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The unexpected, lovely humanity of "Spider-Man: Homecoming"

Three thoughts about “Spider-Man: Homecoming” just as soon as I learn that with great power comes great blah-blah. (Also: Spoilers.)

• There’s really not much interesting to say about most Marvel movies anymore. They’re big, they’re expensive, they’re usually reasonably entertaining for a couple of hours and that’s it. I’ve been partial to the “Captain America” movies — the first because it took place in a different era and thus felt substantially different from the rest of the MCU — and the second because it so effectively echoed 1970s paranoid thrillers, right down to the Robert Redford.

I’m not sure that the new “Spider-Man” movie is all that different, but it has two scenes going for it that I want to linger on. Again: Spoilers!

• The first scene: When Peter Parker shows up at his date’s house to take her to homecoming. The door opens and what do we realize: The dad of Peter’s crush is also the movie’s villain — Michael Keaton, playing the Vulture. The next few minutes are both some of the quietest in the MCU and the most taut: As Peter wordlessly absorbs the shock that his nemesis is also the loved one of someone close to him. And as Keaton slowly realizes that Peter is Spider-Man, the tension builds to the scene’s climax: A threat by Keaton to kill everybody Peter loves. It’s the closest the MCU has ever come to Pure Hitchcock.

What’s remarkable about the scene is it’s pure domesticity. We see our villain as a dad -- realize, in fact, that he’s a normal dad, and that the villainous things he’s done aren’t just a rationalized in the story by being a dad -- they are, in fact, seemingly absolutely the things a normal dad would do to ensure that he could keep feeding his family in the face of economic pressures. Michael Keaton sells the heck out of this, and in that moment he becomes a sort of Jean Valjean -- if we were witnessing his story through the eyes of plucky teen detective Javert.

The other scene: Peter is trapped under rubble — can barely move. He starts screaming for help. Screaming and crying, in fact. He sounds not like a superhero, but like a little boy, like somebody’s child. And of course, that’s what he is.

• Which brings us back to the MCU and today’s blockbuster movie economy. A few weeks ago, I saw Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” for the first time. What struck me, as much as anything, were the movie’s simple opening scenes — Martin Sheen working on a garbage truck, Sissy Spacek twirling a baton on the empty neighborhood streets of her small town. We don’t see many of these real-life moments anymore in the movies. There are too many explosions to set off, too many CGI effects to paint into the scene. I miss the old reality.

Marvel movies, as I’ve noted, are as guilty of the loud-louder-loudest blockbuster trend as much as anything. So it’s notable that the most memorable moments in “Spider-Man” are its quietest and most human. They’re what I remember, more than any spectacle, after leaving the theater.


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