Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 13 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our rating (1-5): 4.5
‘Well done!’ said his master, ‘you’re a sound, reliable servant. You’ve been trustworthy over a few things,
now I’m going to put you in charge of much more. Come in and share your master’s rejoicing.’
Matthew 25:21 (Phillips)
I loved the 2002 Spider-Man, and thus was skeptical of this third version of the comic book character–until I attended the screening of director Marc Webb’s new version. Wow, the exuberance of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as a 15-year-old geek thrilled to being given the high-tech suit created at Tony Stark’s lab! It was clever of Jonathan Goldstein and his committee of screenwriters to set up the teenaged crime fighter as an intern made to go through a training period with Tony (Robert Downey Jr) as his mentor before becoming a full-fledged member of the Avengers.
The film’s opening origin story is not about Peter being bitten by an “atomic spider,” but about the origin of the supervillain The Vulture. Following the destruction in Manhattan seen in Captain America: Civil War, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is a New York foreman of a clean-up crew excited by some of the alien high tech gadgets he finds strewn about. Before he can collect all of it for salvage, he is run off by Department of Damage Control agents, who are beholden to Tony Stark. He still manages to pocket some of the alien objects, and through the years as he finds still more, creating some super weapons to sell to the underworld’s highest bidders. He also has developed a winged suit that allows him to soar high above Manhattan.
Meanwhile in Queens, 15-year-old Peter Parker (Holland) is reveling in the benefits that come from being an intern of Stark Enterprise. Apparently discovered by Tony when the boy pulled off some feats rescuing crime victims in his neighborhood, Peter is thrilled by the high-tech Spidey suit that replaces his crudely made uniform. (Aunt May [Marisa Tomei] has not yet discovered the alter-identity of her frequently absent nephew, so he had made his own bedraggled looking outfit.) Because he had performed well with the Avengers, Peter expects to be immediately inducted into their ranks, but Tony tells him he is not quite ready, and that he should be careful using his powers in his neighborhood. That the impulsive boy needs such advice we see in the sequence when his clash with some of The Vulture’s henchmen while they are robbing a bank wreaks havoc, resulting in his favorite deli being burnt up.
Thus, while Peter struggles to become accepted as an Avenger, most of the film is set at his Midtown High School where he and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are geeky outsiders. He is a member of the Academic Decathlon Team, but proves less than helpful when his duties as Spider-Man lures him away during a tournament in Washington, DC. By this time Ned has discovered his friend’s identity and keeps after his friend to tell and show him more about his secret life. Peter longs not only to become an Avenger, but also to become the boyfriend of the popular Liz (Laura Harrier). He eventually does date her for the Homecoming Prom, but then has his socks almost knocked off when he discovers something about her that he never could have imagined.
We never hear Uncle Ben’s famous dictum “With great power comes great responsibility,” but most of the film is about Peter maturing enough to understand this. That he does in the last scene proves to be both a satisfying moment, and a funny one in that Tony Stark must rearrange his plans for a public presentation of his newest Avenger due to Peter’s unusual answer to his invitation.
I was disappointed that there was no Uncle Ben to keep company with Aunt May. (I loved that one of my favorite actors Cliff Robertson played Uncle Ben in the 2002 version.) Maybe he and his heroic demise will be included in a sequel. The teen-enthusiasm and sense of wonder this film engenders in Peter justifies this reboot, with Tom Holland being a perfect fit for the character and the suit. The special effects are awe-inspiring, especially the sequence in which a NYC ferryboat is split in two by the Vulture and Spidey vainly tries to pull it back together with his web material. (There is a series of shots in which our hero, trying to pull the two halves of the ferryboat together, is stretched out crucifix-like, just like the scene impressive scene in Spider-Man 2 when he stops with his web a subway train from crashing off the tracks.) Good thing the Avengers are close at hand! As long as they keep producing Spider-Man films I will have to qualify my complaints about impossible to believe, over-stuffed super hero movies.
This review with a set of questions will be in the Aug.2017 issue of VP.