Spider-Man: Homecoming

“What’s it like to be the most famous person in school and have no one realize it’s you?” Nothing sums up Spider-Man better than the immortal mantra of “with great power, comes great responsibility”, but has anything ever captured so succinctly and completely the essence of being Peter Parker like this very question? This, combined with the fact that the person asking is Peter’s best friend Ned (the only non-Avenger-affiliated individual to know the boy behind the mask) should spell out one clear and simple message: Spider-Man: Homecoming is the webslinger’s truest big-screen treatment to date, a welcome party/ backyard adventure groomed and refined by all the lessons that Marvel Studios has learned over the past nine years. Not bad for a kid from Queens who’s now on his second rebooted franchise.

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Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, which saw Spider-Man drafted in by Iron Man to capture half of the Avengers, high school sophomore Peter Parker (Tom Holland) restlessly waits for another call up to the big leagues. Every hour not spent in class (or with his decathlon team) he devotes to suiting up and fighting crime in Queens, New York, desperate to prove himself in the eyes of Tony Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr.). But as his activities put him on a collision course with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his vicious gang of alien tech traffickers, Peter realizes the hard way how much it takes to be a superhero, and how out of his depth he’s been all along.

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Far from the soaring city heights of Maguire’s era, and Garfield’s grungy, shadowy city-university stomping ground, Holland’s jurisdiction brings it all back to his Spider-Man’s ‘friendly, neighbourhood’ reputation. This is a Spidey who gives directions to old ladies, chases bicycle thieves, and keeps all his costumed activities to after-school hours. It’s bright, colourful, warm, instantly endearing local-brew, and all a constant reminder that the most important thing about Spider-Man has always been that he’s a kid. It’s by just allowing Peter Parker to be a kid that Homecoming can be considered a triumph of an adaptation.

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Holland proved an exquisite Spider-Man in just fifteen minutes of screen time last year. Now, with more than two hours front and centre of the proceedings, he outdoes himself as Peter. Capturing the dilemmas that split Peter’s life in two has always been a must-have motif, but what makes Holland and Homecoming both stand out is the variety of these dilemmas. It’s not all life-or-death situations! Sometimes, it’s as small as Peter having to choose between helping his best friend look cool at a party and chasing down some baddies. The size of the options isn’t what matters. It’s the size of the decisions, and Holland imbues each one with its due weight. His job is certainly made easier however by the standout talents of his supporting high school castmates, Jacob Batalon (Ned), Laura Harrier (love interest Liz), Tony Revolori (a welcome update to Flash Thompson, Peter’s classic tormentor) and Zendaya (a somewhat overly-marketed Michelle).

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As for the old guard, as ever it’s impossible to tell where Downey Jr. ends and Stark begins, and so it’s hard to pinpoint the source of the character’s ‘Dad mode’ even as it allows the veteran Avenger to explore a different dynamic. With Michael Keaton, however, Holland could have hardly hoped for a greater first foe, single-handedly breaking both Marvel Studios’ curse of villain one-dimensionality and Sony’s addiction to the ‘lab experiment gone wrong’ cliché. Toomes is just an everyday working man out for his family’s welfare, and circumstances take him to a dark place. He’s not a god, a genocidal robot or corrupt elite. He’s just a crook looking to make a big score, and with that he becomes one of the most legitimately threatening presences yet produced by the MCU.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun, frenetic, faithful start to the wallcrawler’s adventures in a much bigger universe of superheroes. It has its shortcomings: Spider-Man’s suit is oftentimes a little too ‘Go-Go Gadget’, despite a narrative context that somewhat justifies its extremes. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) certainly deserved a more prolonged presence to establish this franchise’s interpretation of her staple in Peter’s world. It would have been nice to indulge in an entire song at the titular Homecoming dance (to make up for the film’s overall unimaginative soundtrack from Michael Giacchino). Most of all, as fun as it all may be, it doesn’t quite pack the emotional punches of previous big screen incarnations, and so falls short of the sense of awe and wonderment that perhaps a more established webslinger could entreat. As it is, the film is a joyride of a neighbourhood adventure nestled comfortably into its own corner of the Marvel franchise. Back to the Future, except with superheroes.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 4/5

