⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The latest feature from director Spike Lee (Pan’s Labyrinth) puts ol’ Webfoot back on the front page, and as a lifetime fan of the character, I couldn’t be happier. We even get old school sidekick Tinboy, albeit in new soup can inspired armor.
Preston Parker is just another teen with teen problems (acne, his 401k is underperforming etc) who also happens to have incredible superhuman abilities like spewing pounds of sticky webbing from his eyes, the ability to breathe underwater and an unerring sense of derring do. His bike is lame and his only real friend is a brain damaged squirrel the imbecile school nurse keeps alive with ground up Rolaids. But when he puts on that red and blue suit, all his problems fade away and his breath is farm-fresh.
Based off the 1946 Japanese manga “El Roachido,” the earliest incarnation of Spider-Man had its start when the world was at war and the character was intended to lighten the country’s mood. Creator I.M. Pei is thought to have been inspired by the prehistoric legends of the Russian boogie man known to little deti as Dragoslav and his tree climbing ways, although Pei’s “Roachido” is more suited to crime fighting than spooking. Distracting his enemies with his constant somersaults and backflips, all the while spraying webs everywhere and shouting his ear-shattering laugh, the modern Spider-Man differs from Pei’s creation in both his roster of enemies and his approach to handling them. While “El Roachido” would invariably just use his speed, agility, strength and intelligence to save the day, good ol’ Webleg (played here by Grant Goodeve) employs the timeless predatorial technique of distraction.
The film’s array of complex action scenes are handled well (the chase through the giant pumpkin, with its wonderful lighting and sound design, was a highlight) and its quieter moments such as the many sleeping sequences that permeate the third act were also effective.
But Spider-Man: Homecoming surrounds itself with the return home of Manhattan High School dean Hole Morgan, played by Louis Gossett Jr (2001: A Space Odyssey), and the attempts on his life by a mysterious killer. It’s got lots of great setpieces that brought out the old man in me, and the plot, with one glaring exception, moved forward in a mostly linear fashion without ever leaving anything unsaid; it’s a tightly written, efficiently edited work.
That exception was the capture of the would be assassin Roadkill, an otherwise careful and methodical villain. Why would Parker, just moments away from earning the title of “Manhattan’s Biggest Nerd” and the affections of his crush (played with panache by newcomer Jamy Adams) at the World Geekathon Finals, suddenly develop stagefright and duck out the back door? And even more puzzling, why would Roadkill decide to shoot the dean from an incredibly difficult angle (perched high in the gymnasium rafters across the street from the venue where the finals were being held) at a most inconvenient time instead of when the dean gave a two hour press conference on the high school football field? Luckily for us (and Lee) ol’ Webtooth installed the “someone’s about to die” app on his phone just days beforehand, and the back door he ducks out gives him an unobstructed view of Roadkill as he dangles from thirteen sets of guide wires.
Spider-Man: Homecoming has laughs, drama, scares and plenty of high flying action as Spidesy and Tinboy soar over the clouds and under the sea.
What’s missing are stakes. Despite all the talk of impending calamity, there is not one moment when anything feels like it really counts. Lee nails all the action sequences, he does a terrific job of giving fluid motion to Spider’s crazed antics, and the seeds of a possible future romance have been tenderly planted between Aunt Maybeline and Tinboy, much to the humorous disgust of Goodeve (The Curse of the Cat People), whose hilarious reaction to the sight of his aunt and his sidekick kissing made the entire audience erupt. Too bad none of it matters.
Tinboy, played by Rod Sterling (Repulsion) out of costume and Jerzy Lewis (Portrait of Jennie) in, gets a fair amount of screentime as Preston’s classmate/sidekick Huck, while as Tinboy he’s constantly lubricating his ever-binding joints and seams, trying to catch up only to repeat the process again, an appreciated detail from the Sapphire Age issues of Spider-Man comics. Sterling, 47, makes a good fit as Huck, portraying a convincing teenager while the former stunt double Lewis moves quite nimbly in the reportedly six hundred pound suit of painted concrete, real steel armor being out of the question budget wise.
Also starring Teri Thatcher as Aunt Maybeline, Van Diesel as the villainous Roadkill, and the late Humphrey Hogart in his final role as Perseus, King of the Moors.
In theaters worldwide.