What a critique of a summer superhero blockbuster might look like in a matriarchal world (inspired by David Edelstein’s sexist review of Wonder Woman):
The only grace note in the generally clunky Spider-Man: Homecoming is its star, the five-foot-eight-inch, barely legal, English actor and dancer Tom Holland, who is the perfect blend of teenage day-dreaminess and balls. The 21-year-old plays Peter Parker, a male super-hero with arachnid powers. He’s also a total nerd — we’re talking full-on dweeb, one that rivals Anthony Michael Hall’s Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles — yet this somehow doesn’t diminish his appeal, sexual or otherwise. The movie chronicles, with surprising seriousness, his attempt to balance the challenges of high school life with saving the world from the dastardly plans of family-man-gone-wrong, Vulture (played by ex-Batman Michael Keaton, looking a little leathery around the eyes). Homecoming is the story of how Peter learns a lesson of moral courage, one that won’t be big news to you, since you’ve probably seen all five — count ‘em, five! — self-indulgent Spider-Man movies made in just the last 15 years.
Holland didn’t wow me in his debut in The Impossible, playing a pubescent Brit caught in the 2004 Thailand tsunami who’s forced to see his mother’s bare boob in the wreckage. He seemed embarrassed and stiff (and not in a good way!). Here, he’s a treat though, with his adorable attempt at an American accent delivered quite courageously. (All British dudes, even when they’re suppressing their mother tongue, are hot, which I say with neither shame nor hesitation.) In some scenes, Holland’s Parker pauses mid-dialogue and his miraculously clear teen skin wrinkles and contorts — he’s thinking deep thoughts. Why do adults kill the innocent? Where is Vulture? What am I going to wear to prom?
While this Spider-Man is still into bondage (Peter’s web-shooters catch bad guys and the hearts of movie goers), some fans who cannot appreciate the elfin magic of young, lithe dancers might be disappointed that Peter Parker is still in his awkward phase. With a male director, Jon Watts, at the helm, Spider-Man isn’t even photographed to elicit slobbers. Slobbering, red-blooded, American patriots will be even more put out, given that Spider-Man’s crotch-area is never given the loving cinematographic attention it deserves. I didn’t miss Nicholas Hammond’s adult yet soft and ill-defined body from the 1970’s TV show, though. Holland is still a hottie, albeit with a small “h.”
But you’ll need the patience of a Buddhist monk to wait for this taut, young Spider-Man to appear in costume. After a humdrum science experimentation montage that defies all logic and laws of physics (not to mention, devotes way too much time to the minutia of male teen friendship based on mutual virginity), the movie begins to shake off its cobwebs. It’s a fish-out-of-water set-up — Peter is a sort of merman with no idea how to fight like the big guys in the big bad world or how to talk to female authority figures in high school. He looks cute in his obligatory AP Chem outfit with the faded tee and hoodie, but it’s not until he slips into his high-tech bodysuit that hugs him in all the right places and leaps into the fray, that he comes into his own. (Upon the big reveal, my heart did about five somersaults.)
Alas, much of his fighting is computer-enhanced, and there’s way too much of the Tarzan-swinging that got old at about the time of this century’s third Spider-Man movie. Watts lacks the artistic aesthetic of female visionaries, and the battles are a hash. Give me the brute strength and otherworldly power of Amazon-trained, modern god Diana Prince any day. As precious as Spider-Man is, he’s no Wonder Woman.
The gushing reviews of Spiderman: Homecoming suggest that people are grading on a big curve to protect the delicate feelings of comic book fanatics still living in their parents’ basements, but I’ll admit this gratuitous retelling of the boy-bug-wonder’s story is preferable to yet another installment in the X-Men series. It may be worth mentioning that I didn’t see this Spider-Man in 3-D, which might have made a difference (especially in the crotch department).
The climax did send me out happy. At regular intervals in the epic battle between Spider-Man and Vulture, Watts cuts to long-shots of Tom Holland’s silhouette against the red-and-gold sky. His body looks like an early Michelangelo, flexed and pulsing with a sense of purpose. He’s both boy and man. Despite my reservations, I fell for this alluring paradox. If loving him is wrong, I don’t want to be right.