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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 on 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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Is there a more instantly iconic cast in Hollywood?

I am pleased to report that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (I’ll refer to it simply as Vol. 2) is, as many of you have found out for yourselves over the past week, every bit as good and in some ways much better than even the first one. Vol. 1 was a great surprise and still the boldest movie Marvel has yet made. Vol. 2 doubles down on the world it created and the characters that inhabit it, losing the freshness a little (which is being overstated as a complaint) but managing to improve on those few significant weak spots the first one did have.

One of those is the way certain characters were shorted much of an arc as the plot took over the movie. In Vol. 2 this never happens and no character, and there are so fucking many of them, gets shorted. They all have satisfying arcs, even Kraglin (Sean Gunn), wisely depending on interactions with each other. For people who like Marvel movies and fans of The Fast and the Furious franchise, this will feel familiar. It’s in pairings, parallels and polar opposites, that juggling so many characters and arcs becomes possible. Vol. 2 pulls this off with aplomb and manages to weave through tonal shifts, some of which are pretty shocking and risky. A stronger commitment to the sadness and loss hinted at in Vol. 1 is also demonstrated here, giving this goofy space movie an emotional core that is hard to find even in serious dramas. If I could compare that to something, it’d be a Pixar movie, where they definitely understand that the juxtaposition of light heartedness, humour, and fun against deeper, darker, and unresolved feelings provides a strong base for engaging drama and characterization. Not only this, but James Gunn managed to infuse this one with some pretty heavy existential and philosophical weight, which I’ll get to later on. I didn’t expect that.

All the way back when testing revealed that Vol. 2 was the MCU’s first movie that scored 100s (whatever that means), the hype has been real. There’s already a pretty misguided mini-backlash against this movie, fixated on gags that don’t quite land or the way the second act dismisses the overarching plot in favor of briefly becoming a shaggy hangout movie, but this stuff seems nitpicky to me. At the same time, I totally understand just how hard it is to deal with a movie as anticipated and hyped up as this one was. Your mind always wants to find that one thing wrong with it, so I take these nitpicks as a great sign personally. If the worst someone can say is that the space fruit ripeness joke feels a little forced then this is one helluva movie, right? It so is. Read the rest of this entry »

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What a bunch of a-holes.

This is the best Marvel movie. It’s funny how each has been better than the last. It’s amazing that you can actually subcategorize each one to say what they’re best at, because it isn’t simply a matter of hierarchy. Each of these movies is after something else. This is why The Avengers can be the best out and out superhero movie and The Winter Soldier can be the best proof of concept that Marvel movies can and should be genre movies alongside being superhero movies. But as a complete, self-contained whole, Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the best. It’s no contest.

But why is Guardians the best? Because it’s got it all. It’s fun, exciting, action-packed, heartfelt, and so well executed that you get that awkward feeling about other big budget movies where you sort of want to pat them on the head for trying. Guardians makes being a blockbuster look easy. Maybe it’s the love affair with the 80’s that James Gunn (writer and director) infuses in the movie. The 80’s was the time of the fun, high concept blockbuster with heart. The 80’s was the time of Star Wars and of Steven Spielberg, really.

And, well, Guardians has Spielberg and Star Wars beat too. Hyperbole? Maybe. But if you’ve seen this movie, you’re probably thinking hard about whether that claim has some merit. Especially these days. If you haven’t, you’re probably shaking your head. Go see Guardians. Don’t read this review until you have, because I’ve got to gush. I mean it when I say this is a definitive blockbuster movie. Every now and then, a movie comes along that makes you believe in the awe and spectacle possible if more filmmakers and studios put real love into their creations.  This kind of shit is the reason blockbusters exist at all. How wonderful, then, that it pays the debt it owes to Star Wars and Indiana Jones by surpassing them? It is the bastard child, the space-faring orphan, of the precious movies that influenced its creators and us. All parents exist for their children to surpass them and that’s why it’s beautiful when they do.

