Super-Fun Spidey Swings into Theaters
What?! A superhero movie that flat-out entertains? No drama, no angst, no daddy issues?
Even if you’re worried that it just hasn’t been long enough to endure another Spider-Man reboot, I promise that Homecoming is a blast. Part of the heart of the summer line up – with the new Planet of the Apes up to bat next weekend – it’s the kind of joyous movie experience summers are made for. Nice!
With brief but wildly enjoyable screen time, the newest Spider-Man (Tom Holland) introduced himself to us in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. His presence was energetic, light-hearted and fun – childlike. Appropriate for a high school freshman.
It’s exactly that bottled exuberance that makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so enjoyable.
There are several things director Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car) and his enormous team of writers get right.
Firstly, they know we’re hip to Pete’s origin story, so the bite, Uncle Ben and all that needless angst are mercifully missing.
Next, they keep the story tight and low to the ground. It’s a training-wheels villain – somebody too big for you or me to contend with, but no intergalactic menace or god waiting to annihilate global humanity.
It also helps that said villain, the “Vulture,” is played by the reliably nutty and likable Michael Keaton, who brings the perfect mix of psychosis and humanity to a role that could have easily been pushed over the top.
But mainly, Watts hits a bullseye with the film’s joyously entertaining tone.
As solid as the Marvel universe has been, it’s not hard to find moments (especially in Civil War) when the push for a hip chuckle undercuts the action. The humor in Homecoming hits early and often, but only to reinforce that the film’s worldview is sprung from a teenage boy. In this way, it feels more true to its comic origins than most in the entire film genre.
Holland finds the perfect sweet spot to contrast the social minefields of high school with the learning curve of his new Stark Industries super suit.
Best of all, Holland re-sets the character to a place where its growth seems both unburdened and unpredictable. That’s exciting, and not just for Pete.
Same goes for the film. Watts and his writing team fill Homecoming with the thrills, wit and humanity (plus a plot twist that’s subtle genius) to give the entire superhero film genre a freshness that’s plenty welcome.
His latest film, the Brett Haley directed and co-penned The Hero, feels like an attempt to give Sam Elliott his own The Wrestler or Crazy Heart.
I’m cool with that.
In a role undoubtedly written specifically for the actor, Elliott plays an aging performer who’s knocked around Hollywood for decades but is best known for his deep, cowboy voice. The film opens with that memorable baritone recommending, “Lone Star barbecue sauce – the perfect pardner for your chicken.”
It’s an inspired scene, full of humorous indignity and carried beautifully by the voice-over veteran. It’s really a shame Haley can’t build on it.
Elliott’s Lee Hayden has cause to reevaluate his life when a health issue, a lifetime achievement award, a viral video and a surprising new girlfriend all collide unexpectedly. Oh, so many reasons to contemplate your own mortality.
Elliott’s quiet, moseying way remains as enigmatic and charming as it ever has been, and seeing him play a character so very close to himself is sometimes eerie. Real-life wife Katharine Ross even plays his ex.
The film scores highest marks in two scenes with Ross, and in everything with a delightful Nick Offerman, playing against type as Lee’s goofy former co-star and current weed dealer.
It derails hardest, though, when it tries to juggle a distant relationship with a daughter (Krysten Ritter) and a new romance with a hot, much younger woman (Laura Prepon).
The Hero breaks no new ground. Had Haley and co-writer Marc Basch (who also co-wrote Dreams) thrown one or two fewer contrivances at us, or found perhaps a fresher way to contend with their obvious choices, they might have had something.
Instead they ride Elliott’s charm and settle for sentimentality, which is such a shame. It’s high time Sam Elliott gets to lead his own movie. He deserves a little better than this.
Also Opening in Columbus:
7 from Etheria (NR)
The Big Sick (R)
The Journey (PG-13)
Score: A Film Music (NR)
Reviews with help from George Wolf.