Spiderman: Homecoming

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The most recent iteration of Spiderman will be the 7th to feature the web-slinging superhero since 2002.  This will be the third reboot of the franchise (not counting the soft backdoor reboot that introduced Spidey to the MCU in Captain America Civil War) as well as the third actor to portray Spiderman in 7 films.  Historically these films have done well in the theaters and are generally appreciated by critics and fans alike with the exception of “Spiderman 3” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, however, 2 bad outings of 7 (ish) films is still pretty good.  Spiderman:  Homecoming doesn’t intend to regurgitate the origin story of Spiderman, however, with a new lead, a new villain, and an entirely new universe to play in, this film will provide a fresh take on the popular superhero.

A few words about Spiderman:  Homecoming:

  1. Great product of Marvel Cinematic Universe – While still considered to be a property of SONY, Marvel Studios had a major role in the production of this film.  The deal they made with SONY allowed the events of Civil War to bleed into this universe and it worked well for the film.  Essentially this is the introduction of a brand new superhero (to the MCU) who, while movie going audiences may be familiar with, has a bit of his own universe to rebuild and in some cases rebrand.  Much like Ant-Man, this film does a good job of telling a smaller story within the Marvel Cinematic Universe while also alluding to larger events on the horizon.  There were moments in this film that felt more realistic because it was seen as a larger part of the MCU. For instance, by adding Robert Downey as a part of the cast, Spiderman immediately feels like a legitimate superhero connected to Iron Man who would have an interest in the villains that Spiderman was dealing with.  This bodes well for the future of the MCU because it means that beyond the Avengers the MCU can hope to expand to rest on the shoulders of all of its potential superheroes.
  2. Perfect lack of exposition – This film makes subtle changes to what we know about Spiderman without spending a ton of time on the details.  Walking into to this film we’re assumed to know, that Peter Parker has been bitten by a radioactive spider, that his uncle is dead, and that he is already for the most part aware of his superhero potential.  This works well because unlike some reboots we’re not expected to spend more time knowing or seeing details that aren’t necessarily important to this specific story.  For the most part, those details didn’t add or take from this story anyway.  Since there is no need to dwell on any of that pesky (albeit necessary) exposition, we’re able to spend more time developing little points like that Peter Parker is extremely intelligent.  We’re able to see him develop his web formula, develop relationships with his high school classmates, and most importantly spend some screen time developing a solid villain.
  3. Great Villian – Some of this will be noted from the first two points but because of the MCU and the lack of exposition, we’re able to spend some time developing a credible properly motivated villain.  The Vulture is born out of the logistical disaster that would be the cleanup after the battle of New York from the first Avengers film.  It was nice to see a villain that was not out of his mind, or some sort of mutant but rather a man while trying to provide for his family becomes a bit misguided using the arsenal of alien equipment which has literally fallen from the sky.  I can’t understate how well the fact that the Vulture, is a salvage contractor plays into the movie.  Later on, in the movie, Michael Keaton’s acting skills are put on display after a bit of a reveal and he and Tom Holland share a very tense moment that could be seen among the highest bits of tension I have seen in a Marvel film.  Great casting, great writing, great execution on this villain.
  4. Perfect tone – It was very enjoyable to see this film commit to allowing Spiderman to be a hapless teenager.  The casting of Tom Holland very much doubles down on this as he does a great job of acting like a young person both in his portrayal of the ambitious superhero and his total lack of full control (and reverence) of his powers.  This, of course, lends itself to many of the normal tropes we’ve seen in countless teen movies, however, this works well for the movie.  Taking a lighthearted tone allows for great juxtaposition when Spiderman is thrust into a serious situation.  It allows us to believe that perhaps he is not quite ready for this responsibility rather than just being capable because he has the powers.  This along with multiple sources of comic relief including from Peter Parker himself allows us as viewers to truly relate to Spiderman maybe even a little more than many of the other Marvel Superheroes.  I think that again, Ant-Man is a good comparison as it leans heavily on the idea of the regular guy thrust into greatness.  This is a good idea for audiences to connect with and it worked well for Spiderman.
  5. Casually diverse – The casting for this film was extremely diverse and done so effortlessly.  Typically before these films are released much ado is made about the casting, mostly with people wondering whether or not the right choices were made.  For this film, I don’t believe I saw one bad choice.  The principal of the high school was Asian, the PE teacher was black, the science teacher was Latina.  There is an interracial family that plays a key role in the plot.  There are multiple black men that play featured roles in the film both villain and antihero, showing complexity in their abilities.  In general, this film is very kind to people of color and allows for race to be a reflection of our current world without straining to do so.  I noticed this because I pay attention to these types of casting choices, however, I think the larger point is that the vast majority of audiences will not care.
  6. Excellent Action Sequences – The action in this film is top notch.  From the actual web swinging and slinging, to the battle sequences between Spiderman and the Vulture, to the cameos from Iron Man, this film packs a punch.  Again, the hapless teenager aspect allows for Peter Parker to underestimate some of his scenarios he swings into, however, this works well in allowing for the action to ebb and flow based on his experience and learning curve.  For audiences that only want to see action, they won’t be disappointed watching this movie.
Overall I think this movie can be filed under “Marvel does it again”.  Upholding the tried and true standard of sticking to emotional truths of characters and story while actually making an engaging and exciting movie.  It was funny, lighthearted, action-packed great movie for summer, but also will be easily consumed multiple times for those audience members requiring a second viewing.  Being that this is the 7th attempt at Spiderman it’s hard to see giving this movie the top score however it’s pretty close.  Bring your kids!  4 of 5 stars.

