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

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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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Black Panther vs. Spider-Man: Learning How to Navigate Social Interactions through Comic Book Trading

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Image Source: Heroic Universe

So, in high school, I developed a passion for comics (heroic, mostly).  This was just before the time of Graphic Novels exploded in popularity where individual comic book issues were still the dominant form of comic book collecting/reading.  In my freshman year, I found several acquaintances who shared my passion and I watched as they traded issues amongst themselves.

Eventually, I joined their group and began to become involved in reading and trading comics.  As noted before, Spider-Man was my favorite hero at the time and I traded whenever possible for Spider-Man comics.  However, one of my friends bought and read a four-issue mini-series of Black Panther.  He traded it to me and I read it and enjoyed it, but again, wanted as many issues of Spider-Man as possible, so then I traded it for four Spider-Man comics.  My friend found out about it and confronted me and said that if I wanted to trade them to “X” person, I would have done so, but I traded them to you.  Luckily, our friendship survived that “rocky” incident, and flourished during our junior and senior years (but unfortunately, we lost touch during college), but I’ve always regretted trading away those comics.

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Image Source: Comic Vine (GameSpot)

Black Panther is such a “unique” character in that he (along with Storm) represent a non-traditional representation of a character of African descent.  While I like Cyborg (yes, I know, different publisher than Black Panther and Storm), I’ve always found that his characterization (like most African-American, African-descendent characters) relied on too much stereotype (esp. in the late 80s/early 90s).  Cyborg (and other characters of color) during that time period would often drop endings on words (such as I’m goin’, I’m goin’).  In the late 90s, early 2000s, this morphed to “cool” catchphrases such as “Booyah!”  Black Panther and Storm are both articulate and well-spoken, highly moral (often surpassing Captain America in terms of “Goodness”), and highly educated.  They are often aspirational and represent the “best” of the culture of African/African Americans/Those of Color.

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Image Source: Pinterest

With the upcoming Black Panther movie, I really wish that I’d kept that particular mini-series.  While I’m familiar with the Black Panther, I’d love a “refresher course” on the character to see what changes Marvel has made.  I’d also love to be able to compare comic and movie changes to Black Panther in the same way that I could do a comparison with Spider-Man’s movies and comics.  I will try to find out if that storyline was adapted/reprinted in a Graphic Novel, but somehow it won’t be the same.  To have the actual issues in hand to refer back to as well as the nostalgia of the issues and the trade and the friendship–that is something older me would tell younger me is far more important than the ephemeral satisfaction of “making the trade.”

Black Panther, E3 and Me

 

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Image Source: YouTube.com

So, this blog was going to be about E3 (the video game and computer game conference happening on the West Coast this weekend), but Marvel released a teaser trailer for the Black Panther movie coming in 2018.  You can find the teaser trailer here: Black Panther Teaser Trailer.

I’m very interested in this movie as I was introduced to the Black Panther via a Marvel Comic that talked about the various gadgets and costumes of Marvel heroes in the early to mid 80s (it was the same comic that described the Mandarin’s rings and Falcon’s  wings/jet propulsion system) and mini-series done about the character when I was in High School in the late 80s/early 90s.  However, I discovered that the movie will debut next close to my birthday, so I feel that it will be a great movie to see as a present to myself, so I’m already “sticking a pin in it” as the expression goes.  I hope it turns out as well for Marvel and the creators as well as Wonder Woman has turned out for DC this year.  I will keep it on my radar.

E3

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This weekend marks the kickoff to the E3 Conference.  I am a very big fan of video games and video game narratives, and this is where the newest games and technologies are mostly announced for the upcoming year.  E3 used to be about selling games and software for Christmas, and while it still has some of that element, mostly its about things that will be coming out in the next year and building anticipation for things even further out (a year and a half to two years).  Electronic Arts’s Press Conference kicks things off later today, and then tomorrow will be Bethesda.  Ubisoft and Sony will round out Monday’s coverage and then the show will begin in earnest with games out on the show floor.  EA’s press conference (or EA Play Event as they technically aren’t doing “Press Conferences per se since last year) is scheduled to kick off at 1pm Eastern time (9am Pacific Time) and I plan on watching that before digging into some yard work that I’ve put off for too long.  If there’s anything fun and relevant to the blog, I’ll probably talk about the things that were announced that I find most interesting (games are doing some pretty neat and novel things in the narrative space these days).  In between the conferences, I hope to get some writing done over this weekend as well.

Have a great weekend!

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.

Ranking Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Movies–My Take (2017 Edition–now updated with Spider-man Homecoming)

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Writer’s Note: Rather than creating a new blog post, I’m going to continually update this one.  You can always tell the latest Marvel movie I’ve seen based on the last movie in the title.  So if X Movie in the title isn’t the latest Marvel movie, I probably haven’t seen it yet. However, the last movie that I’ve seen will be in the title, so hopefully I won’t be too far behind.