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PatchMan Revisits: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Well…this is kind of awkward. Technically, I have in fact already reviewed this one during this blog’s much younger days. But this is a re-visitation, so regardless of prior coverage I’m not really breaking the pattern. What makes this awkward though is not the ‘repetition’ of my subject matter. What makes this awkward is at the time I first reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man 2…I kind of gave it four stars. Out of five. For…reasons? I must’ve had some! Can’t think what they were now, but I must have had some! So, in some ways, rounding off this ‘Road to Homecoming’ series comes with something of a sense of dutiful atonement. Don’t get me wrong, I never feel remotely obligated to toe the line of opinion consensus about any given film (to which my La La Land review should attest). I stand by the fact that I enjoyed this film at the time, and still do (albeit in a different fashion). This is just me, looking in a three-year-old mirror and thinking…”what on earth were you talking about?”

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Spider-Man’s days as a wanted vigilante are done, as New York warmly embraces its crime-fighting champion. As Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), although now graduating from high school, life is more consistent. Deeply conflicted between his love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and the promise he made to keep himself out of her life for her own safety, Peter faces an uncertain future. But as the return of his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) precipitates the emergence of new threats, including the maniacal and godlike ‘Electro’ (Jamie Foxx), Peter comes to realize a deeper web that binds both his enemies and his own past: Oscorp.

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It’s impressive really that even though this franchise was rebooted a mere five years after the Sam Raimi trilogy, it not only ends up making most of the exact same mistakes, but somehow makes them to an even greater extent, and in addition to a whole heap of missteps of its own. Packed to the gunnels with bad guys, disjointed storytelling, playing fast-and-loose with plotlines, outright laughable creative decisions and ultimately torpedoing an entire studio-planned franchise in one fell swoop. Oh. And so. Much. Product placement. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, effectively, a two-hour commercial. Whether its flaunting Sony products and properties like its QVC, or drawing a map to establish budding sequels, spinoffs and crossovers in the franchise’s pipeline, the film is perhaps the earliest modern example of a studio getting entirely too ahead of itself and sacrificing the best interests of the film that audiences came to see. Granted, Marvel Studios has recently ventured more into this territory of catering to ‘the bigger picture’ and receives comparatively sparse criticism for it, but that’s been earned through a lot of origin story legwork and sequel-baiting that never really takes the audience for granted. Also, they rarely hit you over the head with it quite as hard as is done here. The result: like Spider-Man 3, there’s enough material to justify at least two separate films crammed into one, and it’s a messy fit.

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This isn’t to say the film is unwatchable. A number of its elements are actually a step up from its predecessor, both in substance and spectacle. Peter and Gwen’s troubled love affair reaps the benefits of its then-actual couple co-stars, by far the most believable of any romantic pairing in superhero cinema. The experience director Marc Webb gained from the first film shows especially in the film’s action, easy to follow but much more visually dynamic, and boasts a couple of standout sequences such as Spidey saving civilians from a blast of Electro’s energy and a Goblin battle climax which comic book purists have good reason to hail. The film even takes the step of providing a genuinely interesting twist concerning how Peter got his powers, the final piece in the Oscorp puzzle. The rest of the conspiracy premise may be half-baked and predictable, and makes for much of the film’s misplaced prioritization of sequel seeding, but it nevertheless offers a nugget of fresh interpretation of the Spider-Man mythos. Lastly, he may be utterly shoehorned in and provides no real contribution to the film whatsoever, but Paul Giamatti is just so wonderfully hammy in his cameo as Russian brute ‘The Rhino’. Like Stanley Tucci, he is never (or at least, very rarely) unenjoyable.

