Mini-Review: Spider-man Homecoming (No Spoilers)

Over the Thanksgiving Break, my family and I watch Spider-man Homecoming (SMH) and we liked it.  It wasn’t our favorite Marvel movie, but it was still fun and exciting.  I thought I’d do a Mini-Review for the blog based on my love of comic book movies, Marvel movies, and Spider-man movies.  This one was very good–not the best, but still very good.

Action AND Humor
One thing that SPH really gets right is the action sequences as well as the humor of the character.  One of the crucial things that filmmakers don’t really get about the character is that Peter Parker is a “sincere” human being having to react to some of the scummiest situations (both in terms of everyday life and over-the-top villainy) that are out there.  His defense mechanism is his ability to turn every situation into a joke or a wise-crack.  Yes, as Spider-man, Peter is insanely powerful and gifted, but it is the humor that helps him deflect much of the trials and tribulations that he goes through.  While not nearly as funny as say, Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s still a bit of that irrepressible mixture of deft humor along with very strong action scenes that help to sell the movie and Tom Holland’s performance of the character.  As much as I disliked the high school stuff (see below), I think that Tom Holland’s performance of Peter Parker might be my favorite so far (I’ll have to reflect more on that as the year ends and I see it more times to be sure).

Straight Outta’ High School
So why isn’t this my favorite of all the Spider-man movies?  In two words: high school.  The filmmakers decided to “reset” Peter as it were, and placed a significant portion of it in Peter’s high school life/activities.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this is where quite a bit of both the tension and the humor comes in, but I’m just not one who really likes (for the most part), high school narratives in movies.  In this case, while well done, these were (again, for the most part) some of the least interesting parts of the movie.  Yes, they were well acted and all the rest, but having collected Spider-man comics during my high school and early college years (freshman & sophomore years), I really think that the true strength of the Peter Parker narrative comes from his struggle to support himself as a young photographer at the Daily Bugle with J. Jonah Jameson.  Yes, I know Peter originally started in high school, but I personally don’t feel that the stories came into their own until his college/work years, and this perception colored my feelings towards the movie.  I liked it, but I would have liked it even more had the filmmakers chosen to “age-up” Peter’s character (as I assume they will in future movies).

Marvel Movie Genres (This would be the YA Movie)
The Marvel movies have been good with mixing different genres into the standard comic book movie formula (well, with the exception of “horror” movies which they don’t seem to want to do even when it is the most appropriate genre–Age of Ultron).  However, this one would the YA movie, if that’s the case.  Much like movies like The Hunger GamesThe Spiderwick Chronicles, etc., the reliance on such a young cast and the focus on quite a bit of high school drama/activities makes this feel more in line with a YA movie than it does with a typical Marvel movie–not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.  I should note, however, that the performances by the cast, both younger members and older members, were excellent and well done.  I look forward to their next outing whenever Marvel and Sony team-up again to produce another one.  My only hope is that we move past the high school setting into college and work-life and that they can make that as compelling in the movies as it was in the comics.

Overall Grade: B (Solid performances, action, and humor, dragged down by an over-reliance on high school drama and a bit (not too much, but a definitely bit) of teen angst/drama).

Implications for my Writing: I have to understand that I don’t really like certain genres/things: the “heist” movie, “crime” movies, and apparently “high school” movies.  If I don’t like them, it’s probably not a good idea for me to try to write them in that I probably won’t be able to create a story that is credible and true to the genre because I can’t see past the “flaws” of the genre to do it justice.  There are probably genres that I won’t be successful writing, and the “high school drama” might be one of those genres.

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Comic-Con Week: Thor Ragnarok

thor-ragnarok-photo-chris-hemsworth_indiewire

So, just like DC, Marvel also released a trailer for Comic-Con.  Their big focus this year, now that Spider-Man: Homecoming has been released, is Thor.  Thor Ragnarok seems like it is going for fun over a dark gritty storyline (which was the mistake that Thor: Dark World made).

As you can see in the trailer–Thor Ragnarok Trailermuch of the action is peppered with quips and fun set-pieces.  This trailer seems to bring back the fun characterization that made the first Thor movie such a surprise.

The only problem (if you can call it a problem) is that it releases in November (the same month that Justice League releases) so both of these movies are going to be fighting for much of the same audience.  Assuming that school and classes go well, I’m most certainly going to try to see both movies.