A while back, IGN did a feature on ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in light of the fact that Marvel has finished its “Phase II” movie slate.  Mine differs from theirs however, so I thought I’d do my own take on the list.  Now I’m fully committed to seeing the new Fantastic Four reboot, so I will probably assign a new number to it and then “push” all the other movies under it down by 1 number. (EDIT: Still haven’t seen the FF reboot based on reviews–I probably won’t include it here when I do see it as it isn’t technically in the MCU. I’m thinking of doing another list for the non-MCU Marvel movies    (X-Men, FF reboot, etc.), but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it at the moment).

A Note on Spoilers: Now, I tried to be as “Spoiler Free” as possible and not get into too many specifics and just give a general impression of why I felt it belonged where I placed it on the list.  I tried not to go into any plot discussion whatsoever (just in case), but I can’t guarantee that if you haven’t seen the movie, that these listings will be completely spoiler free.

15. Iron Man 2:  On this one, both IGN and I agree.  This one was the weakest of the Marvel Universe films.  IGN says that it is because they were trying to set up other movies in the Universe, but for me, they lost the through line of Tony Stark’s character.  Tony finding out that his life’s work was causing misery in the world in Iron Man 1 was one of the revelations of the character.  Not having that type of character introspection was a missed opportunity.  It was like the filmmakers wanted to do the whole “Demon in a Bottle” storyline here, but decided that it was too dark and then stripped it out while leaving Tony’s erratic behaviors in place.

14. Thor: The Dark World:  Missed this one in the theaters and saw it on Blu-Ray.  For some reason, this one missed with me.  I loved the 1st Thor, but the storyline on this one just seemed to not make a lot of sense.  I pride myself on being able to follow plot, but many of the scenes seemed to lurch from one “element” to another without the tight narrative flow throughout the movie.

13. The Incredible Hulk: I liked this one more than the critics and if not for the strong showing of other Marvel Universe movies, this one would be much higher.  I liked the “Hulk on the run” motif as it mimicked the TV show from the late 70s-early 80s (which I watched religiously as a child).  I also liked the Hulk vs. Abomination fight.  What really sold the deal for me with this movie was the awesome cameo by Lou Ferrigno and the fight choreography that called back to the Playstation 2 era Hulk video game.

12. Iron Man 3: Actually, liked this one quite a bit when I saw it in IMAX 3D.  Several scenes lose their punch when viewed 2D via Blu-Ray, but it is still a great movie.  This one worked better because (unlike IM2) they actually did use elements from the storyline “A Demon in a Bottle” (albeit they substituted PTSD for alcoholism) and that worked to explain Tony’s increasingly erratic behavior.   I didn’t like the Mandarin’s portrayal all that much, but if you are not going to allow Mandarin to have his rings then a significant change to the Mandarin character is necessary.

11. Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron: Okay, I was expecting to like this one a whole lot more than I did.  I think that the final climax and set-piece was fine.  For me, the interactions did not ring as true as they did in the 1st movie.  This one was more set piece to set piece, but the interactions seemed forced for some reason.  Take the hinted Widow/Banner romance for instance.  Widow seemed to have much more of a rapport with Captain America based on the chemistry and camaraderie displayed in The Winter Soldier than she had with her interactions with Banner in both of the Avengers movies.  I think, though, what ultimately I didn’t like is that Ultron was “creepy,” almost horrific like a good classic horror villain.  Just like Winter Soldier was a mix of superhero and political thriller, I think Age of Ultron should have mixed superhero movie with horror movie elements, with Ultron “picking off” the Avengers one-by-one.

10. Spider-man Homecoming: I liked SPH, but I felt that it drifted into just the place that I didn’t want a new Spider-man movie to go: high school.  The high school elements were the worst elements of the previous Spider-man movies and this one was no exception.  I know Peter Parker was portrayed as a high school student for much of his “early” run, but really, Peter Parker is much better as a character when he graduated high school and was working at the Daily Bugle under J. Jonah Jameson.  There are elements of that (without J.J.J.), but it is still a high school narrative and those are probably one of the least interesting tropes for me.  The action was good, the story was pretty good, and the humor was very much in keeping with Spider-man, but at least half of the movie (perhaps more) is about Peter Parker’s high school life rather than Spidey and/or his life outside of high school.  That’s the only reason I’m rating this so low–I actually liked it quite a bit, but not as much as the movies above it (& that’s mainly because of the high school segments).

9. Ant-Man: Now we’re starting to get into territory where ALL of the following movies are good, but it just depends on individual preference.  Even in this grouping, I’m making fine distinctions between the movies.  Let’s just say that if any of the movies from here above are playing on TV and I have the time, chances are good I’d just sit and watch to the conclusion.  I liked this story–it was a fun movie.  It was also a “heist” movie and I’m not personally a big fan of those.  Luckily, the heist was part of the movie’s climax and it was pretty interesting.

8. Thor: So the first Thor movie doesn’t get a lot of love, but it set’s up the first Marvel Avengers movie, it features great performances from the leads (Tom Hiddleston owns the role of Loki), and has some great comedic moments.  I really like the earnest approach to the story–both in terms of acting and the story itself.  It is the “Fall from Grace” story, but because it isn’t a Tragedy (aka GrimDark), the hero is given the chance to redeem himself and learns what it means to be a hero.  The cynic in me says that this why the movie isn’t universally loved–it is hard to be a hero because a true hero isn’t a jerk or an anti-hero.  A true hero has to be willing to sacrifice.  And in America (and the world at large), that just isn’t a very popular idea (Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you).

