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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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This image is a nice commentary on the movie itself.

Ant-Man has arrived in the echo of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, offering itself up as a sort of palette-cleanser removed from the world-ending stakes we’re used to. In that sense, the movie works fairly well in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy did. It’s a nice change of pace from the bustle of the MCU and its growing cast of recognizable characters. But it’s not a change of pace from the usual Marvel formula. If you’re the type of person who is bothered by that, you’ll probably be more sour on Ant-Man than it deserves. Not that the movie doesn’t deserve criticism, because it does. Unfortunately, that criticism has to be tempered with an awareness of its more-troubled-than-usual production. It would have been nice if they’d managed to put together and release a movie where the scars and stitches of Marvel’s falling out with Edgar Wright weren’t so obvious. Unfortunately, they failed and you really do notice the better movie lurking beneath the altogether solid in spite of itself surface of this one. I won’t waste much time on shoulda-coulda-woulda stuff, but I will be talking about the satellite choices for plot, character, and motive that are often baffling if not outright bad. A glaring example is the movie’s treatment of Hope van Dyne, the main female character. Expect think-pieces about her, as this movie bungles her story that fucking badly.

I still love the Marvel movies and I liked Ant-Man just fine, though many of my comments may suggest I didn’t. It’s a very enjoyable, fun movie, and that’s to be expected at this point. Marvel doesn’t really deserve extra kudos for doing the expected. Their movies have to be more than just inoffensive for someone like me to not spend a few thousand words on whatever went wrong. That said, not a lot went wrong here and that’s why so much of what’s being said about this movie boils down to “it’s solid!” However, there’s this failure to commit that haunts the emotional beats and character development. This problem makes the first half of the movie feel restrained, like you’re waiting to get to the “good stuff”. The good news is that the “good stuff” does come along eventually. The third act in Ant-Man is among the best Marvel has done. With a couple of minor exceptions, it’s got everything this movie needed to have all the way through. Of course, the charm, peculiarity, and eccentricity of the third act was probably seen as controverting to the “more grounded” approach it seems they wanted for the movie. This is probably why Wright walked or got fired or whatever really happened. The third act feels like it belongs in the movie he would have made, and I think Marvel made a minor miscalculation in not trusting to that. Maybe they thought that Guardians of the Galaxy was crazy and energetic enough, but more of Ant-Man could have used that verve. 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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