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Ranking the Spider-Man Movies (now updated with Spider-Man Homecoming)

Spider_Man_SuperheroWikia

Image Source: Superhero Wikia (Art by John Romita)

I think I may have mentioned it on the blog before, but in case I haven’t, Spider-Man is my favorite superhero.  I really gravitated towards him in high school and his athletic abilities and biting (no pun intended) humor really won me over as a character.  I’ve seen several sites ranking the Spider-Man movies, so I thought I’d get in on the act myself.  Following is a list of the current Spider-Man movies so far that I’ve ranked in order of my own personal preference as to the best (& worst) of the Spider-Man universe (regardless of studio, be it Sony or the MCU).  I’ll be updating this post both when I see Spider-Man: Homecoming and when other movies are released with Spider-Man as the primary character.  As with my Marvel post, I’m going to try to keep things spoiler-free, but (as always) I can’t guarantee that things that I mention won’t spoil things for knowledgeable Spider-Man fans.

Spider-Man_2_Poster_Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Spider-Man 2

This is by far my favorite Spider-Man film.  This film had everything that I wanted in a Spider-Man film: the idea of personal responsibility, the idea of with great power comes great responsibility, great special effects, great villain, great internal character conflict, great external conflict and an ending that gets it (mostly) right.  There are some things that this movie gets wrong, but is as accurate a depiction of Spider-Man as a character and as a comic (so far) that I’ve seen as a movie.  Things were changed and manipulated in Spider-Man 2 that is different from the comic, but I can see the reasons for each change.  To me, this stands as the (current) definitive Spider-Man movie.

Spider-Man2002Poster_Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Spider-Man 

Okay, so I like this one, but not nearly as much as its sequel.  I think my enjoyment for this one was muted because it is an “origin” story and I know Spider-Man’s origin like the back of my hand at this point.  Seeing the character evolve (especially when you already know the story) isn’t nearly as impactful as seeing an original adventure featuring the character and I think that’s what hurts this one the most.  Also, the changes the filmmakers made didn’t seem to be needed (unlike the sequel), so I didn’t really feel that the Spider-Man that I knew from the comics and games was presented on-screen faithfully.

 

spider man homecoming movie poster_imdb

Spider-man Homecoming

After seeing Spider-man Homecoming, I have to say that while I liked it, I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped.  Much of that is due to the fact that they regressed the character and made him a typical “high school” student. That wasn’t bad in itself, but I have to confess, I’m not much of a “high school drama” type of person and fully half of the movie revolved around Peter’s interaction with his high school friends and environs.  I think the action and the humor was spot on, but the emphasis on high school (Homecoming actually refers to the “homecoming” dance, BTW) really diluted some of the enjoyment of the movie for me.  Still, I liked the acting and the script (sans high school stuff), so I think that I’m most definitely on-board for a new Spider-man movie, especially if they move out of (or minimize) the high school elements.

 

The_Amazing_Spiderman_2_poster_Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Okay, this one is one that the critics and I disagree on.  Critics hated this movie.  I think it is okay.  Not great, not horrible, but in the middle.  I liked the fact that they tried to incorporate the “Gwen Stacey” storyline and that they had the guts to try to replicate it on-screen, even if it didn’t hit/work just right.  I also like that Peter and Gwen were young adults, not high-schoolers and that eliminated one of my dislikes of the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, teen angst (see below).  Too many villains and too much “convenience” really hampered the story and brought it down in my opinion.

The_Amazing_Spider-Man_theatrical_poster_Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Amazing Spider-Man

In a word (or two), teen angst.  This is what kept me from seeing it in the theaters and why (along with a modified retelling of the origin story) kept me from seeing it until much later when I was able to rent it cheaply.  For me, I made the right choice. It wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be, mostly because of the actors’ performances, but Spider-Man/Peter Parker is better when he is put in the young adult role, not in the teenage role.  Yes, I know he started/was bitten as a teenager, but the stories that helped grow the character and push him into mainstream consciousness are not his teenage years, but his young adult ones (as a photographer for the Daily Bugle, trying to make rent, trying to hold up his relationships with family and friends, while at the same time trying to be Spider-Man and live up to “Great Responsibility” creed).