THINGS ABOUT TO GET SPOILERY IN HERE.

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Doesn’t gotta be Steve in the suit forever, does it?

So by now most people who care about the MCU will have seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Given that the film did come out recently, I think I’m going to go ahead and declare this piece to be a SPOILER ZONE so don’t read it unless you really feel the need. In case you didn’t gather from the article title, this going to be about what evidence I can gather, what reasoning I can muster, to support my current pet theory about the third Captain America film which should arrive sometime in 2016.

If you’ve seen the movie and want to add or disagree, please feel free to throw your thoughts into the comments. Would love to hear ’em. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wonder how this will turn out?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a hot commodity in the unabashed success that is Marvel’s “Phase 2”. This post-Avengers run of sequels to the flagship solo superhero movies has been a prodigious leap forward in terms of care and quality and The Winter Soldier is no exception. In every way it is bigger, better, more self-assured, and more fun than its predecessor. But because it stays rooted in character, it relies fully on both Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers for its weight and impact. Beyond that, The Winter Soldier proves without a doubt that these movies can play with genre conventions without ever flinching away their essential nature as superhero movies. In this way, the Marvel films are following a tradition where superhero stories have always been at their best when they use their fantastic elements to comment on social issues, politics, ideology, and ethics.

All these movies lean in on each other, comment on each other, and strike out in bold new directions. It’s a unique enterprise, something we remind ourselves again and again is the first time anyth project like the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has ever been attempted. Partly we do this because we’re in awe that this happened at all, that it continues to happen. Partly we do this because these movies keep getting better and keep not letting us move on to a place where the merit of the MCU stagnates or becomes obligatory.

That’s maybe the coolest thing about this movie. Past the scale and the action and even the depth, it’s that it feels like a breath of fresh air. When you think about it, that’s kind of crazy. Not that The Winter Soldier is perfect, mind you, but it perhaps comes the closest (at least technically) of any Marvel film thus far. If anything, it’s only flaw is more of a virtue: it leaves us very much wanting more. Read the rest of this entry »

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Believe it or not, this bit works a lot better in context than it did in the trailers.

The Wolverine isn’t just the best X-Men movie (First Class has not aged well), it is also nuanced and focused in a way that most comic book superhero movies just aren’t. This makes it feel more like a “real movie” than Origins or even First Class ever did. This is because pandering is kept lower key, characters don’t get thrown in for no reason or just to be cute, and most everything is foreshadowed, setup, justified, and paid off. There is way less “and then” storytelling going on in The Wolverine than has become typical for superhero movies, let alone Hollywood’s foundering big budget output.

Though the third act is clunky and full of bad contrivances that threaten to derail the movie, it’s also the only part where The Wolverine fully indulges its comic book origin. This is going to work for some and be a dealbreaker for others. For me it was a mild mess. I’ll go into more detail later, but for now be satisfied that it’s the third act problems that keep The Wolverine from being legitimately great. It seems like we have to wait a bit longer for a superhero solo outing to be truly awe-inspiring (Man of Steel comes so close), but in the broader context of these types of movies it is hard to be cynical about the satisfaction level that The Wolverine reaches rather handily. Read the rest of this entry »

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Which is really the hero?

I think Iron Man 3 is only slightly less ballsy than The Avengers. It’s another of Marvel’s growing crop of “they really fucking made this? they really fucking made this!” movies. This is not to say that it doesn’t have problems or that it’s going to be a crowd-pleaser the way The Avengers was. You really can’t fault Marvel for a lack of boldness, though. If nothing else Iron Man 3 is really trying (and I think succeeding) in shaking things up and turning expectations upside down. It also wants to be a serious psychological exploration of character and on this front, credit goes to the allowances given to Shane Black to really make this movie his.

A lot of peoples’ enjoyment of this movie is going to rest on whether or not they get its broader context. Even broader than that it’s a Marvel movie. Or a superhero movie, for that matter. It doesn’t always feel like one, after all.

