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Film Review

New films: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Directed by Jon Watts

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a ton of fun – like first “Guardians of the Galaxy” levels of fun.

This feels like the superhero movie John Hughes might have made – with, perhaps, more nods to Hughes in the film than to Stan Lee – and I mean that in a good way. Primary story writers and screenplay co-writers (with four others) Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley have prior ties to Hughes, having previously rebooted his “Vacation” characters and here we get a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” tribute in one scene and a romantic sub-plot that is reminiscent of “Some Kind of Wonderful.”

But, more importantly, we get kids in high school who seem largely age appropriate. After all, Peter Parker is just an ordinary (albeit geeky) teenager who suddenly acquires super powers – he’s not an alien or an alienated billionaire who has had time to come to terms with all of this. And Tom Holland as Parker channels more excitement and eagerness than his predecessors – and it’s an infectious level of enthusiasm that fits the character.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” doesn’t bother to re-re-tell the origin story, although it makes passing reference to Parker being bitten by a spider, instead starting by placing the movie in the timeline of the Marvel Comics Universe, following the fight sequence seen in “Captain America: Civil War” that introduced Holland as the new Spider-Man. Having seen that movie certainly helps the context of this one, as well as the relationship between Parker and Tony Stark/Ironman – but the film still feels like it would stand on its own merits, at least for anyone vaguely familiar with the other recent movies.

That opening sequence feels very timely, with Parker videoing his own involvement with the other Avengers, although it might not age well. It will be interesting to watch it again several years from now to see if it still feels appropriate or if it begins to feel somewhat dated – but for now, at least, it works.

The basic storyline involves Michael Keaton (himself a former Batman) as a disgruntled contractor, displaced from the cleanup after a previous Avengers battle (again context helps), who pioneers a black market trade in weapons enhanced by alien technology. Parker stumbles onto this activity and sees it as a way to prove his abilities and usefulness to Tony Stark and the rest of the crew.

Much of the interplay between Parker and Stark is mediated by Stark’s assistant Happy Hogan, played by Jon Favreau. That’s a good move as a little Tony Stark goes a long way, especially when trying to establish a new iteration of a different character, and Happy is a far more neutral and disinterested foil to Parker’s ambitions and impatience. The other primary mirror to the nature of Peter Parker’s experience with his new powers and colleagues is his best friend Ned (played wonderfully by Jacob Batalon) who seems barely able to contain himself, or actually unable to, in almost every scene after he learns of Peter’s double life. Again, it fits the age of the characters and what’s happening to them.

Other noteworthy faces include Marisa Tomei as Peter’s Aunt May, Gwyneth Paltrow in a barely there cameo as Pepper Potts, Tyne Daly as an almost as briefly seen government official, and Donald Glover as small time crook Aaron Davis (with implications for future sequels). The two other sides of the “Some Kind of Wonderful” romance are played by Laura Harrier and Zendaya.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a blast to watch and is itself some kind of wonderful. Although it avoids the events that gave him his powers, it still manages to maintain the “origins” dynamic as we watch Tom Holland’s Peter Parker come to terms with at least some of his skill set in a manner that feels authentic for a fifteen year old. He’s infectiously impatient to get ahead and it leaves us similarly impatient to meet him again.

Moviebrief

Baby Driver” opened last week to great acclaim and is also a fun ride. Anson Elgort plays Baby, a talented getaway driver repeatedly employed by a crime mastermind played by Kevin Spacey who (mysteriously) seems to know every potential score in town. They have history and Baby has reason to get away himself, especially after meeting a young waitress played by Lily James. It’s written and directed by Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “The World’s End,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) so the fast action and tone are to be expected, but it’s not without its flaws. The female characters seem barely defined, other than by their love interests, and for a film that has so much fun with cars and car chases, it’s odd to have perhaps the best of them at the beginning, setting the pace but also raising the expectations. Still, it’s neat to see real cars and real driving and it’s both a blast to watch and to listen to, with a great soundtrack and a plot device that makes that soundtrack fit perfectly.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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