Spider-Man: Homecoming Brings Spider-Man To The MCU With Flourish

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a glorious celebratory homecoming for Marvel’s flagship superhero into the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Ever since the MCU took off nine years ago and grew, fans have pined for Spider-Man to join the MCU ranks. We got a taste of how the MCU would interpret the Wall-Crawler with his scene-stealing cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Now, an entire film is devoted to him as Sony Pictures (who holds the film rights to Spider-Man) have joined forces with Marvel Studios. The result is the best Spider-Man film since the early Sam Raimi efforts.

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The film takes place shortly after Spider-Man’s debut in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has to go back to a humdrum life as a teenager in Queens, New York. Aching for the glory of a superhero and joining the Avengers, Peter has to contend with the usual teenage gripes like fitting in socially in high school. These aspects of Spider-Man: Homecoming are clearly influenced by the John Hughes teenage comedies and they work perfectly, by the way, this film has a great soundtrack evocative of those Hughes films. Thanks to Holland’s sincere performance, we are able to empathize with Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). The young cast in the film are for the most part engaging, though some may be put off with the unconventional casting choices, but it should not be a deal breaker. One of the reveals about a certain character near the end feels very forced and detracts from that character who was at that point one of the film’s quirkiest and memorable characters.

Speaking of casting, Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture is terrific as a working-class villain. The film takes the adequate amount of time to set him up and making him a bit sympathetic by showing him as being inadvertently pushed out of a lucrative living by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). Instead of craving revenge like in an average superhero film, Toomes finds an inventive way of earning a living by scavenging parts and wreckage from superhuman battles. Then his gang turns these parts into futuristic weapons for the black market.

During the course of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the Vulture’s activities catches Spider-Man’s attention, and this leads to conflict between the two. On one side, Toomes sees the world with a cynical eye and just wants to take advantage of an opportunity to make some money. Parker, on the other hand, is a young idealist who wants to impress Stark and sees Toomes’ activities as being wrong. In the comic books, the Vulture has always been one of the weaker members of Spidey’s rogues gallery, but in this film he shines. He is actually one of the best villains ever featured not just in Spider-Man films, but in those of the MCU.

This Spider-Man film is clearly a film set in the MCU with its Easter eggs, references and character appearances. Despite the marketing, Iron Man is not a co-star of Spider-Man: Homecoming, though his influence is there with the constant name dropping and the high-tech Spider-Man suit that the title character dons in the film. The suit worn by Spider-Man is a true marvel with all of its gadgets and gimmicks, but it strays too much from the core of Spider-Man’s character that this film otherwise gets so right. Meaning that Spidey is more of an everyman, someone who is relatable to you and I and has the same problems we face.  Hopefully in the sequel they will address this and depower the suit. On a side note, this film proves what many fans have felt over the years: Tony Stark and Happy Hogan are a couple of dicks.

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s emphasis on the hero’s hardscrabble roots and normal problems is why it’s so successful. Past Spider-Man films have shown this and were rightfully revered for doing so and this latest film continues that tradition. Not only that, but the film is a lot of fun and quite exciting at the right times. It zips along nicely without a dull moment since we are so invested in the characters when there aren’t any fisticuffs. Like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 there is some world building and set ups for sequels but unlike that film Spider-Man: Homecoming does not go overboard and as a result flows more smoothly and focuses rightfully on Spider-Man. The film does a great job of showing how Peter is still a novice at what he does, which led to some truly funny moments. Other times he gets in over his head and has to deal with the consequences. One interesting example is one scene where he crawls up a building that is higher than he’s ever scaled and when he realizes this has to deal with a fear of heights!

Now how does it compare to the Sam Raimi films? That is hard to say and will take some time to fully compare them, though the action sequences in the Raimi films were better filmed and on the whole those films were more evocative of the comic books. Also, the romances not just in Raimi’s, but in Marc Webb’s films were much better done as those actors had better onscreen chemistry than here. Still, Spider-Man: Homecoming feels more authentic and more grounded than the bombastic Raimi films. What this film has in common with the early films are the tributes and shout outs to unique Spider-Man moments and scenes directly lifted from the comic books. Remember that famous scene in Spider-Man 2 that was inspired by The Amazing Spider-Man #50? This film has another tribute to an equally famous moment from Spider-Man’s comic books, which will delight Spider-Fans.

Spiderman Homecoming in truck

After the misfire of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming successfully re-launches the franchise with this amazing (pun intended) entry. At the same time, this is a spectacular (another pun!) standalone MCU film in its own right that is another winner for the cinematic universe. Hopefully, Sony and Marvel Studios will keep this up in future films.

