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.

Wonder Woman

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Despite having the more recognizable and universally familiar characters in comic book lore the DC cinematic universe has had a less than stellar debut.  Beginning with “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice” while commercially their films do well, critics have widely panned each new installment in the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU).  While “Wonder Woman” hopes to buck the trend at least critically, the studios’ lack of investment in marketing this film have led many to believe that more could have been done to sell this movie.  Based on the previews, Wonder Woman plans to give movie goers many of the thrills they look forward to in summer movies.  The familiar DC property should be enough to give the DCCU the much needed boost it is looking for before “Justice League” premieres later this year.

A few words about Wonder Woman:

  1. Great action – Since this movie begins with the earliest of origins for little Diana Prince, viewers get to see glimpses of the Amazons both training and in battle.  Early on this is done using both well choreographed fight sequences as well as good use of slow motion during busy action scenes.  There are several scenes early on when the Amazons are fighting that are breathtaking to watch.  However when the solo scenes of Wonder Woman in action are shown, they are clearly the main course and it is not disappointing.  Not only are the scenes crafted to show that she is a capable fighter but many times they allow Wonder Woman to truly be the hero that viewers would like her to be.
  2. Above average treatment of women characters. – There are a few tropes here that some feminists may cringe at.  (as a man there were a couple of scenes/lines that left me wondering if there could have been better execution.)  However for the most part women are treated as warriors and strong and not as sex symbols which is refreshing to see.  While many of the warriors are “Scantily clad” in the film, it is taken with great care to note that they are dressed to fight, rather than to stand and be seen.  There are few times where Wonder Woman is allowed to be the savior of the men in the film, and the men are happy to have her to do the saving.  Chris Pine’s character who is shown being defensive of Wonder Woman for the majority of the movie, actually pushes her forward to do the fighting when he realizes she is far more effective at dispatching enemies than he or his crew is.
  3. Good acting from Gal Gadot (and Chris Pine) – The most I’ve seen Gal Gadot in before this film was the “Fast and the Furious” franchise where she is basically used as functional eye candy.  (this is to say a beautiful woman who can also do some stuff, but is clearly being used more for her beauty than for her capability)  Her first turn as Wonder Woman in BVS:  Dawn of Justice did not require much acting from her besides action scenes and a few exchanges with Bruce Wayne.  In Wonder Woman, Gadot is doing much of the emotional heavy lifting of this film.  While much of her character is shown through dialogue exchanges, in some scenes she is required to convey her feelings through a look or a sound and she executes both very well.  Gal Gadot brings great presence to this character and at times just being on screen swallows up the people around her which is not a bad thing for this movie.  Her gravitas along with the professional levity of Chris Pine, who is basically playing an offshoot of his character from Star Trek work very well together.  Gal Gadot playing the straight man and Chris Pine peppering the jokes allows for a very satisfying combination.
  4. Solid plot – This plot was not overly complicated.  It was easy to follow and made sense as far as the overarching themes it was attempting to convey.  That being said, at times the dialogue was a little corny to say the least, however this didn’t hurt the film.  Along with a little corny dialogue there are a few plot holes as well, however these will only bother the most hardened of comic book fans and some of us more neurotic critics.
  5. Little rough in terms of character development. – If there were any real complaints about this movie it would lie in the character development.  There were a couple of times where I questioned the motivations of the characters on screen and had no real answer as to why they were doing what they were doing.  This isn’t necessarily a game changer, but a few times there were characters introduced who seemed to be on screen to do “a thing” then just leave, which doesn’t allow the viewer to really connect with them.  For the largest characters in the movie, this isn’t necessarily the case but even with Chris Pine’s character he largely seemed to show up and begin completing tasks rather than give us any backstory to make us connect with him.  This again, will only bother some of us more neurotic critics.

This was a good movie.  It was a good superhero movie.  It was a good DC movie.  It is a good entry against the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has been pummeling DC for years now.  This bodes well for the future of the DC cinematic universe.  With all that being said it was also very refreshing to see a woman kicking butt more than the men were, and in many cases kicking the butts of men all over the screen.  This is a good movie that allows women to shine and show that being the hero as a woman means that you can do the same things men do without having to be a “sex pot” (unless you want to be).  I left this movie feeling pretty good, entertained, and ready to see more of Wonder Woman.  I will most certainly be adding her comics to my collection and plan to see this movie at least one more time with my mother and sister.  Bring your kids, especially your daughters (but your sons will appreciate it as well), bring your spouses, and even your pets if that is possible.  4 of 5 stars.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the 15th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the third film in the third phase of the same.  The first installment of Guardians takes the viewers on a journey far beyond earth and sets the larger stage for what is to come in the MCU.  Before the first film debuted there was much doubt to the success of the movie due to its use of lesser known characters in the MCU.  However, the hilarious use of witty banter among the protagonists and the well-executed trope of the “ragtag group of misfits” somehow thrown into extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary expectations played well for audiences worldwide.  The first Guardians film set the bar high for future installments and created much anticipation for the second film.

A few words about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2:

  1. Tries too hard to be funny at times – Right out of the gate Guardians 2 seemed intent on doubling down on the humor that endears itself to the audience in the first installment.  However in this installment, while funny on its own, there was a noticeable shift in a number of jokes per scene.  While the first installment felt very natural with jokes flowing at the pace of the film, Guardians 2 seemed at times to stop the action or story to tell jokes that at many times felt as if they went on a bit too long.
  2. Lots of character development – In this movie each of the Guardians gets a deeper look into why they are the person (or tree, or raccoon, or other species) that they are.  For the most part, this was done pretty well with explaining the motivations behind each of the characters.  However, this made the movie;
  3. Extremely emotional – There were times in this film where it felt as if the audience was being forced into an emotional cheese grater.  There were several instances in which again the film felt like it stopped to make a very specific emotional point about one of the characters.  This was at the very least a bit heavy handed and at most emotionally manipulative.
  4. Fun and engaging action – The action sequences were very well executed.  Specifically, there is one involving Rocket that was very entertaining to watch and another involving Yondu (Michael Rooker with a functional mohawk) that was mesmerizing as well.  The larger action set pieces were also done very well, watching this film in 3D was very rewarding as the editing made full use of the medium.  (this coming from a critic who despises 3D and feels its use is mostly gimmicky)
  5. Felt very disconnected from the MCU – There is a total of five end credit and mid-credits scenes and only two of them did any work to tie this film to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Other than those scenes this film felt almost entirely self-contained and outside of the MCU.  There are still about four films between this one and Avengers:  Infinity War and while we know who the main villain of that film will be (Thanos) it still remains to be seen how the Guardians will mesh with the heroes of the other films.  This didn’t hurt the film itself however it did make this seem a little more like a lot of side plot rather than an important part of the main story.  (also there is a point in the film where the main villain is destroying earth and it seemed at the bare minimum a little odd that there would be no Avengers interested in helping to stop this)
  6. Terrible main plot reveal – When the main villain reveals their ultimate plot to destroy much of the galaxy it is done in kind of a crass way.  Revealing any more than that would be a spoiler but suffice it to say it felt at the very least a bit “Maury” -esque.  (I welcome anyone who wants to unpack this further to contact me on twitter or fb)

Overall the film was not bad.  I would say another solid entry in the MCU (whilst not necessary being a strongly connected unit of the MCU) with great action sequences and still remained funny (at times to a fault)  The audience loved Baby Groot (albeit it seemed there was more of him than was needed) and there is much visually to enjoy while watching this film.  You can bring your kids, but it is a bit long as I sat next to a kid who got very antsy during the second hour.  3 of 5 stars.