I was prepared to be disappointed. I’m one of the few critics that felt Wonder Woman was merely adequate. And, I had gotten tired of all the constant reboots of Spider-Man (this would be the third in 15 years). I was also one of the few critics disappointed with Captain America: Civil War (despite liking Spider-Man’s brief appearance in it). I figured I’d be hating this. Imagine my surprise upon enjoying every minute of it.
They made the wise choice of not showing us the origin story yet again. Instead, director (and co-writer) Jon Watts, channelling ‘80s director John Hughes, made a terrific coming-of-age superhero film. Heck, they even do a riff on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, while showing a clip of it on TV. And a few of the characters feel like they could’ve been in The Breakfast Club (Spider-Man actor Tom Holland had a Anthony Michael Hall vibe, and a snarky classmate with wacky hair reminds you of the Ally Sheedy character).
The movie is often humorous, and there’s great chemistry with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). In fact, there are times this feels more like the first Iron Man movie. Nothing wrong with that. That means Spidey gets an Iron Man style outfit, and has to get used to all the bells and whistles. It’s one of the many ways they make this a neat teen story. He’s a shy, awkward high school student. He has to deal with bullies and crushes on a certain girl, as well as reckless behavior when it comes to the suit and what decisions he makes while wearing it.
The one flaw with this Spider-Man movie was casting the beautiful Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. It’s not the right look for the senior citizen aunt we think of, and merely gives attempts at humor when people talk about how hot she is (both Tony Stark, and the dude at the deli). For us older movie buffs, we remember Downey and Tomei starring in the Norman Jewison movie Only You more than 20 years ago and dating in real life. Since they don’t have scenes together, that’s not really a distraction.
The story involves Stark lecturing Spidey on how he shouldn’t focus on joining the Avengers crew, but start small, and fight some crime in Queens. It reminded me a bit of the underrated Super (Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page), where he tries unsuccessfully to fight crime, and then gets involved with bigger, badder criminals. In this, it’s a group manufacturing high-tech weapons from stolen alien technology. They use them to rob ATM machines, as well as selling them to other thugs.
The ring leader is Michael Keaton, which also reminded me of his movie Gung Ho from over 30 years ago. He’s a working-class guy that just wants to provide for his family, but gets pushed out of his job and decides on a life of crime. It was refreshing that I thought more of his character on the assembly line in Gung Ho than him playing Batman, or more recently, Birdman.
Peter Parker’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) has some fun scenes, and they also have great chemistry. It’s nice that they start out talking about playing with Star Wars Lego’s and talking about the hot girl on their academic team, instead of cramming in things that display all his powers or origin story stuff. Instead, Ned just asks if he, too can be bitten by that spider.
There are lots of people that pop up and make things more fun. I won’t spoil them for you, but will bring up two that were terrific. The various videos of Captain America that are shown. They’re hysterical (and stay until the very end, because there’s one after all the credits). The other two I want to mention are comedian Hannibal Buress (who helped take down Bill Cosby), playing the uninterested P.E. teacher. He’s always fun on screen (he was one of the few good things about Baywatch). And little known actor Martin Starr, who was the nerdy friend in Adventureland, playing the nerdy teacher/leader of the academic team.
The soundtrack gets bonus points for starting things off with the Stones “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and The Ramones (although filmmakers should start giving this band a rest). We got Canned Heat, and you can barely hear the terrific Traffic song “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” playing in Keaton’s car. And since there’s a homecoming dance with an ‘80s theme, we hear Flock of Seagulls, Yello, and General Public’s fun ska classic “Save it for Later.”
I’d take away points for all the Audi product placement, but it wins points back for having “Fox 5” as the news channel that shows everything.
This gets 4 stars out of 5, and is a much better movie than Wonder Woman.