José Soto

 

How To Fix The Spider-Man Movies

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been out in theaters for a month already. It’s made close to $500 million worldwide to date, so it’s a hit film. Yet, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has raked in far less money than the previous Spider-Man movie. Despite all the advertising and marketing, the movie has been largely forgotten in this crowded summer movie season. That’s unbelievable for a Spider-Man movie, usually they’re big hits. Something went wrong with the film, and the fans noticed and word of mouth probably has had a hand in keeping the box office numbers down. It’s sad to say but the franchise, despite being rebooted two years ago, seems tired and talk about sequels and spin-off films get yawns from everyone.

The film had its good points, but on the whole, it was a mess and killed any good will towards the franchise. What can be done? Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes around, rivaling Batman himself. The character is still viable, but the filmmakers have gotten away from what made Spidey work. If they want to win back the fans and more importantly for the execs, the big box office numbers, the following things have to be done.

Story First

What sunk The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was its sloppy script. The film was loaded with too many time-filler subplots that don’t go anywhere and needless characters. It reminded me of that equally dumb Spider-Man 3 with all the extra characters who didn’t add anything to the story (looking at you Gwen Stacy) and moronic plot twists (so Sandman accidently killed Uncle Ben).

?????????????????????????????????Does anyone care about Peter Parker’s parents? A few lines of dialogue and one or two scenes could’ve wrapped up that plot thread. Then there was the way they tried to convince us that Peter and Harry Osborn were best buddies even though Harry was never mentioned in the previous film. It was just one of too many plot lines in the crowded movie.

What was worst was that the movie felt like an ad for upcoming spinoffs and sequels and that harmed the narrative flow and pacing of this film. It was like director Marc Webb set up a revolving door on the movie set just to introduce new villains, which leads to the next point.

Improve The Villains

The  film execs clearly didn’t learn the lesson with Spider-Man 3. That film was weighed down with three villains ?????????????????????????????????who didn’t get adequate screen time to develop them. The same thing happened here, but worse. Electro was largely a one-dimensional joke, and reminded me of the Riddler from Batman Forever, only Jim Carrey did a better job of portraying a nutjob than Jamie Foxx. His portrayal of Electro before his accident was so over the top and he didn’t gel with the other people around him. I get they were trying to make him a goofy outcast, but it was too much.

spidey and doc ockSeriously, the last great villain in these films was Doctor Octopus and that was ten years ago. I’m not sure why they can’t come up with a worthy villain for Spider-Man, but jamming in a bunch of them to please toymakers isn’t working. It’s a damn shame because Harry Osborn/Green Goblin was pretty decent in this film thanks to Dane DeHaan’s performance, but his time was limited. If they would’ve dumped Electro, Harry would’ve had the needed screen time for his story. Instead, we get a rushed intro of the Green Goblin popping out in the end and briefly fighting Spider-Man. He’s supposed to be his greatest enemy, why relegate him to an extended cameo? The Green Goblin should be the top villain in these films. In this crowded film, he wasn’t the only character to get shafted.

Get Spider-Man’s Supporting Cast More Involved

???????????????????????????????Aunt May was largely wasted in the new Spider-Man movie and that’s an atrocity. The filmmakers went out and hired Sally Field, an Oscar winner, to portray Peter’s aunt and she just gets lost in this film. The few precious moments she has only point out how she was criminally underused. In the comic books, she was involved in major plot lines. Often, Spider-Man was out risking his neck to save her or worrying about her. This was better shown in the last film where Peter brought home organic eggs in the end after saving the city, it was a quiet moment that illustrated his love and responsibility and it worked.

jjj2But Aunt May isn’t the only neglected member of his supporting cast. Flash Thompson, Peter’s nemesis and Spider-Man’s biggest fan was absent this time around and where the hell is J. Jonah Jameson who brings a different kind of headache to Spider-Man? Our web-swinging hero needs a foil and Jameson filled that role perfectly in Sam Raimi’s films. It seems like the producers and Marc Webb couldn’t figure out who should play the newspaper publisher after J.K. Simmon’s act and gave up. Why not just bring him back? It worked for the James Bond flicks when Judi Dench played M with two different actors portraying the famous spy. Any Spidey film should have Jameson hounding him in the public eye. Continue reading

Ten Films To Look For In 2013

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Last year saw a batch of some truly great films and…some major disappointments. But we fans always look ahead to what’s coming out next year. This year isn’t an exception, however, there will be less genre offerings especially when compared to some stellar and exciting films due in 2014 and 2015. This means there are few guaranteed, must-see event films like The Avengers for this year. Still there are some potential nuggets that look or sound promising and who knows? One of them or something else may pleasantly surprise us.

