Spider-Man: Homecoming — 6/10

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017, Jon Watts)

A group of high school students is on an elevator ascending the Washington Monument in D.C. The elevator breaks and the monument begins to crack. Spider-Man races to the rescue with the help of his AI computer-suit voice “Karen” giving him directions. Meanwhile, inside the elevator the terrified teenagers are told by a tour guide: “don’t worry, you’re safe,” and immediately Karen tells Spider-Man something like “They are not safe at all.” It happens one more time for repeated comic effect — the human tells the teens one thing, then the computer reveals the opposite truth to the superhero. Science and artificial intelligence, built by billionaire weapons developer Tony Stark, are always far more accurate than the fallible, gullible blue collar humans. And that eerie realization makes this film unintentionally but deeply, deeply misanthropic.

The theme extends to the villain, too. Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a blue collar construction foreman whose career is destroyed by Stark, who just wants to keep unknown alien power stones out of the hands of people too dumb or untrustworthy. And indeed, once Keaton and his goons attain the weapons, they use them for evil. The good guys are the rich scientists; the bad guys are the poor working stiffs. Don’t rely on the goodness of mankind: rely on technology, money, and intelligence. That’s the only thing that will save us.

Luckily Watts doesn’t even really seem to realize how disturbing and capitalistic this movie is — he revels in the glee of Spider-Man being the one superhero freed from adult darkness, trafficking in typical high school shenanigans. And that’s where this movie shines. Holland is terrific; not only his American accent but his Marty McFly-like voice as he struggles with a crush (on the wrong girl, of course — Laura Harrier’s Liz is a dud compared to the sardonic appeal of Zendaya’s MJ) and with earning the respect of his idol Iron Man. Whenever the film takes place between the school walls or Aunt May’s apartment, the comedy is in high gear. But when Keaton and Downey (and third-billed Jon Favreau, for some reason) drag it down into predictable CG Marvelness, it just turns into yet another interchangeable entry in this ongoing, super-expensive television series.

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