Tag Archives: Marvel

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

I have to admit I was thoroughly lost during Spider-Man: Homecoming. Throughout the entire movie, I kept wondering how this Peter Parker kid became Spider-Man. I mean, what’s the backstory here? Why does he just have these powers? This is the kind of thing that begs for an origin story.

I am of course joking. Spider-Man’s origin story is such common knowledge that he, like Batman, doesn’t need another cinematic retelling at this point. 2002’s Spider-Man remains one of the best super hero origin story movies (along with, ironically enough, Batman Begins), and there really wasn’t a need for us to hear it again through the less-than stellar 2012 reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Besides, super hero films tend to be at their best once the origin story is behind them, with Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight remaining at the top of super hero storytelling, as they could focus more on the characters themselves and not have to worry about how their heroes earned their costumes and powers.

Spider-Man: Homecoming wisely does away with re-re-introducing us to Spider-Man’s origin story, with the details of being bitten by a radioactive spider only being mentioned in passing, and the death of his uncle Ben only being implied. So Spider-Man: Homecoming not only serves as another reboot to Marvel’s iconic web-slinger, but also, thankfully, works as something of a self-contained sequel to a narrative we are all beyond familiar with by this point.

This “proper reboot” of the franchise is only one of the newsworthy aspects of this new Spider-Man series, with the other big news being that this newest incarnation is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most prominent movie franchise not called Star Wars.

We met this newest Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, where he was part of Iron Man’s team who did battle with that of Captain America. But now we have Spidey’s first solo outing in the MCU, and it actually turns out to be one of the best entries in the mega franchise, due in no small part to the film taking cues from 2004’s Spider-Man 2 by creating fleshed-out, relatable characters in both its hero and villain.

Not only does Homecoming show us Spider-Man still trying to learn the ropes of being a super hero (and often stumbling), but it also dedicates a good deal of time to Peter Parker’s high school life, and the real-world problems and hassles therein.

Meanwhile, the film’s villain is the Vulture, whose secret identity is one Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). If the MCU has had one persistent problem – even in some of its better films – it’s that the villains have been largely forgettable, with only a select few standing out, and none of them really being anything more than a villain. What makes Toomes such a winning antagonist (along with Keaton’s excellent performance) is that, much like Peter Parker is depicted as a real kid, Toomes is a very relatable everyman. Tasked with cleaning up the damage that the Avengers leave behind (the film begins with Toomes’ crew beginning reconstruction on one of the set pieces of 2012’s The Avengers), Toomes and his men end up jobless as soon as the government decides to butt in. So Toomes, wanting to provide for his family and to keep his friends doing the same, goes rogue, and leads an underground operation that steals technology left in the wake of the Avengers, SHIELD, Hydra, and any other “super” organization, crafts their own weapons from it, and sells them on the black market.

The fact that Toomes is selling super-weapons to criminals obviously makes him the villain, but he’s also presented as a relatable figure who was wronged and simply wants to set things right. Unlike so many past villains in the MCU, Toomes actually has a strong motivation for his actions.

It’s because of how wonderfully realized both its hero and villain are that ascend Homecoming to being one of the better super hero movies of recent times, though unfortunately, it does suffer a bit from its supporting characters, which can be a bit of a mixed bag.

Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) provides some good comic relief, but some of his actions may not endear him to audiences (the trailers already reveal that he learns of Peter’s secret life as Spider-Man, and he almost outs his best friend’s secret at the first opportunity). Peter’s crush Liz (Laura Harrier) works well enough for the plot, but she doesn’t exactly get a whole lot of character development. They are forgivable though, since their characters have enough likable qualities about them. Less forgivable is the character of Michelle Jones (Zendaya) who, as you may guess by her initials, is to be the MCU’s equivalent of “MJ” Mary-Jane Watson.

Seeing as this is the second cinematic reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, I perfectly understand the filmmakers trying to change up the characters a bit so we can see something we aren’t already overly familiar with. But the Michelle character is simply unlikable. Zendaya’s acting is fine, but what she has to work with doesn’t exactly make Michelle an appealing character. She’s obnoxious, pretentious, brags about not having any friends… She’s basically like a checklist of all the things older generations ridicule millennials for.