10. Evil Dead

We’ve been burned by some recent, unnecessary remakes but this one is produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, the director and the star respectively of the original films. The recent trailer promises the same outrageous thrills, scares and gore that made the originals (in)famous. Only this time the production look more professional and therefore more cringe inducing. (Release Date: April 12)

9. Warm Bodies

This zombie movie seems to be in the same humorous vein as Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland. Warm Bodies is told from the POV of young male zombie who slowly starts to become human again after meeting a potential meal and falling in love with her (!). Warm Bodies looks very promising and unique, which should help it stand out from the crowded field of zombie movies. (Release Date: February 1)

8. Oz, The Great And Powerful

ozDirector Sam Raimi attempts to put behind his Spider-Man films with this prequel of sorts to The Wizard Of Oz. The film focuses on the man who became the sought after wizard of that mythical land. The casting of James Franco as the future Wizard seems like a good choice and the magical landscape and characters shown in the trailers are very stunning and colorful. Can’t wait for the revelation of the Wicked Witch of the East! (Release Date: March 8)

7. Pacific Rim

Fan favorite Guillermo Del Toro returns to the directing chair (his last film was in 2008) in this ode to kaiju (giant monsters) films. Pacific Rim concerns itself with a world being decimated by giant monsters and humanity fighting back by constructing giant robots that are operated by humans inside. Truthfully, Pacific Rim seems like a mix of Transformers and Cloverfield but in a good way. (Release Date: July 12)

6. Oblivion

This Tom Cruise vehicle is directed by Joseph Kosinsky, whose last work was the unexpectedly good Tron: Legacy. Cruise plays a lone repairman working in the ruins of an abandoned Earth, and is fixated on the oblivion 2planet and its lost wonders. One day he stumbles upon a mystery when he encounters a beautiful stranger. Sure, based on that premise and what’s shown on the trailer it may seem a lot like WALL-E except it’s with a human instead of a robot, but Oblivion also hints at deeper mysteries such as is Earth really abandoned by humanity? (Release Date: April 12)

5. Thor: The Dark World

Thor surprised many viewers with its refreshing take on superheroes being that it combined superheroics with ancient gods/alien Shakespearean drama and a decent fish-out-of-water element. Even though this sequel isn’t directed by Kenneth Branagh, who did such a great job with the first Thor, what has been revealed, namely Chris Hemsworth reprising his role as the God of Thunder and dark elves as the villains (the head villain is played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston), promises to be a worthy followup. (Release Date: November 8)

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

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The middle part of The Hobbit trilogy comes out at the end of the year and should amp up the adventure quota now that the dwarves’ introduction and exposition about reclaiming their lost kingdom from the dragon Smaug was covered in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, that film turned off some fans due to its slow pace and 48 fps ratio that was unsettling for some viewers. Yet it pleased many and is a big hit worldwide. Director Peter Jackson should hope that this middle film in The Hobbit trilogy will be better received than his last middle film in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. (Release Date: December 13)

3. Gravity

This film about astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded on a decaying space station was held over from last year. Officially the reason had to do with upgrading the special effects and a 3D post-conversion. Rumor had it that the preview results were sharply mixed but after some more tweaking, the latest word of mouth is it that Gravity is a stunning piece of filmmaking. Alonso Cuarón, who directed the best sci-fi movie of the last decade (Children Of Men) and one of the better Harry Potter films (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban) directs this suspenseful thriller. (Release Date: October 18)

2. Elysium

Neill Blomkamp, who directed one of the past decades very best science fiction films (District 9), returns to the big screen with damonhis next sci-fi epic. This one stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and District 9 vet Sharlto Copley and takes place in 2159. By this time, Earth is overpopulated and dying. While most of the population eke out a miserable existence on the planet, the elite live in a luxurious space station who will stop at nothing to keep the riff raff out of their artificial paradise. Damon plays an ex-con whose mission might upset the unequal balance in society. Based on Blomkamp’s last film and its high caliber of quality, Elysium would’ve rated higher on this list but to date no real details have been released, not even a teaser trailer, so it’s difficult to ascertain how promising Elysium looks. In this film’s defense, at least a couple of photos have been released, which isn’t the case with Gravity. (Release Date: August 9)

1. Star Trek Into Darkness

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J.J. Abrams directs his second Star Trek film, as fans know his first Trek film rebooted the long-running franchise. Many have mixed feelings about Abrams’ efforts, the man has admitted he isn’t a Star Trek fan and there are complaints that his previous Trek film seemed more like a Star Wars film. That is because it emphasized action and explosions over ideas and exploration. But Star Trek was an entertaining and rousing success. With Star Trek Into Darkness very little has been revealed about its mysterious plot and villain. What has been revealed is that Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) gets taken down a few pegs and loses command of the Enterprise. But the biggest buzz online has to do with the villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), an alleged former Starfleet officer turned terrorist. There are the speculations that he may be a genetic superman like Khan. So far, the lack of information from Abrams and company is helping to fuel interest for Star Trek Into Darkness. (Release Date: May 17)

