So I just checked out the new Spider-Man film, featuring young Tom Holland in the lead role. Fresh off his introduction in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, this is a "Homecoming" in several ways. The school dance certainly figures into the plot, but this is also the welcoming party that brings the web-slinger into the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the 16th (!) feature film in the inter-connected universe that includes Iron Man, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange. (That's not even counting ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter, and Netflix's DAREDEVIL and other series. They all live in the same universe.)
But this is also the third re-booted Spider-Man series. It has nothing to do with the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, or the two Andrew Garfield / Emma Stone that didn't excite very many people. So, should you really care about seeing a whole new Spider-Man series starting over from scratch?
Oh, yes. If you don't happen to be a comic nerd like me, here's a little history. Way before Disney purchased Marvel and helped turn their characters into the movie-spewing cash register they are, Marvel Comics was really struggling for money. To make that money, they sold the rights to their characters away. Sony got Spider-Man, just as 20th Century Fox purchased X-Men. While many characters (Ghost Rider, Electra, Daredevil) have returned to Marvel because of failed film projects, Sony has kept the film rights to Spider-Man because they kept making movies.
Trouble is, the last three movies have more or less been mediocre affairs. Cool to watch, but the stories have sputtered and failed for one reason or another. Sony Pictures had a problem. The Spider-Man property is too valuable to give up, but they just couldn't seem to make a good movie with them. (Fox has a similar problem with Fantastic Four, but that's a whole 'nother issue.)
So two years ago, they reached a landmark agreement with Disney----something that's never been done before. Basically, they'll work with Disney. Sony still gets to make Spider-Man films, but he gets to play in the established Marvel Cinematic Universe. If guys like Robert Downey Jr. is available and willing to guest-star as Iron Man, Disney will allow it. (I'm hoping that Spider-Man can team up with Charlie Cox's DAREDEVIL from the Netflix series. It's unlikely, but it could happen now that they officially live in the same universe---as well as the same New York City.) Sony makes the movie, Sony keeps all the profits, and none of it goes to Disney. From what I hear, no money was exchanged in this deal. And because Spider-Man now gets to rub elbows with other famous heroes, more people are likely to be interested in this new film series.
So what does Disney get for this generous agreement? Spider-Man gets to guest-star in other films, which Sony gets no financial piece of. That's why he was in Captain America: Civil War, and he's planned to appear in Avengers: Infinity War. They get to share the character, and hopefully a similar deal with eventually happen with the Fantastic Four.......and in a perfect world, the X-Men.
But how does this new film hold up? The plot gives us our young Spider-Man, still bubbling with enthusiasm over his adventure in CIVIL WAR, desperately trying to impress the big boys and take on real threats. Here are my thoughts and observations about the new movie, which I'll keep vague and spoiler-free for those of you who haven't caught it yet.
1. Not as epic as the first two Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN films, but far and away more enjoyable than the last three Spider-Man films.
2. The amount of Iron Man in this film is perfectly restrained.
3. There is a second, uncredited Avenger who also cameos a few times in this film. It gets progressively funnier every time.
4. It’s so much fun seeing Spider-Man have a true “homecoming” of playing in the larger Marvel Universe, complete with story elements that go back all the way to the first Avengers movie.
5. Michael Keaton makes for one of the most three-dimensional, compelling and intimidating villains since Loki. He’s far from the cartoonish thief I was expecting, and he was downright scary at times.
6. Besides Aunt May being rewritten as “a weirdly attractive hot aunt”, expect a few other Spidey supporting characters being given new spins. For me, they all worked.
7. For the first time, Spider-Man actually spends a great deal of time fighting where there are no tall buildings in this movie. It really does make a difference.
8. Aunt May gets the BEST line in one of the most memorable moments. You’ll know it when you see it. I’m still laughing.
9. You like post-credit sequences? Absolutely wait until the very end of the credits. Your patience will be rewarded.
10. You may not like all the Spider gadgets that Tony Stark built into the suit. (Seriously, that man has way too much free time on his hands!) And while I hope they downplay that element in future films, it really does lead to some great and inspired comic moments.
11. I did like "Suit Lady," the voice of Spider-Man's suit's artificial intelligence. I liked it even more that "Suit Lady" was voiced by Jennifer Connelly. It's even cooler that Jennifer Connelly is married to Paul Bethany, the former Iron Man A.I. "Jarvis" and currently, the Vision. That's some in-jokes layered upon in-jokes right there, kids!
12. 4 out of 5 stars. It’s grounded, the stakes are smaller, it’s a small personal journey of a relatively new hero entering a world of celebrity super-heroes, gods and Hulks. It skips all the origin stuff (we’ve seen it all before) and just explores the kid just becoming a man. And it really leaves you desperately wanting to know what happens next.
John Yeo Jr. is the author of MAMA SAUVETERRE'S CURIOSITY SHOPPE and THE KING'S TOURNAMENT. His new book, THE INFINITE LEAGUE, goes on sale in August. All of his books can be purchased at Amazon, or directly from him at www.yeoniverse.com.