But the rest of the characters are all well and fine. This being the MCU, we of course have to have crossover characters involved, though Homecoming is wise to keep them to a minimum as to not take the focus away from the story at hand: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) returns as Peter’s mentor. Meanwhile, Stark’s former driver and bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) returns to keep an eye on Peter while Iron Man is off with bigger things. And in perhaps some of the best uses of MCU cameos, Captain America (Chris Evans) is featured in public-service announcements in Peter’s high school.

I really enjoyed how Homecoming is a relatively smaller-scale Marvel movie. We’ve seen so many cities get leveled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by this point, that I’m starting to get more tired of the mass destruction than anything. But Homecoming takes the time to humanize both Spider-Man and the Vulture, while also showing us how complicated the lives of Peter Parker and Adrian Toomes can be. The stakes aren’t to save the planet, or even a city. It’s just about a kid trying to be responsible and to do the right thing, and trying to stop a downtrodden, misguided man who’s caught up in doing wrong. And by this point, that’s pretty refreshing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t reinvent the super hero genre, but it does take inspiration from the better films from the genre’s booming early years (most notably Spider-Man 2) to make a film that may not be the most grandiose of super hero outings, but one that succeeds in the two areas where it most counts: story and characters. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have great action set-pieces, because it delivers on just that as well. But for the first time in a while, I feel like the MCU has a hero worth rooting for not just because of a charismatic on-screen presence, but also for his relatability. Just as noteworthy, the same can be said for its villain.

 

8.5

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Quick Thoughts on Captain America: Civil War

Captain America Civil War

I just saw Captain America: Civil War tonight, and while I plan on writing a full review for both it and The Jungle Book soon (I hope), I thought I’d just give a few quick little thoughts right now.

To get it all out of the way, I really enjoyed the film, and thought it was probably one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Having the main conflict be between Captain America (and company) against Iron Man (and company) was a refreshing change of pace, and brought to mind what Batman V Superman might have been like if it were actually a good movie.

Captain America Civil WarThe action scenes were some of the best to come out of the MCU (there were a few “shaky camera” moments though, unfortunately. But they were never excessive). I also thought it brought out new dimensions to the returning characters (Tony Stark is the bad guy of the equation, as far as I’m concerned), while smartly introducing and integrating the new additions of Black Panther and Spider-Man into the MCU (thank God we don’t have to see Spider-Man’s origin story again!). It even had a more interesting bad guy than the last umpteen Marvel movies, which is good since that’s become a recurring complaint of mine every time I walk out of a theater showing an MCU film.

Perhaps yet another highlight was how it served well as its own movie while still having a plot that involved events from previous movies. Some of Marvel’s recent picks have been so preoccupied with foreshadowing future films that they themselves end up feeling like little more than a full-length trailer of what’s to come. *Cough! Age of Ultron! Cough!*

I’ll try to write my full review soon and go into a bit more detail, but as it stands, Captain America: Civil War is a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hopefully, future installments will take notes.

Deadpool

Deadpool

I just saw Deadpool, and though I haven’t yet had the time to fully analyze it and let my opinions fully bake, I figured I’d write how I feel about the movie now despite my opinions still being in dough form.

Overall I enjoyed Deadpool more than I thought I would. I’ve admittedly never been a fan of the Deadpool character, as I tend to not usually be a fan of overly sarcastic, self-referential characters (I like my stories genuine, even if they’re ridiculous). But Deadpool worked for the most part.

Ryan Reynolds’ performance was particularly memorable, as he pretty much nailed the character’s comedic and fourth wall-breaking elements perfectly, and also managed to delve into some more serious territory when necessary.

The portrayals of fellow X-Men characters Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead were also enjoyable, as were the nods to the confusing continuities of the X-Men movies and this film’s relatively low budget when compared to them.

On the downside, Deadpool continues the recent trend of super hero movies of having a completely forgettable villain. The villain simply lacks presence, and in terms of super powers he doesn’t come off as a threat to Deadpool and company.

Though Deadpool starts things off with an interesting pace – beginning with a brutal action scene before going to the origin story and back again – it ultimately devolves into another predictable super hero origin story. By the end of things, it largely turns into one of the very movies it insistently mocks.

Overall, Deadpool was fun. It wasn’t great by any means, and I still can’t say I’m a fan of the Deadpool character as a whole, but the fact that I mostly enjoyed it despite my initial skepticisms is saying something.