Keep in mind, these release dates will change and may even be pushed back a year. Other films to keep an eye out for include World War Z (some may have noticed that this film was listed in the top 12 in last year’s list of anticipated films, but news of the troubled production kept it out of the list this time, though the trailer looks interesting), Iron Man 3 (will the franchise revive itself after the listless Iron Man 2? The back to basics approach shown in the trailer seems like a step in the right direction), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire wolverine(the first sequel to Suzanne Collins’ popular book series and movie about a tough girl surviving a futuristic blood sport), The Wolverine (Marvel’s most popular mutant has an adventure in Japan in his second solo film), Monsters University (Pixar’s newest animated release is a prequel to the hit Monsters, Inc.), After Earth (director M. Night Shyamalan attempts another comeback with this futuristic tale about a father and son stranded on an abandoned, hostile Earth), Area 51 (Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli’s delayed found-footage movie about aliens), I, Frankenstein (Aaron Eckhart plays the title character in modern times who fights to save humanity from immortal forces), The Colony (Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne are among dwindling human survivors in a futuristic ice age who must contend with a terrifying threat), Kick-Ass 2 (hopefully it won’t be as graphically gruesome as the comic book mini-series it’s based on), Ender’s Game (an adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s book about a gifted child trained to fight aliens in the future), and Last Days Of Mars (a group of imperiled astronauts on the red planet ).

José Soto

The Amazing Spider-Man

It can be argued that The Amazing Spider-Man is the Spider-Man film for fans of the web-slinging hero. Frankly, it surpasses Sam Raimi’s trilogy in terms of special effects and that is not overly relying on CGI. The practical effects and stunt work really make Spider-Man come alive in a way that hasn’t been done before. The 3D is visually spectacular even the night shots. Pardon the pun but some shots of Spidey are truly amazing and look as if they were taken out of a comic book panel. Forget about alterations to his costume, the filmmakers captured the essence of Spider-Man.

But enough about the effects and look. The rest of The Amazing Spider-Man is a solid and welcome addition to Marvel’s superhero film roster. While director Marc Webb may not be as gimmicky and flashy as Sam Raimi was, he has an eye for character. He lets the quiet moments speak for themselves and knows how to show just enough of a character moment before moving on. The relationship that Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is the soul of the movie without going overboard.

Webb wisely uses this constraint in showing us other aspects of Parker. This results in the film not being as cornball or overly sentimental as Raimi’s Spider-Man films sometimes felt. Don’t worry, there aren’t any dance numbers! Garfield does an excellent job portraying him and his masked alter ego. He makes viewers and fans forget about Tobey Maguire with his constant moping and sad eyes. This Parker while burdened with responsibility is very proactive and as Spider-Man he cracks jokes, and behaves just like he does in the comic books. While this film has the hero constantly unmasked it actually works and one doesn’t mind.

As for the rest of the cast, they turn in fine performances with top honors going to Stone and Denis Leary (as her father police captain George Stacy). The captain’s obsession with trying to arrest Spider-Man is an engaging subplot that was never explored in depth before on film and deftly adds to Spider-Man’s headaches. BTW, Stan Lee has one of his very best and funniest cameos in the film that puts him in the same shot with his greatest creation.

The main villain in The Amazing Spider-Man as everyone knows is the Lizard a.k.a. Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) a one-armed scientist with ties to his dead parents. The film links his creation to Spider-Man’s and it’s a complaint that goes back to many of these films (such as Batman) but it’s handled fairly well. Compared to the comic book version, Connors isn’t as sympathetic which is a detriment to the film. The Lizard may not be as great a villain as Doctor Octopus but he is still an imposing, formidable  character who puts Spider-Man through hell. Standing nearly eight feet tall with regenerative powers and a cunning mind he seems more like a smart Hulk mixed with Wolverine and a velociraptor from Jurassic Park. That’s a deadly combination.

The film does have faults: we didn’t need to see another origin sequence, which could’ve been handled with flashbacks; some plot developments are dropped too cleanly; the score by James Horner isn’t particularly memorable. But there are so many things that the filmmakers get right with this film because like Sam Raimi, they understand Spider-Man and it shows. So how does it compare to the previous films? Well it’s much, much better than Spider-Man 3 and arguably on par with the first Spider-Man. Despite Spider-Man 2’s flaws it was Raimi at his energetic best and a better film than The Amazing Spider-Man, but Spider-Man 2 set a high bar that is hard to top. It’s too bad Sony chose to release The Amazing Spider-Man so soon after Raimi’s trilogy ended. This is bringing about some unfair comparisons by fans of those films. But go in with an open mind and be prepared to be amazed.

José Soto