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Spoiler Alert Sunday :: our thoughts on Spider-Man: Homecoming

9 Jul

I myself do not have particularly deep feelings about Spider-Man. I have enjoyed or not enjoyed the previous films to about the degree that most people have. I, on the other hand, have EVERY feeling about Spider-Man because watching the first Sam Raimi movie in high school was my gateway into superhero stuff (unless you count The Incredibles and I don’t since it’s not a comic book property). I’ve seen at least a little bit of pretty much every Spider-Man adaptation, including a really bad animated one that aired on MTV and had Neil Patrick Harris as the voice of Spidey. Yes, this is real. Anyway, my favorite adaptations up to this point were the Ultimate Spider-Man comics and a semi-obscure 2009 animated series called Spectacular Spider-Man. Both of these were attempts to modernize the story and incorporate various elements that weren’t present in the original comics: Ultimate has him working as a web designer (haha yes I know) for the Daily Bugle and he and Mary Jane Watson are high school BFFs, and Spectacular keeps the classic photography job but includes Gwen and Harry as his BFFs. I pretty much judge every adaptation against these two. Homecoming is, I’m happy to say, a very very good Spider-Man adaptation. It’s probably my third-favorite, and that’s mostly because it doesn’t really have Gwen or Mary Jane, who are my two favorite parts of the stories. But it’s still a damn good movie.

The problems with the previous Spider-Man movies is that they have largely not understood two basic, important points of Spider-Man: unlike Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman, Peter Parker and Spider-Man are not separate entities, and the strength of Spider-Man as a character comes from his relationships and interactions with the people around him.

The first two attempts at Spider-Man movies were both deeply flawed adaptations that miss critical parts of the story. The Raimi movies, at least the first two, have pretty good villains: they’re campy, sure, but the charm of Spider-Man is its inherent campiness. The Green Goblin and Doc Ock are given backstories, they’re played by good actors who are having a blast hamming it up, and, in the latter’s case, the film seems to sympathize with him at least to some degree. The problem with these movies is Spider-Man. Not only is Peter far too broody, but so is Spider-Man himself; I can’t recall him cracking a single joke, and the entire point of Spider-Man is that he makes stupid jokes in the middle of fights! It leans way too heavily on Peter’s angst about Uncle Ben and being a good person and forgets to make him funny. The Amazing duology started out pretty decent, with a Spider-Man who makes jokes and a Peter who, while a bit hipstery and smug, at least knew how to smile. The problem with that first movie is that the Lizard is a half-formed idea of a villain that doesn’t make any sense and his plan is total bullshit. (There is actually a short arc in the Spectacular animated series that uses the Lizard – it’s really well-done and makes way more sense, so I’m not saying that the Lizard as a character is inherently unadaptable.) The less said about Amazing 2, the better. The great thing about Homecoming is that it understands that a good Spider-Man story needs both a quippy, likeable Spider-Man and a bombastic villain. Tom Holland is charming and believable as a kid who’s pretty much in over his head, but who just wants to help people and use his powers to do awesome things. They added in a short montage of him doing dumb little heroic things like giving an old lady directions and stopping a bike thief, which is important because Spider-Man is supposed to be a hero for the little guy first and foremost. Michael Keaton as the Vulture is legitimately menacing and also chews the scenery all over the place. They’ve written this version of the character as a blue-collar worker who stumbles into alien technology after the Chitauri incident and, along with some of his colleagues, decides to use it to build himself some weapons to rob banks and commit other crimes. There’s also a spoiler about his character which I won’t mention, but it was a pretty good touch and I felt silly for not guessing it.