Spider-Man_3,_International_Poster_Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Spider-Man 3

Easily the worst of the Spider-Man movies.  This is a prime example of filmmakers not trusting their source material and cherry-picking it for what they want without understanding why it works.  Venom should have been awesome in this movie.  The whole Peter/Mary Jane marriage sub-plot should have worked, the antagonist/ally sub-plot should have worked, but no one tried to understand the storylines from the comics.  Venom works, not because he is a psychopath, but because the symbiote  loves and hates Peter Parker.  It doesn’t want to turn Peter into a “dancing fool” as the movie portrays, but it wants to join with Peter.  When he rejects it, it hates him and wants to kill Peter and it knows everything about Peter Parker–it knows just what will affect him physically and psychologically–and it can disguise itself and be anyone at anytime.  Now throw in Peter wanting to marry Mary Jane and there is the plot that the movie should have followed.  Again, an almost horror take on the superhero genre similar to where Avengers: Age of Ultron should have gone.  How can Peter protect himself and his future wife (i.e., when the movie opened she should have been his fiancé) from a psychopathic killer out for his blood when he can’t even tell where and when that killer is going to strike?  I have the original Venom storyline and I know how that character can be used in stories based on the original writer’s (David Michelinie) interpretation and the original artist’s (Todd McFarlane) illustrations.  What audiences got instead was a watered-down (way down) version of this story without very elements that evoke menace in the character/story.  I could go on, but you get the picture–this one is bad, both because it is bad and because of so many missed opportunities.

Dr. Strange: Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

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Source: ComingSoon.net

MAGIC AND MARTIAL ARTS

This is a really interesting story.  In many ways it is the story that I was trying to write with my own story, I, Magi.  The creators manage to combine Magic with Martial Arts and the results come together surprisingly well.  Now, martial arts movies are a “guilty pleasure” of mine.  I know some of the earlier ones in the 70s and 80s aren’t really good narratively speaking and that the English dubbing is sometimes so awful as to have entered into the realm of cliche, but I love the action, the movement, and the artistry of the genre.  Recent entries, since the mid-90s have been much better and I feel they have come into their own thanks to great actors in the field.  I love (& have seen most of the practicing martial arts actors–male and female–and have enjoyed them immensely, but I have a personal fondness for Jackie Chan, mostly for the outtakes reel that he includes at the end of his movies).  There are two or three centerpiece fights in this movie and add in magic–and well, you have a strong action based movie.

If there is a downside, its that the movie is an origin story, so if you already know the origin of the hero, Dr. Stephen Strange, then you will have a pretty good clue to the first half of the movie.  Still, that is a minor complaint (similar to knowing the origin stories of heroes like Batman or Spider-man.)

A GOOD SENSE OF HUMOR

This movie has a pretty good sense of humor as well.  From other reviewers, some of the jokes seemed to be hit or miss for them, but for me, I chuckled at the jokes, even when the set-up was telegraphed a mile away.  There were some truly laugh aloud moments, but the movie didn’t set out to be a comedy.  In many ways, the humor is much more sedate, more dry than say, the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.  The humor seems on par with Ant-Man.

COMIC BOOK MOVIE FATIGUE

Many reviewers seemed to be noting comic fatigue for friends who they took to see the movie and reported not like it.  I think that they fact that it is also as much of a martial arts movie as a “Marvel” movie also has something to with one’s enjoyment.  If you don’t like Martial Arts movies then chances are really good you aren’t going to like this movie as many of its set-ups and structure follow that genre and its conventions.

In many ways, the director and writers of this movie did what I wished Joss Whedon would have done (if possible based on studio notes) for Age of Ultron. They completely went to another genre–martial arts movies, just as the last two Captain America movies have done to a larger/lesser degree political thrillers.  Imagine if Age of Ultron had gone for a completely “horror” movie vibe with Ultron (and the twins) hunting/eliminating Avengers in pursuit of the “Vision” prototype.

I wonder if it is truly a case of comic book movie fatigue or rather a miscommunication of what genre to which this movie actually belongs.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

Fight scenes need clarity.  As I mentioned above, this is what I’d hoped I, Magi would be like, except that Magic is limited, so they (mages) have to rely on fighting skills to make up for the lack of magic available to them.  In the movie, however, I noticed that the fight scenes were clear.  I think that at times (especially when I try for action scenes) my own description breaks down and it is unclear who is where.

I intend to try to work on that and make might fight/action scenes more clear and more visual in the reader’s mind.