Ant-Man

Ant-Man

Ant-Man, the newest release in Marvel’s seemingly endless canon of super hero movies, is now in theaters. The good news is it’s mostly enjoyable.

I say “mostly” because I still think the movie had some big problems in regard to its villain, who simply couldn’t have been more cartoonish (what is up with these recent Marvel movies and lame villains? Even Guardians of the Galaxy, great as it was, had a disappointing bad guy). And I admit a lot of the movie felt like it was simply going through the motions (if you’ve seen one super hero origin story you’ve pretty much seen them all). But overall I thought it was a lot of fun.

Ayyyyy!

Ayyyyy!

Ant-Man is, appropriately, a much smaller movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I really liked that about it. It seems like every super hero movie these days is aiming for bigger, louder, and more destructive. I really enjoyed that Ant-Man was a relatively small movie, and I liked that its hero became more by becoming less, which is the exact opposite of every other Marvel hero we’ve seen on screen thus far.

Also, unlike Age of Ultron, Ant-Man also has a rather straightforward plot. I kind of grew impatient with Age of Ultron’s comic book gobbledygook. It just got more and more convoluted as it went on. Not so with Ant-Man, which sets things up simply and just builds on its (often ridiculous but consistently fun) premise.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a thief who has spent time in jail and is separated from his wife and daughter. Scott wants nothing more than to spend time with his daughter, but finding (and keeping) work with his criminal record isn’t easy, so he isn’t able to pay child support, and thus is unable to see his daughter. In desperation, he returns to his criminal ways to make some quick cash, only for his big score to end up being a setup by a reclusive scientist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who needs Scott’s special skills to become the Ant-Man via a shrinking suit of Pym’s invention.

"Did I just rob a cosplayer's secret vault?"

“Did I just rob a cosplayer’s secret vault?”

I liked the story for three primary reasons: The first is that Ant-Man changes up the usual super hero formula by turning it into more of a heist movie than the usual action-based setup of Marvel’s movies. There are still fight scenes and a few action spectacles, but it’s all built around the Ant-Man sneaking into the stereotypical bad guy corporation’s building and destroying data files on a deadly formula. And when it finally delivers its action-packed finale, it’s one of the more original to be found in the Marvel Universe, as it takes place in a child’s toy-filled room.

"He's like Captain Olimar... but with Ants."

“He’s like Captain Olimar… but with Ants.”

The second reason is that Ant-Man is a ridiculous concept by definition, but the movie doesn’t make a complete joke out of it. There’s humor in Ant-Man, of course, but it plays its concept with enough seriousness to be taken seriously. I seem to be in the minority here, but I can’t stand it when movies like this go completely tongue-in-cheeck. Just because the nature of a story may be ridiculous it shouldn’t have to mean it needs to make a joke out of itself. A lot of internet nerds seem to like movies that “make fun of themselves.” I typically don’t. And I like that Ant-Man is with me on this.

The third reason is that, while the characters may not be complex, the movie gives enough attention to them to make you care (if only Age of Ultron had been so wise). Scott Lang having a daughter as his motivation makes him stand out from the other Marvel heroes and makes him sympathetic despite being a thief. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) have a complicated relationship due to the death of Hope’s mother, but they are put into a situation where they need to work together nonetheless. The obvious exception is the aforementioned villain, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who fits so squarely into the evil, rich businessman cliche that he just might be a parody of it.

Ant-Man might not be the next greatest super hero movie, but it is one that at least feels refreshing in some areas. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much, and while it still has some Marvel tropes working against it, I thought it was ultimately enjoyable. I’m still a little on the fence with the small army of Marvel movies on the horizon, but at least Ant-Man gives me hope that the Marvel Cinematic Universe still has some life left in it.

The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now one of the highest-grossing movies all time. That’s not too surprising, since it seems like all a movie needs to do to make such a claim these days is have a lot of super heroes and visual effects. But, Age of Ultron is an enjoyable movie, which is more than you can say about most billion-dollar movies. Age of Ultron is more entertaining than more cynical nerds would want to admit (“I found one tiny flaw so now everything about it sucks and it betrayed the comics!”), but it also has its share of problems. Here are the things I loved about Age of Ultron, followed by the things I, well, didn’t.

*Be warned: spoilers ahead!*

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