The previous movies also leaned far too heavily on his relationships with his love interests, to the detriment of his relationships with Uncle Ben, Aunt May, or literally any other people. The first Amazing movie at least had the decency to give Gwen sort of a character arc, motivation, and a hero moment outside of Peter, but still, it was largely about Peter’s love life. In the best versions of the story, Peter has friends and loved ones. The conflict comes from his wanting to protect them from the villains who are trying to hurt him while still trying to show them how much he cares. This new movie gives him a best friend in Ned (Jacob Batalon), a fellow nerd who he builds the Death Star Lego set with and who is the first person to learn his secret. It also doesn’t forget that Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is an essential part of Peter’s life, and while she’s not in a lot of scenes, she’s in enough to give the viewer a real sense of how much she and Peter love and support each other. Zendaya is also here as a girl who mostly exists on the fringes of the story, mostly to provide snarky commentary. She’s basically Marvel’s cop-out because her name is “Michelle” but at the end she says “my friends call me MJ.” I guess maybe they thought nobody in 2017 would be named Mary Jane? I expected to be a lot angrier about this than I actually am, and it’s probably because Zendaya is a scene stealer and I’m just happy to have her here at all.

There is a romance subplot in this story – they’ve borrowed one of Peter’s second string short-term girlfriends, Liz Allan (Laura Harrier), who is introduced as the ideal girl that nerdy Peter doesn’t have a chance with. I was worried about how they would handle this, especially after the Raimi movies where poor MJ is basically reduced to a pretty idea of a character and nothing else, but Liz is a character with her own personality and ambitions. Not only that, but she’s captain of the school’s academic decathlon team rather than being a cheerleader. She and Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) are both members, which is a fun update to the classic story where Flash is the quarterback and Liz is his arm candy. But back to Liz; after her initial introduction, her screentime is meant to remind you that she is a person just like Peter is, and Peter’s feelings do not make her into some unattainable goddess. I doubt she’ll be back in the next movie, but I was satisfied with her treatment in this one.

This is not a perfect movie, however. The single greatest flaw in this movie is that Marvel apparently has some kind of Stark quota now, where Tony has to be in X amount of screentime in every movie that he can possibly be squeezed into. I have pretty well run out of patience with Tony Stark (and I am, particularly after our Fourth of July Captain America movie marathon, eager to see Tony destroyed elaborately – more on this in a second), and in this movie he is trying and failing to be a parental figure to a kid who is a thousand times kinder and better than he is. I still haven’t forgiven Tony for recruiting a fifteen-year-old child into a superhero battle where he had no business being. He did his best to rub it in in this movie, too, lecturing Peter on his behavior while conveniently side-stepping the point that if it wasn’t for him, none of the stuff with Vulture would have happened. He’s in something like twenty minutes of the movie, all told, but it’s twenty minutes too long. Because here’s the thing. The Sokovia Accords were bullshit. I have only seen Civil War a handful of times but every time I do I get even angrier about the Sokovia Accords (which seem increasingly more pointed and directed less at the problem and more at the convenient scapegoat of, as I said on Twitter during aforementioned Fourth of July rewatch, a magical [Roma-Jewish] refugee girl – but Kermit meme). But considering that Tony was the biggest advocate of the Accords, and that he literally endangered Peter’s life in their name, the fact remains that this movie could have been called Spider-Man Comes Home To Violate The Sokovia Accords. They’re bullshit, but the fact that Tony went out of his way to institute legislation insisting that all superheroes (not just the Avengers proper, all superheroes or even just enhanced people, as seen repeatedly in SHIELD) be monitored by a governing body and then said “but hey, kid, you just go be neighborhood Spider-Man, you do you” is also bullshit. I don’t want harm to befall Peter. Peter’s just trying his best. But Tony Stark plays favorites and only remembers things when it’s convenient; even when he’s mad at Peter he doesn’t so much as mention the Accords or the fact that not only is Spider-Man violating them but that by the end of this particular film he’s likely responsible for at least as much property damage, if not incidental civilian injury and loss of life, as (for example) Scarlet Witch in Lagos. (We didn’t hear about any of the loss of life, but – you guys. At one point Spider-Man is on an airplane that flew by and sliced the top off of the Coney Island Parachute Jump. That ride isn’t operational; it’s, according to Wikipedia, “250 feet (76 m) tall and weighing 170 tons (150 tonnes).” Based on approximations of when their Homecoming dance was [likely a Saturday evening in September] there’s literally no way that when the top came off of it didn’t fall on people, possibly at least twelve. I’m not blaming Peter for these people being injured or killed. But but Kermit meme.)