7. Captain America: First Avenger: I really like this movie.  This is mostly a period piece movie, but I like it more for its message than its out-and-out action sequences.  This the quintessential American movie–the little guy with a heart of gold who becomes not so little and stands up to those who would oppress others.  Again, not a popular sentiment these days.  I didn’t grow up in the time period the movie describes, but as someone who minored in History, I love the period piece behind the movie.

6. Doctor Strange: Okay, I liked this one just slightly more than I did the first Captain America movie, but less than I did the first Iron Man movie.  I think that Benedict Cumberbatch was an awesome choice to play this role because of his time with Sherlock and that gave him the right “timbre” for playing the narcissistic Stephen Strange.  I also thought that the change from selfish to selfless was well earned, and unlike the critics and masses, I liked the conclusion and final fight.  I thought that it was well earned and concluded the story well, but was also darkly humorous.  I loved the special effects and Doctor’s Strange’s cloak was a great character all by itself!

5. Iron Man: This one’s special to me as it is the first time that I realized that Marvel was really serious about “Universe-building.”  I’ve always been a Spider-Man and X-Men reader (on the Marvel side), but it was impossible ignore the other heroes.  I would see references in other comics about Iron Man and had a comic that was the precursor to the Marvel Handbooks that described the tech of Marvel’s heroes.  It diagramed how Spider-Man’s web-shooters worked, how Falcon’s wings and flight apparatus worked, how Mandarin’s rings did their thing, and so on.  As I recall, the comic showed several variants of Tony Stark’s armor, including the “gray Iron Man” suit.  Seeing that suit on-screen and then seeing Tony reworking it into the “contemporary” suit blew my mind!  If nothing else, I realized that this batch of Marvel movies (unlike the 1st batch in the mid/late 80s) intended to get it right and treat the source material with respect.  I was hooked on Marvel’s movies with this one.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy: So this one was one of those movies that I decided that I really loved the Trailer and that I was going to see no matter what.  To understand my reasoning, you have to understand that I had been talked out of seeing World War Z at the theaters by the lukewarm reviews.  When I saw WWZ on Blu-Ray, I loved it and wished that I’d seen it via Imax (as I’d intended before watching/reading reviews).  I made up my mind that if I ever saw a trailer that I liked, I was going to see the movie no matter what.  I saw the trailer for GG in March/Apr. and liked it.  I expected the critics to hate this one or at least be lukewarm with it like WWZ, but to my surprise they liked it and so did I.  WWZ taught me that if I’m already predisposed to like the movie, to go see it, otherwise I might miss out.  I was doggedly determined to see GG no matter its critical reaction–and I’m glad I did.  It was both a good Marvel movie and a good Sci-Fi movie as well.

3. Captain America: Civil War: I thought this would go to number one based on the fact that even though this is a Captain America movie, it is essentially an Avengers movie because the plot line revolves around the fracturing of the Avengers based on ideologies. When I saw this in the theaters (IMAX 3D), it was by far my number one movie.  However, after purchasing it and rematching it multiple times, I’ve found that after the first major scene, the pace really slows until spectacular sequences in the middle.  I think, however, what keeps this one lower than CA:WS and Avengers is the fact that while I liked the ending, the reason why both Cap and Tony fracture, while set up earlier in the movie, seems forced.  It was almost as if I could see the screenwriters pulling the strings in order to put Cap and Tony at each other’s throats at the end.  Neither CA:WS or Avengers gave me that feeling.  I love this movie, don’t get me wrong.  The “airport” scene alone is one of the best scenes in movies, but I just can’t help feeling that the two heroes were “manipulated” into their final fight, not by the villain of the story, but by the screenwriters reaching too hard to wring pathos out of the audience.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Just watched this one again recently.  If not for the 1st Avengers film, this one would definitely be my favorite.  It had everything that I look for in a movie.  Spectacular fight sequences and choreography, tight plotting, reversals, betrayals, secrets, spy vs spy, secret organizations, two leads who work well together, cats and dogs living together in harmony (okay, so I threw that last one in there from Ghostbusters, but I wanted to see if you were paying attention).  For me, this one paid off the promise made in the first Captain America film.  A man of a different era now has to come to grips with the modern world and all its perceived faults.

1. Marvel’s Avengers: Off all the Marvel Universe movies released so far, this one is my favorite.  It has all of the elements that I enjoy (strong characterization, tension between teammates, heroism, and teammates banding together against a common foe).  The fight sequences were astounding and more importantly, seemed real and engaging, and the character interactions were spot-on.  The final sequence was jaw-dropping in its scale and intensity.  I almost ALWAYS stop and watch this one out to the end whenever I run across it playing on TV.  They got this one perfect for me.

There you have it–my top Marvel movies, so far.