Get Out

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Jordan Peele has made his directorial debut in the low-budget thriller Get Out.  Peele has been playing with the idea of race since writing and starring in sketches with the other half of his comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key on their Comedy Central show “Key and Peele”.  Much of Peele’s work on the show dealt with themes of race seasoned and punctuated with humor.  Many of the sketches themselves were often parodies of other genres of movies and television, and some of the more successful sketches included commentary on race set against a horror backdrop.  It would make sense that Peele’s first foray into filmmaking would be an allegorical tale of a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time.

A few words about “Get Out”;

  1. Excellent writing –  From beginning to end this movie has a solid and straightforward plot that is executed well using the dialogue.  In the first act of the film it could be easy to dismiss some of the dialogue as hokey or stilted, however, as the film continues it becomes clear that these are all connected to the ultimate ideas presented in the film.  Thinking through much of the dialogue after the film ends is much like looking at pieces to a puzzle and enjoying them far more as part of a whole than as individual pieces.  Also, the building of tension through dialogue is well executed, as the film continues the general sense of unease from meeting a family paired with that family being of another race is multiplied by the idea that there is “something else” going on the entire time.
  2. Excellent acting – The veteran actors in this film do a wonderful job of helping to build the tension either through solid execution of dialogue or by lending their ‘acting gravitas’.  Having some steady hands do some of the acting seemed to add to the legitimacy of the film, however, this does not account for the excellent jobs done in drama and comedy by Daniel Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery.  Kaluuya is believable in his role of the “black everyman”.  As a black guy watching the film, I felt like much of his responses to what was happening around him were natural and even in some cases were exactly my responses in the same situations.  Kaluuya was able to seamlessly transition from “guy in a regular situation” to “guy reacting to an extraordinary situation” relatively quickly.  He is easy to watch and his seriousness plays well against the comedic relief of Lil Rel Howery.  The interesting part of watching Howery’s performance is that it does not fade as the film continues as these roles in horror/thriller films often do.  Conversely, there is also a tendency for this type of role to be overdone to the point that it overshadows the original point and tone of the film.  Peele is able to direct Howery’s performance in such a way that it is enjoyable and cuts the tension in the film, while also serving as an audience foil and realistic commentary on what is happening on screen.  There are also some solid performances from Alison Williams who does an excellent job of being the “clueless girlfriend” and Lakeith Stanfield whose part is also a welcome addition to the film.  All the performances in the film are solid in their own regard but weaving them all together is done with great care by Peele.
  3. Compelling subject matter – As a black man who loves film, this film may have been tailor made for my demographic.  That being said much of the subject matter immediately hit home for me.  Early in the film Kaluuya’s character asks Williams’ character “Did you tell them that I’m black?”  This question captures exactly the point of this film.  There is nuance here with every interaction between Kaluuya and this new environment he is introduced to.  For much of the first act of the film, I found myself in awe of how well the dynamic between the main characters is portrayed as well as the smaller interactions between Kaluuya’s character and the parents, Kaluuya’s character and the house servants, and Kaluuya’s character and the townspeople.  I found myself saying “that exact scenario has happened to me”.  This demonstrated a clear grasp of the subject matter by Peele, as well as an excellent sense of the space he was working in.  He successfully made a film in white space that fully maintains a solid idea of blackness interacting with whiteness in white space.

This film has few flaws.  None really worthy of mentioning.  That being said it is not necessarily a film for everyone.  Some jump scares early in the film, but nothing that would be considered real terror.  (unless you consider the existential terror of trying to exist in white space terrifying, as some do)  Leave the kids at home.  4.75 of 5 stars.