A review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) isn’t a bad movie.  To the contrary, it’s a very good one — I would even rate it a 9 out of 10, if a little reluctantly.

The action, humor, surprises and special effects are all top-notch; it’s got a slew of fun Easter eggs and great continuity within the Marvel Cinematic Universe; and Michael Keaton hits it out of the park as the story’s villain.  (As Ed Harris did recently with HBO’s “Westworld,” the sublimely likable Keaton really surprised me with how he could become so intimidating.)  Furthermore, the screenwriters wisely omit another redundant re-telling of the web-slinger’s origin.  (Even a die-hard fan like me is sick of seeing or reading about it.)

I think your enjoyment of this movie might vary according to what you want Spider-Man to be.  This isn’t a movie in which Peter Parker or his alter ego stand out as his own man (despite its plot resolution’s heavy-handed efforts to tell us that).  I submit that it’s fairly undistinguished as a standalone superhero film —  it feels like an ancillary, companion film to the “Avengers” movies, including last year’s de facto installment, “Captain America: Civil War.”  Indeed, fan-favorite Tony Stark is “Spider-Man: Homecoming’s” most significant supporting character — far more than any of the many friends, family, love interests or villains that have long inhabited the iconic hero’s mythos.  Peter’s primary motivation throughout the movie is his desire to become an Avenger, like a normal kid would aspire to the varsity football team.  Many of his powers stem from a ultra-high-tech costume designed and given to him by Iron Man; it even has an advanced A.I. that is a femme fatale equivalent of J.A.R.V.I.S.  (Fun fact: that alluring voice belongs to none other than the alluring Jennifer Connelly.  The actress is the wife of Paul Bettany, who is the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. and then the actor portraying The Vision.  And Connelly herself played the love interest of 1991’s mostly forgotten “The Rocketeer,” a World War II-era hero with the a similar character concept to Iron Man.)

I was a big fan of Spider-Man in the 1990’s, and, believe me, the ol’ web-head did just fine with his own powers, intelligence and character — and without any sort of “internship” with Iron Man, either metaphorically or otherwise.  He was also a far more popular character with readers.  I was buying comics regularly between 1991 and 1996 — while Spider-Man books and merchandise were everywhere, I don’t think I ever remember seeing an “Iron Man” comic on the racks at my local comic shop.  I kept thinking inwardly of Spider-Man during this movie as “Iron Man Jr.,” and, for me, that wasn’t a good thing.

I also found myself musing during the film that this felt like “Spider-Man Lite.”  While “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was fun, it doesn’t have the depth, character development or gravitas of the Sam Raimi trilogy.  (Yes, I even liked the third one, despite its bizarre flaws.)  I know that critics are praising the movie’s lighter tone, and I realize the need to avoid a simple rehash of the Raimi films.  (Nobody would want that; we can rightfully expect more from the excellent MCU.)  I actually prefer the Raimi films, though.  While Tom Holland might be the better Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire was a strange casting choice), the Raimi movies were more … heartfelt.  They were an earnest exploration of the Spider-Man of the comics, and they felt … truer.   “Homecoming,” in contrast, is yet another cool installment in the “Avengers” series.  “Spider Man 2” came out 13 years ago, and I can still remember how that movie made me feel — not to mention how its sheer quality vindicated “comic book movies” like no other film before it.  This new movie will not be memorable that way.

Anyway, although my criticisms above are obviously lengthy, please know that this is only because I love the source material so much — and we comic book fans have a tendency to analyze.  I certainly enjoyed the movie, and I’d cheerfully recommend it.  (Note my rating.)  The MCU continues to entertain with quality movies; its consistency, even with its expanding group of ongoing Netflix series, is kind of astonishing.

Go see this.  You’ll have fun.

 

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Pitt Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia, June 2017

Pitt Street in Fredricksburg is looking terrific — the area seems far more gentrified and better maintained than when I lived there during the summer of 1991, after my freshman year at Mary Washington College.