My other biggest complaint is that the AI in the suit that Tony gave Peter apparently didn’t have a name, which is ridiculous because Tony names everything, and then when Peter names it the name he picks is Karen. The problem with this is that there’s already a pretty prominent Karen in the MCU: Karen Page. Marvel has a real problem with repeating names anyway (James “Bucky” Barnes/James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Hope Van Dyne/Hope Shlottman/Hope Mackenzie, Peter Parker/Peter Quill/Pietro Maximoff, Robert Gonzales/Roberto “Robbie” Reyes, etc.) and this is just another piece of evidence that someone needs to get them a baby name book. Bucky and Rhodey can’t be changed at this point, but “Karen” isn’t even really a mythology gag. The only Karen in the Spider-mythos is from the 1999 animated series Spider-Man Unlimited, which is so obscure that even I hadn’t heard of it until yesterday, and if we wanted a mythology gag, why not “Gwen” or “Glory” or “Carlie” or even “Felicia”? Or his mother’s name, Mary? It’s just frustrating to see them reusing names that aren’t even particularly common ones.

Overall, though, this is the single best Spider-Man movie to date and a great addition to the MCU. I would say it’s one of the more joyful superhero movies that I’ve seen in the last few years. I’m very happy with it. And though my strongest feelings were overly elaborate rage-induced calculations based on how terrible Tony Stark is, I very much enjoyed it as well.

–your fangirl heroines.

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Film Friday :: I am not a romantic comedy kind of girl.

4 Nov

I’m sure that could have been deduced given my general tastes and attitudes regarding film.  It’s partially because I’m just too much of a cynic, partially because I am in favor of well-crafted, three-dimensional characters and bittersweet or downright bummers of endings, partially because I’m just sort of contrarian.  That said, I wasn’t in a hurry to see Crazy, Stupid, Love., and do acknowledge that I’m glad I watched it at home where I could talk through it, but I did figure on liking it more than I usually like its peers.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is arranged not unlike one of the only other romantic comedies I can stand, Love Actually.  (I know.  I’m a not-liking-romantic-comedies cliché.  The other straight-up one I never mind is The Holiday, but mostly because I love Kate Winslet when she’s not busy letting Jack go despite explicit promises she won’t.)  I think part of the reason I like this format is that it feels truer to real life: peoples’ lives intertwine in interesting ways, wackiness ensues, people meet or don’t meet and get along or don’t get along and it’s not always so simple.  But this is where the film sort of made a mistake, I think.

Don’t get me wrong.  I liked most of it.  Quite a lot, actually.  But towards the end I was facepalming and fingergunning.  It did a fairly decent job of turning itself around, though that wasn’t 100% believable either; the first hour-plus I could accept, though.

We start with Emily (Julianne Moore) telling Cal (Steve Carell) that she wants a divorce. (Now, I was skeptical of Carell’s presence at all, because I’m not usually that interested in his schtick, but I didn’t mind him except for in the ways I was supposed to.)  She’s freaking out because he’s not talking, reasonable, he processes by not having anything to say and not wanting to listen to her talk about sleeping with another man, reasonable.  His jumping out of the moving car is perhaps unrealistic, but it’s the sort of thing that people always threaten to do but rarely do, and in that way, it’s a reasonable impulse.  Just not one everyone follows through on.

Jessica (Analeigh Tipton, who is just precious as can be here when she’s not freaking out) is babysitting and walks in on Robbie (Jonah Bobo) having some quality time with himself.  Why a family with a fully capable thirteen year old child needs a babysitter I’m not sure (I mean, the core members of the Baby-Sitters’ Club were thirteen!  That’s like babysitting age!) but hey.  Plot point, I guess.  She’s embarrassed, he confesses his love to her.  Well, he’s thirteen, that he recognizes infatuation and maybe even a spiritual kinship to as being in love and being soulmates isn’t unheard of.  He tries to tell her many, many times that yes, he does love her, and we’re supposed to believe him because everything else he says is highly logical in that Linus from Charlie Brown way (his speech about The Scarlet Letter was right on), but I don’t.  Not entirely.  Props for honesty, kid, but if you weren’t a kid, if you were a classmate of hers, also seventeen, and you kept text-messaging her sketchily in the middle of class, that would be cause for her to tell the authorities on you.  That’s stalkery.  That’s not just “not giving up” or “going big or going home” or whatever.  That’s creepy.

