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GREAT POWER AND RESPONSIBILITY: New ‘Spider-Man’ succeeds in lifting the franchise

There’s a scene in the first season of the amazing Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” when drama queen Titus Andromedan auditions for the Broadway show “Spider-Man 2: Too Many Spider-Mans.” The piece is a passionate ballad and includes the lyrics, “Spider-Man is at it again / this time we’re 50 percent more Spider-Mans.” The song rang through my head as I stood in line for tickets for the third reboot of the iconic superhero and sixth Spider-Man movie in the 21st century. In theory I should have been excited for the latest Marvel-produced “Spider-Man,” but I was beginning to wonder if there are just too many Spider-Mans.

SPIDEY ACTION: Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man, if not a bit forceful in his brand of humor. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

SPIDEY ACTION: Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man, if not a bit forceful in his brand of humor. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

I was a big fan of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” flicks. Yes, the third one was a hot mess, with a script so full of holes it could have been used as a sex doll for paper cut fetishists. There was a great cohesion between director and source material. Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies were fun, cartoony, and did a good job of blending the sensibilities of comic books with the fluid storytelling of the motion picture. The attempted followup “Amazing Spider-Man” movies were anything but. Somehow Sony managed to fire blanks from their web-shooters and had to ask Marvel to help Spider-Man get his groove back.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is an admirable attempt at bringing Spider-Man to the big screen. There’s a lot that it gets right, so let’s start there. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is a typical high-school sophomore, except for super powers bestowed upon him by a radioactive spider.  At the start of the film, he’s just gotten back from helping Tony Stark and the Avengers take on Captain America and a handful of renegade heroes chronicled in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War.” Peter has superhero stars in his eyes, so regular life seems kind of boring. He has an awesome new Tony Stark-manufactured super suit, and he’s giddy with excitement over what comes next.

Peter’s high-school activities begin to suffer. He’s so busy trying to impress Tony Stark as Spider-Man and manages to disappoint his teachers and peers on the academic decathlon team. Peter focuses on a group of criminals selling high-tech weapons around Queens—a low-rent, under-the-radar operation led by the menacing Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture (Michael Keaton). Peter believes bringing in the Vulture will help take him to the next level as a hero. Unfortunately, he’s still learning how to be an adult and a superhero. Thus, he is prone to making rookie mistakes.

There’s a lot of heart in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Tom Holland does a great job presenting a genuinely conflicted character torn between two worlds he awkwardly stumbles through. I struggled with just how much awkwardness there was in the movie. So many scenes show Spider-Man stumbling, falling, failing, and flailing.  The movie strives to walk a tight web of tension and comedy but never really nails either with any effectiveness. The movie has a solid first act to set up Peter’s world.  He is a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, struggling to find his rhythm in the skyscraper-less borough of Queens. I understand the need to show us Peter’s journey as an awkward kid into a true hero, but so much of it felt forced.

They could have called this “Spider-Man: DERP!” The sheer number of scenes involving a bumbling, fumbling Spider-Man is funny at first, but eventually the constant Kramer-esque physical comedy starts to grate through a painful second act that threatens to derail the film. There’s also some really pedestrian action sequences. Even the relatively terrible “Amazing Spider-Man” had some dynamic action. Fortunately, the movie awkwardly stumbles into an excellent third act to save the film from utter mediocrity.

Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man, though his strained attempts at humor sometimes fall flat and feel forced. The story is a relatively low-stakes affair; thankfully, it doesn’t involve blue lasers opening portals in the sky and a textbook end-of-the-world scenario.

It would be nice to see more comic-book movies approach the material with a limited scale. At its core, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a character piece. There are some well-developed characters, mostly Peter’s peers like the Daria-esque Michelle (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalan) as the well-intentioned, socially awkward sidekick.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a perfectly serviceable superhero movie with occasional moments of excellence, stewing in a simmering pot of mediocrity that has crippled the genre for the past few years.

DETAILS:
Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Rated PG-13
Directed by Jon Watts
Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Mariso Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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