There were always a few college kids living on Pitt back in the day — either just during the summer or for the entire year, attracted by the dirt-cheap rents just north of downtown.  You sort of got what you paid for, though; back then, we thought of it as “Pits Street.”

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I had my first place (outside of my freshman dorm room) at 304 Pitt Street — that’s the little grey house on the left in the next two photos.  I sublet it from another drama student at MWC.  (He was an upperclassman who coached me a little on my acting, despite the fact that I wasn’t very good.)  Tim was a gigantic guy, and former military.  He’d been in some kind of special forces, and the other guys explained to me that he was too tough to care much about the size or quality of the accommodations.  “To Tim, a two-by-four is a bed,” one of them explained me.

So the “place” in question wasn’t fancy.  It hardly qualified as a room.  It was actually just a walk-in closet with a window; I slept on a futon because a mattress wouldn’t fit.  But the price was right — rent was just $150 a month, with utilities included.  My part-time job was right on Caroline Street.  (I played the role of “the tavern-keeper’s son” at The Rising Sun Tavern, a living-history museum.)  And right up Princess Anne Street was the comic shop I’ve written about here before — this was the place with the singularly horrid woman who visibly hated every customer who walked in.

I had sooooo little money that summer.  Meals occasionally consisted solely of those butter cookies that sold for 99-cents-a-package at the nearby Fas-Mart.  (This wasn’t an entirely unhappy circumstance — those things were so good, they were addictive.)  I spent a lot of time listening to Depeche Mode on cassette; any song from the “Some Great Reward” album will always take me back to Pitt Street.  When I started dating one of the “tavern wenches” at work, our dates always had to cost little or nothing.  And I spent a lot of time watching “Star Trek” on VHS tapes from the Fredericksburg Library.

My housemates were Mike and Paul, who were upperclassmen.  Mike was a tall, soft-spoken Fairfax native who appeared to endlessly ponder things.  Paul was a likable, irreverent metal-head who loved to make fun of me.  (Hey, I deserved it, after working hard for a year at Bushnell Hall seeking the Most Obnoxious Resident Award.)  My complete dependence on Fas-Mart was an endless source of amusement for him.  (I didn’t have a car, and the Giant Supermarket was along Route 1 on the other side of town.)  He laughed the hardest when I demonstrated my ignorance of metal.  He actually fell over once when I read his Queensryche poster and pronounced their name as “Queensearch.”

Mike and Paul had a friend named Stefan who occasionally stopped by the house.  Stefan was unique.  He always appeared confused by life, and he always arrived with news of some strange new misfortune that had befallen him.  He once showed up at our door, for example, looking like a victim of a nuclear reactor meltdown — his thick black hair had been brutally shorn away into a mottled “crew cut.”  (He’d tried to save money by giving himself a haircut, not realizing how difficult that was to do correctly.)  Later that summer he stopped by with news of a near-death experience.  (This time, he’d electrocuted himself trying to change a broken light-bulb while the lamp was still plugged in.)

There was no shortage of drug activity in that part of Fredericksburg in the early 1990’s.  Some girls up the street from where I lived grew a man-sized marijuana “tree” right in their living room.  Another guy who was well known in the neighborhood offered the dubious service of delivering acid to anyone’s door.

A Fredericksburg native on the other side of the street was known for howling at the sky from his front porch.  This was during the day; the moon had nothing to do with it.  I was told he was issuing some sort of recurring, primal challenge to some other local who had threatened him.  He was at least not acting out of paranoia … one morning his adversary indeed appeared at the edge of his yard, brandishing a baseball bat.  The Howling Man fortified his position on the porch by returning with a lengthy kitchen knife.

Nobody called the police.  The guys in my house at least had an excuse — we didn’t have a phone.  Cell phones just weren’t a thing in 1991, and we lacked either the money or the organizational skills to set up a landline (probably both).

I remember being concerned about the Howling Man after Mike told me about the extended stalemate.  (It had occurred when I was at work, pretending to be a colonist in charge of the tavern wenches.)  Our neighbor had always been nice to me.  I’d given him some milk after he asked for it one morning, and he’d given me an ostentatious bow, kneeling before me on one knee and bowing his head, like a knight would do before a king.  He had plenty of decorum, he just saved it for those who were deserving.