Meanwhile, Hannah (Emma Stone) and Liz (Liza Lapira) are out at a bar.  Hannah’s about to take the bar and become a lawyer, and Liz is trying to get her to live a little.  Liz is very open about having fun with sexuality; Hannah is having none of it.  Jacob (Ryan Gosling) comes over to hit on Hannah, and Liz is making eyes at him, because he’s clearly quite attractive to her (something I understand in theory but not entirely in practice) but Hannah is also having none of that.  Whatever, it’s her business.

Cal’s reaction to his wife splitting up with him (which… why didn’t she move out instead?  She was the one who’d cheated, she was the one who’d initiated the separation, she was the one who didn’t know how to maintain the lawn.  But she made it sound like it was his fault she’d cheated; maybe it was, I don’t know, they didn’t really go into it too fully.  At the end of the day, though, it was her decision.  More than anything he just seemed like some hapless old sap who didn’t know what he was doing with himself anymore) is to go out to a bar and ramble loudly about his failed relationship while drinking.  Because there is only one bar in Los Angeles, Jacob happens to be hanging out there, and he decides to take Cal under his wing.  This involves taking him out for the man version of a makeover montage, kind of like Mean Girls or Miss Congeniality, but with testosterone, and then taking him out to bars and making him watch as Jacob himself hits on women endlessly.  He’s formulaic about it, and he seems to enjoy his life, which is his business.  If that’s what he’s into, that’s what he’s into.  Cal learns the tricks, but when he tries to put them into practice he’s awkward about it at first; luckily this is a turn on for Kate (Marisa Tomei), who wants to jump his hyper-honest bones and does.  This then gives Cal the confidence to go and sleep with lots of other women.

(Though Cal moves out and we can assume that he and Emily have discussed things to some extent, you never hear either of them speaking to a lawyer or even mentioning one.  You also don’t hear either of them even say the words “marriage counseling,” let alone see a marriage counselor.  But maybe that would be too boring.)

Hannah’s getting ready for her bar exam.  Her boyfriend (who is Josh Groban, what?) is a total d-bag, but throws her a party and says that if she does pass he’ll be asking her a very special question; though Hannah doesn’t necessarily want to marry him, she expects that means he’s going to propose to her.  It’s Liz’s turn not to have any of it, and she basically says to Hannah, “If that’s what you get, what am I going to end up with?”  To which I say, baby, you can end up with anything you set your mind to.  But also… I hear ya.

Eventually Hannah makes a move on Jacob, and makes fun of his having a formula, which is welcome and honest and nice, and instead of having the sex, they have the wacky dorky babble-conversations in their underwear till the early morning hours.  It’s sweet and endearing and it just reminds me why I love Emma Stone so gosh-darn much.

Meanwhile, Jessica is having issues with Robbie and her feelings for Cal.  Cal is having issues.  Emily is having issues with Cal and with her extramarital affair David (Kevin Bacon, the go-to sleaze of the year).  Liz has disappeared forever, because her only purpose is to converse occasionally with Hannah when Hannah’s not talking to men.  Wackiness ensues in many, many ways, but most of them are reasonable.

The movie kind of jumps the shark and simultaneously retcons in a supposedly climactic scene in the backyard, where everyone suddenly realizes that they’re all a part of each others’ lives and wackiness ensues in stupid, completely out of character ways.  As it’s still a movie worth watching, I won’t spoil the end, but… I just had a hard time buying it after that, I guess.  The characters had been likable and semi-realistic up until then, but trying to wrap it up so neatly with a pretty bow on top just turned it into a big, fat “what?”  They also tried to have a very Love Actually finale, what with everyone uniting at a youth-related function and all that, but it wasn’t quite as questionable.

I don’t know.  I think I’m just too cynical sometimes.

–your fangirl heroine.