really sick of the references these Marvel films throw out to fans Stuff like this just stops the story. Still, this film probably has the funniest, most tongue-in-cheek post-credit easter egg of the Marvel films.
Chris Evans shows up as Captain America in a sort of PSA video explaining the virtues of "patience," especially when what you were waiting for doesn't pay off, alluding of course to waiting through the credits for the post-credit easter egg. Evans also has another half-decent cameo earlier in the film, and he's put to much better use than Downey despite Downey being more integral to the plot and being in the film longer.
Despite some good moments the film would still be a fairly generic superhero film, but it does get elevated by Michael Keaton. Other than a handful of villains the Marvel villains in these movies have been incredibly mediocre. Keaton takes what is, for me, one of the least interesting and lamest Spider-Man villains, the Vulture, and turns him into a completely menacing, actually frightening adversary. The film also goes an interesting route with his character, turning him into an average blue collar Joe, sick of being stepped on by the 1-percenters (Tony Stark in this case). All that's missing is the character either wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat or placing a Bernie bumper sticker on his car. And Keaton has this aspect of the character down and he and the film really drive this point and motivation, and you understand his frustrations. It makes the film a bit timely though ultimately there is no political or social message here, or at least a fairly general one (they're of course aiming for as wide an audience as possible). What's a bit sad, though, is that this schmoe from Jersey is far more threatening than that intergalactic mass murderer that was in the first Guardians of the Galaxy
, who barely even registers as a villain.
What's disappointing, though, is after building up this villain who is genuinely evil the movie sort of chickens out at the end thanks to another plot element that gets introduced. I won't spoil it here but this element could have made things more tricky and added a really interesting angle to the film if it followed through with the Vulture, but it appears everyone was too scared to go all the way, and I guess now that Spider-Man is officially part of the Marvel universe there probably isn't any room for anything risky anymore (as terrible as the Garfield films were I had to admire the risk of ending the last one the way they did). Basically this psychopath, who has been pretty merciless throughout the film, is shown to be not that bad a guy after all.
But the film does at least take this other plot element and have some fun with it:
It turns out that Keaton's character is the father of Peter Parker's love interest, which I guess I should have predicted because that is the ultimate in lazy screenwriting, but for whatever reason it never registered. Still, the film does have some fun with this when Peter shows up to take her to the prom, only to discover her father is the Vulture (though Vulture doesn't yet know Parker is Spider-Man). This of course leads to Parker being nervous and cautious, with Vulture just reading this as maybe Parker having dishonorable intentions towards his daughter, putting him in protective father mode, which is just as menacing as the Vulture. It's a neat scene: it's funny but also rather unnerving and surprisingly tense. Unfortunately this is about as far as the film is willing to go with this plotline.
The film, even with its faults, was still fun. I think the biggest problem is the film was really more concerned about fitting itself into the Disney Marvel universe and was afraid to really be its own entity.