 

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Looking south down Princess Anne Street toward the downtown area.  The Irish Brigade used to be all the way down and at left.  (I’ve been told that various restaurants close and re-open at the address, and … that the site of Mother’s Pub was also rebranded as the “new” Irish Brigade for a while?  But by different owners?)  That’s just confusing.

Just a little farther down on Princess Anne is the historic Fredericksburg Baptist Church. My girlfriend during the summer of 1991 sang in the Maranatha choir there.

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Looking north on Princess Anne Street, toward Hardee’s, and where Fas-Mart and the comic shop used to be.

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Does anyone else remember this grey house on Pitt Street, between Princess Anne and Caroline?  (That extension with the latticed porch hadn’t been built yet in the 1990’s.)  I think the house number is 209.  It became a big party house in 1993 and 1994 … I was at a party with a bunch of New Hall people during my senior year, I think, when the cops arrived.  I remember the house emptied out in an instant.

I myself slid down the outside of the house via the gutter from the second floor.  (Seriously, people, when I went through my Spider-Man phase, I was really into climbing things.)  I did something weird to the joint in my right thumb — it didn’t hurt much, but, to this day, my thumb still makes a clicking noise whenever I bend it.

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Nothing says “gentrification” like seeing an upscale “Red Dragon Brewery” where a creepy, vacant building used to be.  Way to go, Fredericksburg.

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Heading south toward Caroline Street.

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Caroline Street.

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Looking south on Caroline from Pitt.

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Looking back up Pitt from Caroline.

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Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017 (4)

Pictured is Bushnell Hall at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I lived here during the 1990-91 school year.  It was a freshman dorm then; I don’t know if that’s still the case.

I arrived here just before my 18th birthday; this was the first place I ever lived away from home.  I have never admitted it until this moment, but I was terrified watching my mother’s car pull away after I unloaded the last of my things.  That terror lasted … two hours?  Three?  After my first dinner with the other Bushnell kids at Seacobeck Dining Hall, Mary Washington College felt goddam perfect.  I never wanted to leave.

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My dorm room was on the bottom floor, second from the right in the picture below.  It was a suite — there were two rooms connected by a small bathroom.  And there were six 18-year-old boys living there — yes, that means three to a room.  Good lord, those were close quarters.  We were awakened twice a week by the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of the garbage truck reversing to empty a dumpster outside our window.  And this was in a room without air conditioning, in Virginia, where teenagers were experiencing college-level academic stresses for the first time.  I helpfully eased tensions in the suite by playing Depeche Mode’s “Policy of Truth” 3,043 times.  The other five guys LOVED that.

There were even good-natured jabs connected with the North and the South.  I habitually and dryly referred to one of my suitemates as “South Virginia;” he addressed me just as dryly as “Long Island Piece of Shit,” (or just “L.I.P.S.,” for short).  He also took to calling me “Urban Spillover,” an appellation he derived from one of Dr. Bowen’s “Geography of North America” classes that mentioned Long Island.  For some reason, the latter nickname absolutely felt more pejorative.

Seeing those double white doors beside my room below, and that steep hill in the following photos, will always remind me of my 18th birthday.  A group of first-floor guys and fourth-floor girls had gathered inside that door just after moving in during the August of 1990, before classes started.  A polite debate stirred there about whether opening those doors would set off the fire alarm.  (They were clearly marked “Fire Doors” by an electric sign but … the LIGHT wasn’t on in the sign.  And surely the administration wouldn’t require the guys on my floor to walk up an entire flight to the lobby just to exit the building, right?)

Without a word of warning, one of the first-floor guys spontaneously decided to test this theory by just blasting right through it.  (No, it WASN’T me.)

The fire alarm went off.  Everyone panicked.  The guys and girls all shot down the hill outside Bushnell after the guy who’d triggered the alarm, and we all ran … right off campus.  We didn’t stop running until we’d reached somewhere along William Street, I think.