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For its sporadic saving graces, however, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all in a tangle. Foxx is completely underserved by his material as the film’s zap-happy central antagonist, often laughably so, and despite a gradual slide into madness that outshines anything we got from James Franco, there’s little satisfying payoff to DeHaan’s Harry. The opposite couldn’t be more true of Garfield and Stone in their roles, the former nailing Spidey’s everyman charisma and a (somewhat) more mature Peter whilst the later continues to be a love interest who actually accomplishes things outside of her relationship. Less a cohesive story than a conveyor belt of scenes littered with signs pointing in all different directions towards then-upcoming additions to the then-Spideyverse, it’s small wonder that the film performed considerably below expectations and ironically undid single-handedly all the plans it took the time to lay down. It’s not often that its deemed necessary and appropriate to effectively erase a blockbuster from existence, but with Sony’s subsequent licensing deal with Marvel Studios, this was certainly one of those occasions.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Final Score: 2.5/5

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PatchMan Revisits: The Amazing Spider-Man

2012 was a time of beginnings and endings for major film franchises. The Dark Knight Rises rounded out Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, as Breaking Dawn: Part 2 called time on the Twilight Saga. Peter Jackson returned to Middle-Earth with the first of his Hobbit adaptations, and Katniss Everdeen stepped in to fill the hole left by Harry Potter in the young adult/coming of age market with The Hunger Games. Oh, and The Avengers were unleashed, both a beginning and an ending, and one of the single biggest game-changers in film history. The fact that this reboot of everyone’s favourite webslinger is at all memorable amidst such a line-up is something of a feat in and of itself, and coming barely five years after Sam Raimi’s final turn in the director’s chair. This time around, Marc Webb takes the reins, despite his only previous experience directing a feature film being 2009’s (500) Days of Summer. The heartache that has dominated Peter Parker’s story for decades made Webb a natural fit for the man behind the mask, but for the material of the mask itself he remained entirely untested. Banking on genre newbies may have become a special ingredient in Marvel Studios’ formula, but can every studio play that game?

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As a boy, Peter Parker is left to the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Fields) by parents who mysteriously disappear. Years later, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is a high-school science prodigy and infatuated with classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Discovering a suitcase of his father’s possessions, Peter investigates Oscorp Industries, but his company visit results in a bite from a genetically-engineered spider which causes the onset of spider-like abilities. With his new power, however, come new responsibilities, a lesson he learns the hard way twice over through personal tragedy, and inadvertently enabling the transformation of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) – a one-time colleague of his father – into the monstrous Lizard.

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In many ways, everything there is to be said about this one stems from the context of its time. Part-grounded, coming of age drama with an angst of entirely its own nature, part cynical ploy for the studio to hold onto the Spider-Man licensing rights, Webb delivers an undeniably fresh and distinctive take on the material despite it having to re-tread much of the story beats from Raimi’s original (but in fairness, when it comes to Spidey, a lot of his origin details are sacred). This is a Spider-Man which, for all its seeding storylines about corporate conspiracies and an ultimately citywide threat-level territory, nevertheless feels generally more small-scale and ground-level than previous films. There’s no cage match fighting and money swindling to precipitate Uncle Ben’s inescapably pivotal demise, just an everyday convenience store robbery. Peter’s high school days aren’t remotely skipped over, but take up the whole film, making for a more fleshed out understanding of his more naïve sensibilities and pre-Spidey life (as well as perhaps the film’s greatest highlight: webhead and his reptilian nemesis brawling through school corridors, science labs and a library, featuring the best Stan Lee cameo there has ever yet been). Webb’s comfort zone is clearly in the everyday human relationships and interactions, and it’s a proclivity he certainly brings to Peter and Gwen’s budding romance with consistent authenticity (although probably helped by their natural chemistry together that went on to see them start a relationship for real).

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When it comes to its real crowd-pleasing ingredients though, The Amazing Spider-Man cannot really be said to grant the same euphoric feeling of the better Raimi films, and that’s not because of the memory of previous films. The overall handling of the Lizard, which had real ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ material to draw upon, plays out more like an awkward reincarnation of Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, right down to what feels like an obligatory instance of ‘bad guy with a split personality talking to himself’, a foil beholden to the needs of the plot rather than being given room to consider the devious possibilities of his own character. Indeed, plot demands take up a lot of room here, to the point where even Spider-Man’s motivations seem to change at the drop of a hat! The film’s brand of angst seems to be based entirely off Garfield’s Peter trying to be as distinguishable as possible from Maguire, which often translates to behaviour and choices that don’t reflect the character at all (petulance, cockiness, and above all an almost cheery renunciation of a promise he made to a dying man). If Maguire had Peter nailed down, but not so much Spidey, then the opposite is true of Garfield. The film feels often hamstrung by a certain indecisiveness, caught between not wanting to copy what’s already been done and lacking due confidence to commit fully to something new, and nothing reflects this better than Uncle Ben’s rhetorically bending over backwards to impart the iconic ‘responsibility’ mantra…without actually saying the iconic responsibility mantra. Webb is an obviously competent director, but a bit more experience at the helm could have pre-empted a great many of these issues.

