I know what you’re thinking. Another Spiderman movie? I was skeptical too, and feared that this latest film would be a disappointing experience in superhero overkill. Boy was I wrong. Director Jon Watts must have known this would be a make or break effort, because he gives the franchise just what it needed — a fresh and fun new feel that both modernizes Peter Parker and stays true to his comic book roots.
Sure, Peter’s still a nerdy high school kid that is awkward with girls, but mix in current technology with social media and his character rises to a whole new level. No boring origin story here. In fact, the movie jumps right in with examples of exactly what a modern teen would do if he suddenly had superpowers and got to rub shoulders with the Avengers. He’d of course make GoPro recordings and video journals of just how freaking amazing it is! But since he can’t share any of the experiences, some of the funniest moments come as his spider skills are accidentally revealed to various characters despite his best intentions.
And it’s the new and improved characters that make the story go. Not only is Aunt May young, hip, and proudly Italian this time around, but all the characters are more current and culturally diverse. Peter’s best friend Ned is a dorky Asian kid; Liz, his over achieving love interest, is black; Flash Thompson, Peter’s rival, is Indian and Mary Jane, his future girlfriend, is reimagined as a quirky bookworm of mixed race. The changes work well as the group navigates the modern high school landscape of academic decathalons, house parties and homecoming dates, but the most refreshing addition is Tony Stark as Peter’s new idol and father figure.
The addition of Stark colors in some grey areas that always existed in Peter’s story — namely how a high school kid could create and maintain such a cool costume. Answer: he doesn’t! Stark provides it and, being Peter’s surrogate dad, he also includes instructions and warnings that Peter, like a typical teenager, promptly ignores with hilarious results.
Putting on the suit is kind of like moving into adulthood. It’s more complicated than you think, and going too fast can really make a mess of things. Hearing Tony Stark give “dad talks” is worth the price of admission while Peter’s attempts to impress him provides a perfect example of how teens can frustrate the hell out of you one moment and fill you with pride the next.
But what would a superhero movie be without a villain? For these movies to work there must be a believable bad guy and Michael Keaton achieves just the right balance as Adrian Toomes, a hardscrabble construction contractor who feels betrayed by big corporations like Stark Industries. He just wants a piece of the profits for his own friends and family and gets it by keeping, and then stealing, some of the technology for himself. Yes, he’s a bit sociopathic, but it’s hard to completely hate him, especially when you find out his real identity in an excellent, climactic, plot twist that brings some truly awkward moments and amazing action.
Thankfully the action doesn’t overshadow the story or the aftermath of blowing things up and arresting bad guys. Families, friends, and entire neighborhoods are affected. So did we need another Spiderman movie? I went into the theater thinking no way! I came out feeling that this might be the best one yet. It’s original, entertaining and even pokes fun at the audience’s expectation of a “sneak peek” in the closing credits. You’ll enjoy it from start to finish. I give it two thumbs up.