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This is Spider-Man.

I once wrote a blog post singing the praises of casting Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He had something I liked for it (one of my very first blog posts, so be gentle) that Tobey Maguire did not. I also really dug the first Amazing Spider-man movie (don’t know what happened to the second one that it was so very bad) and have always been pretty lukewarm about the Sam Raimi trilogy. I think I’ve cooled onĀ TASM and am considering a reappraisal of the Raimi trilogy, but even back when they came out, I liked them but I was never into them. I feel like after five tries, though, it’s kind of reasonable to expect that basically everyone and their uncle understands how to make a decent Spider-man movie. One that will please just about everyone by getting all the most fundamental parts of the character right while changing things up just enough to be fresh and exciting. And so, now we have one.

That may sound like I’m underselling here, and I don’t mean to. Spider-man: Homecoming is a greatly entertaining movie and it has a little bit of depth even though a lot of people are talking about how shallow it is. How formulaic. How Marvel. I have some issues with a few choices they made with the movie and with how muddled its messages are, but I don’t think any of it hampers the enjoyment of the movie itself. I think at most you could say my misgivings are a direct result of the MCU’s usual insistence on playing it safe even when they’ve definitely earned the right to take larger risks. Not so much with big game-changing events like character deaths as I don’t really agree with the people clamoring for that and I’m comfortable with the incremental storytelling the MCU specializes in. More like I think there’s a little too much here that’s on the nose, that shows a lack of trust in the audiences to “get it”. I chose the title quote not only because it’s a good line, but because it is brought in twice and the second time is definitely one of those moments where we don’t need it. It’s this movie’s “with greater power comes greater responsibility” and it’s probably not a great idea to remind the audience how much weaker a statement it really is. To say nothing of the fact that, in the end, the “suit” cake is had and eaten too.

I think if you are one of those folks who is tired of the MCU or superhero movies in general, Homecoming is unlikely to sway you. It’s easy to see many of the exact same problems in it that are well-documented par for course with the franchise overall (less for female characters to do, underdeveloped romance), but it’s also true that Homecoming sidesteps one or two of them (bad villains, clunky greater universe connections). Still, it’s a breezy fun time and it’s delightfully confident even when it sort of stumbles.

FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPOILER WARNING

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And then this happened.

Warning: There will be spoilers

My version of what everyone is saying about The Avengers is that we’re now living in the post-Avengers world. For over 3 years, everyone knew this was coming. The Avengers is a huger part of the public consciousness than it ever was as a comic and now that the movie has finally arrived, and the big ballsy gamble paid off, it’s going to get even bigger. No joke, The Avengers is hands-down the best Marvel movie yet made and is almost hilariously easily the best superhero movie yet made. This is because Joss Whedon was the right guy, with the right cast, and the right amount of money to create a big blockbuster movie that is a total treat, presenting set-ups and pay-offs not only within its own confines, but dependent on 4 years of Marvel movies and 40 years of Marvel comics.

Just how right is Whedon? It won’t even surprise anybody who’s watched shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and especially Angel that the guy is the world’s leading expert on juggling superhuman egos and powers with humanizing vulnerabilities, attachments, and aspirations. While able to juggle the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, Whedon shows the potentially unique ability to let each character weave their way in and out of the core narrative, making sure that everyone has their moment in the spot light. And yes, this extends to Black Widow, Hawkeye, and especially the Hulk. Not only is Whedon the first filmmaker to give us a Hulk we can stand up and cheer for, he also manages to take an eye-candy non-character like Black Widow (as far as Iron Man 2 had it anyway) and turn her into someone far richer. If you’re well-versed in Joss Whedon’s work, his ability to capture depth in character and theme with a deft and effortless hand isn’t going to surprise you. All I can do is tell you that he pulls it off here, and then some, and for everyone else: this stuff is what makes this movie so very exceptional. Read the rest of this entry »

This movie is unkind to poor Gwyneth.

Contagion is easily one of the year’s best films. Even though I doubt people want to be reminded that a new bug could cause serious problems for our global civilization at any random ol’ time, you can’t argue with the authenticity and intelligence with which this film was made.

Contagion is pretty much a procedural, dealing less with drama in a conventional sense and instead allowing the realities of the situation presented to direct the storytelling and characterizations (with a few unfortunate exceptions). Most of the movie is scenes of people talking about the virus in high-level jargon that I hope fails to distance the audience as movies dealing realistically from this level of a situation ought to commit to that realism without “dumbing it down” for the audience. If a bunch of scenes of (any kind of) dialogue between world class actors doesn’t get you excited, I don’t understand you. Fortunately for both of us, this is also a very, very stylish movie. Read the rest of this entry »

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