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The Amazing Spider-Man may have been just a self-serving manoeuvre inspired by studio licensing agreements more than a desire to tell a decent Spidey story, but in the end it produced a decent Spidey story anyway. Garfield excels in the role and makes the best of what he’s given, especially once in costume, and Stone proves herself a star performer in any and every genre she appears, providing an altogether more modern love interest, though Ifans is passable at best (through no fault of his own). It’s when the film capitulates to an appetite from on high for sequel-baiting and franchise-building that its momentum falters. Amiable, appreciable, but not quite amazing.

Quality: 3/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 3.5/5

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The Mummy

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a US soldier-of-fortune (as in, spends more time looting treasure in Iraq than fighting insurgents), until he accidentally uncovers the prison-tomb of the ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and frees her undead soul. Cursed as her ‘Chosen’, Nick’s only hope of both personal and global salvation lies with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and the resources of her enigmatic employer – Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

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Look, there’s an elephant in the room here. In fact, it’s not an elephant in a room at all, but a bull in a china shop. It’s this incessant, ham-fisted agenda that every major film studio is attempting these days to have its own Avengers moment. All of Hollywood wants to replicate that superhero ‘shared universe’ formula, and we can’t exactly blame them. The Avengers was a phenomenal feat in film history. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now the most successful film franchise of all time. The story so far with other studios, however, is not so rosy. An aborted Spider-Man movie-verse at Sony. Warner Bros has taken four films to finally have a knockout on its hands with a DC universe, whilst at the same time half-heartedly setting up a Godzilla/King Kong crossover. Now, Universal Studios wades into these waters with plans for its own ‘Monsters Cinematic Universe’ (or ‘Dark Universe), drawing upon its back-catalogue of iconic movie monsters (think Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.). Isn’t all this focusing too much, however, on a studio’s long-term plans and neglecting the film itself? Absolutely. Now if only someone had told the filmmakers that!

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An awkward mashup of the classic Hammer Horror, the adventurous spirit of the 90s Brendan Fraser blockbusters, AND laying the groundwork for some kind of League of Extraordinary Gentleman ensemble film, The Mummy is a mess. Forget the atmosphere and psychological chills that made 1932 a classic. It’s all about the jump-scares now, and the film doesn’t even make much effort to set these up properly half the time, whilst its sense of humour is no less sporadic and hit-and-miss. Ahmanet herself and all her demonic doings amount to little more than an Egyptian-themed retooling of your average Pirates of the Caribbean curse, despite Boutella’s indisputably committed performance that makes you kind of wish she had played Enchantress instead of Cara Delevigne in last year’s Suicide Squad (it wouldn’t have saved it, but it might have sprinkled something a little finer).

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Tom Cruise seems to simply be on an ego trip, an excuse to show him going toe-to-toe with gods and monsters instead of his usual fare of criminals, secret agents and terrorists. Either that, or this entire film is his audition tape for Nathan Drake in the upcoming Uncharted film adaptation (please don’t). Crowe as the infamously dual-sided doctor, whilst himself underwhelming, nevertheless strangely provides for perhaps the film’s more interesting ingredients. So much so that it begs the thought that this ‘Dark Universe’ might actually have the most potential (outside of the superhero market).

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Say what you will of the Fraser films, they were at least proudly silly adventure stories with dashes of horror and a relentless commitment to fun at the cinema. Cruise offers a lacking alternative, fundamentally indecisive about its own nature, which ultimately leaves next-to-no impression at all.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 2.5/5

Final Score: 2.5/5

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