Archive | July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Holy crap… holy crap… holy crap, you guys, holy crap.

Okay, sorry. I swear I’ll try to make this as objective and non-fanboy-gushy as possible, but… holy crap.

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I’ve probably made my views on Spider-Man pretty clear in the past. Though, honestly, I’m kind of surprised at some of the things I said last time I wrote on this topic. For one, I can’t believe I ever said that Amazing Spider-Man 2 was better than the first one. For two, I can’t believe I ever said it was good at all.

I certainly enjoyed it when I saw it, but my opinion of it has not improved in time. There’s a lot of reasons for that. This video does a great job of explaining its flaws. It’s not that it doesn’t good have moments. It’s that it doesn’t have many of them… and they’re overshadowed by the barely competent storytelling.

Given this, I can honestly say I wasn’t actually that interested in seeing Homecoming at first. We’d had a great run, Spidey and me, but it’d been three straight lackluster films since our peak. I’d started to wonder if we could ever rekindle that old flame.

And then I saw this. And thank goodness I did. (Side note: is it weird that Holland lip syncing to a Rhianna song did more to sell me on this movie than all the ad campaigns in the world?)

But even with my lowered expectations, objectively this movie was probably only good, not great. Jon Watts has directed only two other films, neither a big, summer blockbuster. While I’m definitely excited to see what he does from here, there’s still a learning curve to directing. For every scene that I liked, there was probably one that I thought was mishandled; for each shot that honestly gave me chills, another took me out of the movie.

The best comparison (that probably won’t win me any new friends) for me is probably last February’s Get Out. Another movie by a very promising director, and a movie that excites me not so much for what it is, but for what I hope it represents, and how I hope it can be influential.

I’d started losing interest in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe around 2015, when Age of Ultron ended up being dumb and pointless. But what really killed it for me was Captain America: Civil War, which was almost all civility and basically no war. So much hype and so many promises that this would be the film that changed the MCU forever amounted to a 20-minute fistfight. We did see the dissolution of the Avengers… but only if you ignore that Cap gives Tony a special cell phone and promises help whenever it’s needed.

Kind of like how S.H.I.E.L.D. was totally dismantled at the end of Winter Soldier. Even though the Avengers still operate exactly like they did before this. Hell, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is even still airing, three years later (I think they did make major changes to the show so it makes sense, but I don’t watch).

At this point, the entire MCU has devolved into a… really violent version of Full House. It might occasionally feel like something major happened in the episode you’re watching, but if the status quo hasn’t returned by the end, it will before the next one starts.

On top of that, like a ’90s sitcom stretching into too many seasons, everything just feels so… tired. Every plot has a factory-line deadness to it. The dialogue, especially the humor, which once had a level of charm has been reduced to nuts-and-bolts writing. Set up. Punchline. Pause for laughter.

After Civil War, I couldn’t take it any more. I was done. I swore, I would never pay another dime to see a film in the bloated and wasteful MCU.

But sometimes, when you feel you’ve lost all hope, you gotta go back to where it all started.

Despite its flaws, one of the undeniable strengths of Homecoming is how refreshingly organic it all feels. There’s a genuine interest in telling this story, not just setting up future sequels. Better still, there’s no detached “We’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense” irony.

In one scene, just before attempting an impossibly difficult stunt, Spidey takes a moment to catch his breath, collect himself, and express his fear of dying. It’s such a small moment. And yet, it’s hard to believe how big impact it can have on the film.

If a character is never concerned with his own mortality, how can I possibly be? And if I never worry that he might fail, how can there ever be any stakes? Small moments like this make or break movies, even if we don’t consciously notice them while watching.

But beyond all of this, the single greatest part of Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Vulture. Not because he’s compelling or Michael Keaton gives a great performance. He is, and he does, but there’s a much more important reason: He’s relatable. A far cry from an irredeemable monster like Ultron or the brainwashed Winter Soldier, he has a (mostly) unselfish, understandable motivation. In different circumstances (and, well, if we lived in a universe were magic aliens existed), I could easily see myself becoming someone like him.

And that’s important for a number of reasons.

A friend of mine recently wrote a really thoughtful post skewering the thinking endemic to our society that encourages us to label people as “good” and “bad.” If you’re not on my side, the thinking goes, then you’re just an evil person. Therefore, I don’t need to understand how people can disagree with me. Why should I bother, when punching is better than talking?

On top of this, a culture is always, always entwined with the stories it tells. Our stories impact our culture. Our culture influences our stories. If all the notable stories we tell promote the idea that people we may see as enemies are soulless, interchangeable robots, what kind of culture does that create?

How can a country survive as it tears itself apart at the seams?

There have always been dumb action movies. There’s always been movies with overly simple views of the world. That hasn’t changed, and probably never will. What has changed is that now we’re told to take those movies seriously. Movies like this were once considered two hours of mindless escapism. Now they’re a lifestyle. We spend years anticipating the next big Marvel crossover. In the meantime, we gotta keep up with all the movies in-between (and don’t forget about their TV shows!). You don’t want to miss all the in-jokes and subtle references! Staying current with Marvel’s universe has become a full-time job.

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, I think, we finally something worthy of our time and attention. It won’t change the world, or even the movie universe, on its own. But I hope it can be a start.

Because, seriously, I am done with the rest of the MCU.

Well, except for Blank Panther, obviously. That movie looks awesome. And I might as well go see Avengers: Infinity War. I mean, I’ve already invested this much time.