Because this is a Shane Black movie through and through (Christmas setting, introspective voice-over, snappy dialogue, funny and realized henchmen, monologuing Bond villain, etc), it will definitely help calibrate the reception of its sprawling tone and loose arrangement of Jungian psychological metaphor if you know your Shane Black. Even people who only ever saw the seminal Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will feel something familiar about Iron Man 3 that goes beyond the inclusion of Robert Downey Jr.

Marvel knows we’re living in what I called the post-Avengers world. Both in the film, where things are somewhat darker and more personal (seems this is being extended to other Phase 2 films given Thor 2‘s trailer), and outside of it. They are not trying to emulate the gangbusters approach they (and Joss Whedon) took to The Avengers. Rather, this is about scaling things back and dealing with the aftermath of a world-shattering event. This just feels right. I don’t know how else you could describe it.

But lets get back to the movie.

SPOILERS ACTIVATE! Read the rest of this entry »

Andrew Garfield > Tobey Maguire.

People are calling this the Spiderman movie that no one wants. Well, I wanted it. One of my very first blog articles was about this project, which I felt had already scored points for casting Garfield and taking a chance on Marc Webb (director of (500) Days of Summer). The gamble has paid off, by the way. There are people lining up to shit on this movie and it isn’t always clear what the reasoning is beyond misplaced loyalty in Raimi’s trilogy or a seemingly viral assumption that this was just a naked cash-grab. Instead, The Amazing Spiderman is a movie where it’s obvious that a lot of care was taken both in servicing the established mythos of the character and differentiating itself from the previous cinematic incarnation. It’s not without its rough spots, and I’ll get to those, but all in all this is light years ahead of what came before and stands tall alongside the other good-not-great Marvel origin output. In fact, sometimes it feels like one of their movies which is not a bad thing by any stretch.

The Amazing Spiderman is the best Spiderman movie yet made and is just one of the great comic book superhero movies period. It manages this by focusing much of its attention on the human drama, including the elusive believable superhero romance. Mostly it’s a coming of age story, with Peter Parker struggling to figure out how to be responsible. The words “with great power comes great responsibility” are never uttered, but in no other Spiderman movie to date are they more a part of every fiber of story, character, and action than here.

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This post is a reaction to the overwhelmingly weird reaction many critics are having to the inclusion of SHIELD and pre-Avengers continuity hustle in the various Marvel movies to date. If you doubt that there is such a reaction, go take a peek at a few reviews from the more geek-savvy blogs, sites, and critics out there. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Convinced? Good. I really didn’t want to have to link a pile of reviews and seriously ask you to read them before reading what I have to say here. Read the rest of this entry »

This movie is full of iconic shots. The more understated ones are the best.

Captain America (which I will refuse to refer to by its unnecessary long-form title) is the best Marvel movie since Iron Man and it’s not even a close race. Whether or not you’ll think it’s the best of them all is really going to come down on your specific taste in tone, character, and what you think makes for a good hero in our cynical, post-modern times. To be honest, I probably prefer a character like Tony Stark to a character like Steve Rogers though it helps that Chris Evans (who is amazing, the end) does his best work yet in the role bringing authenticity to even the gee whiz brand of altruism that Cap has always personified. There’s also that Captain America is just such a good fucking movie.

It’s funny because I was very kind to Thor and it took seeing this entry into Marvel’s shared universe experiment (it’s an experiment until The Avengers hits, after that I might have to call it something else) to force me to reassess that kindness. Thor is a movie that is full of situations, plot points, characterization, etc that could have been better. Watching it, you know that, but you give it a pass because hey they made a fucking Thor movie. There’s Anthony Hopkins. Chris Hemsworth is the real deal! Idris Elba! And so on. But you don’t need to give Captain America a pass. You don’t need to be kind to it. It is confident even brazen at times and it earns that sure-footedness that every other Marvel movie has lacked (to varying degrees) every step of the way. Read the rest of this entry »

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