But not all of us escaped without injury.  One of my roommates was a tall, burly guy from right there in Fredericksburg, and he slipped in the sand and loose gravel that characterized that hill during that long ago August.  I still remember that dull, loud, discordant thump-and-rattle as his body hit the slope, while my own lungs were pounding.  When we reached the spot along William Street where our panic finally subsided, we all turned and gaped at his wound.  One of his legs had become a sepia Monet of sand-encrusted blood.  There were still pebbles clinging there, I’m sure of it.

He took it like a trooper.  I guess … he just walked it off.  And we walked around the ENTIRE town.  We were scared to return to campus, what with images of arrest and expulsion dancing in our teenage minds.  (We all might have overreacted a little.)  So we went on a truly lengthy hot summer trek that circled all of the historic downtown area.  (I think we wound up at Carl’s Ice Cream on Princess Anne Street at some point.)

That was really when I saw the City of Fredericksburg for the first time.  I remember thinking that the South seemed like some other world — or maybe the same world, but 100 years ago.  And I don’t mean that in any negative sense.  It genuinely confused me that this town was called a “city,” but it just seemed idyllic and old fashioned and beautiful.  I’m not sure if the average Fredericksburg resident realizes this, but their city indeed makes an impression on newcomers.

Somewhere along the way, I finally let it slip that the day was my birthday; I think heat exhaustion influenced my usual reticence on the subject.  A couple of the girls stole away to a card store on Caroline Street, I think, and bought a card for me.  My new friends all signed it for me upon our eventual return to Bushnell Hall that day (which was thankfully not occasioned by even a mention of the fire doors).  I went to bed that night thinking that my new friends were a pretty decent group.

Anyway — more on my roommate’s injury … he was a bit of an eccentric guy, and one of his eccentricities was that he did not like to go to the Campus Health Center.  He cleaned his long leg scrape himself, and then … bandaged it with duct tape.  That’s right — duct tape.  He’d apparently brought some along with him as an incoming freshman, just in case of an emergency.  You can’t say it was a needless precaution — here he was, using it in lieu of bandages.

He walked around campus like that for a while.  He looked a lot he was wearing part of an extremely low-budget “Robocop” Halloween costume.  I honestly don’t know what transpired when it came time to remove the duct tape, and I’m not sure I want to.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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This the dorm’s south side.  If you face Bushnell looking north, the southern cap of the rectangular campus will be at your back.  Today, it is is one the last places of the main campus’ 234 acres that remains undeveloped.

I’m not sure if there is any connection here, but there is a large mound of dirt among the trees and ivy that was rumored to be the remains of a Civil War fortification.  It makes sense — that hill commands a view of the city; that’s why I used to go there to have my once-a-day Newport menthol cigarettes around dusk.  And in the Nineteenth Century, before William Street’s more modern buildings were erected, I’ll bet you could see Marye’s Heights and the key sections of Sunken Road where the Battle of Fredericksburg raged.

I chatted with a girl on the steps of Bushnell once who told me she’d spoken with the ghost of a Civil War soldier.  She actually carried on a brief conversation with him.  She re-enacted the exchange after a some urging from me, but I wound up giving her story little credence.  I didn’t exactly believe in ghosts, and she sounded like an actress confused about a role.  (I wasn’t sure why her Confederate soldier would speak with a British accent.)

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“Justice League America” illustration, “Who’s Who in the DC Universe” #7, Adam Hughes, 1991

Drawn by Adam Hughes, inked by Karl Story, and colored by Anthony Tollin.

(I had to consult the Facebook nerd-hive-mind to find out the creative team behind this piece — thanks to Charlie McElvey for the info, and, by extension, Frank Becker. 🙂 )

 

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Variant cover to “X-Men” #1, Jim Lee, 1991

I previously identified the variant covers for Jim Lee’s first issue as a single four-section fold-out.  That was a mistake.  These were four variant covers for Issue #1 that comprised a larger picture when you placed them side-by-side.

In 1991, this racked up $7 million in revenue from preorder alone, and was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling comic book of all time.

 

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