Spider-Man: Homecoming – Spoiler-Free Review

As the old adage goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  Not quite ready to relinquish the powerful we b of Marvel’s most recognisable hero from the comic racks, Sony are responsible enough to embrace everything Marvel’s Cinematic Universe can offer to make Spider-Man: Homecoming a hero that leans on its comrades as much as it stands tall when it needs to.

Weaving itself into the now rich tapestry of the MCU allows for some brilliantly original stitching.  The Marvel Studios output, while clever, slots its instalments side-by-side one another.  Apart from the odd cameo here and mention there, it’s really the culmination of Avengers or Civil Warthat the MCU entire coalesced.  Sony are smart enough the take the, quite literal, Marvel Team-Up for all it’s worth and tie in moments from its history.  Our story starts shortly after the finale of Avengers (Assemble), where the devastation is amassed and we’re introduced to Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes.  A blue collar contractor employed by the city to clean up the twisted metal of the Chitauri defeat.  Pleasingly, the webbing that binds Spider-Man: Homecoming to its more established partner in heroism often plays more like well-considered ideas than tedious ham-fisting.  There’s a case full of arc reactors, an Ultron head and even the subtlest reference to the Howling Commandos you’ll see this side of Agents of SHIELD.  It establishes Spider-Man as part of the world he only cameoed in previously.  Even the introduction of Peter Parker set to the back drop of Captain America: Civil War, is a smart welcome of the over-excited teenager and still manages to set up the conflict that he needs to grow out of.

Much like the movies main theme, ol’ web-head is going to have to stand on his own two feet, and it’s here that Spider-Man: Homecoming really comes to life.  After leaving the world of super heroes (and adults) Peter is dumped back into his life in queens and while it doesn’t waste much time before we see the misfortunes of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, we do appreciate just how disappointing it is to be relegated from would-be Avenger to street-level do-gooder.  Director, Jon Watts, is shrewd enough to not drag this out before shooting a good helping of webbed fun our way.  Just in the first moments of Spidey suiting up, we see him showing off, mid-swing posing and somersaulting on command just to earn some status around the ‘hood.  So it’s all the more fun to see him when he pushes his luck too far.  With all this fun being had, it’s a rude awakening when things go wrong despite Spider-Man’s best efforts.  The underlining of a heroes responsibility is clear to us watching Parker learn his heroic trade, but to Holland’s credit his enthusiasm is so infectious that it’s impossible to damn his ill-conceived actions.

In the busy jostling of superhero movies at the multiplex, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the first in a long time that that actually feels like a comic.  There are obvious nods, like the clone saga costume and the now iconic rubble lifting moment, lifted from Ditko’s original panels (issue #33, true believers), and while it doesn’t shy away from the more mature themes, there’s a lighter and breezy element that comes from embracing the source material and not overly laden with edgier concepts.  Even the set piece before Peter learns his hardest lesson is just the right mix of perilous and wish fulfilment.  Watts is also smart enough to walk the web between homage and not being beholden.  Vulture’s costume is inventively redesigned to be reminiscent of its namesake and practical.  Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is kookier than previous incarnations, but tenderly maternal.  We also have the obligatory knock-down-drag-out finale, but instead of a city/world threatening sky laser, Vulture’s just after the score of a lifetime.  It may not be revolutionary, but it’s refreshingly neat.

If you had to play J Jonah Jameson and level some criticism at Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s that it feels like it’s in a rush to bundle everything in.  While it doesn’t cut the narrative web it swings by, no sooner has a point been made or beat paid off that we move on to the next.  Somehow the comedic punchlines survive the pace, but some of the more tender moments have to suffer as a result.  That being said, when you can have this much fun swinging through the streets at speed, who cares if some detail is a little blurred?

4* – Spider-Man Some More

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Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

By the time DC released the first installment of their cinematic shared universe with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Marvel had already released the 6 films that would make up it’s Phase 1. 6 superhero victories by blowing a hole in the sky over Los Angeles (Iron Man), in Banner’s words “Broke Harlem” (The Incredible Hulk), Blew up the New York’s World’s Fare (Iron Man 2), decimated a town in New Mexico (Thor) and by proxy reduced much of Manhattan to rubble (Avengers). Yet it wasn’t until the climax of Man of Steel when people really started to take stock of the devastation amassed by Superhero Smackdowns. Yes, by the third act streets of Metropolis are crushed by the Kryptonian World Engine and an alien ship crashed into it’s financial district. If that wasn’t enough, Superman and Zod go toe-to-toe. They punch, throw and dissect buildings with laser-vision. However, surely the dollar value on the construction costs from Marvel’s victories must be enough to cripple Stark Industries and Wayne Enterprises together! There’s a very strange irony about the dizzying culmination of our super-powered movies, whereby the audience’s demand for superhero movies ultimately wracks up more devastation. Yet we rarely consider the impact and longer effects on the citizens where they take place.

Captain America: Civil War addresses the concern for anyone that’s spent time to consider it. While the fuse is lit when Captain America’s New Avengers kill a whole office floor of Wakandan Diplomats, it’s not until General Ross addresses the Avengers of the compound and shows a street-level view of their victories; including Age of Ultron and Captain America: Winter Soldier. He also puts their misadventures in a global political perspective, “What would you call a group of U.S.-based, enhanced individuals, who routinely ignores sovereign borders and inflict their will wherever they choose and who, frankly, seem unconcerned about what they leave behind them?” It’s a sobering thought that works effectively on it’s characters, particularly Tony and Wanda. Yet when it’s time to thrill the audience, you may feel like the conflict any characters feel is quickly discarded. While the attack on the UN is carried out by the antagonist and pushes the story along, the Airport knock-down-drag out is executed without prejudice. Airplanes and gantries are crashed into, torn apart and blown to bits, while Air Traffic Control towers are sheared in half just to stop escaping comrades. Seems like “Thunderbolt” Ross was right! That being said, the Russo Bros took the watershed improvements on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and upped the ante. While it’s fun to play with nearly every character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe toy box, they’re still careful to continue the special ops execution of the missions…at least to start with.

While the inclusion of the rest of the MCU characters could have Cap’s third installment stall, a la Age of Ultron, the Russo’s manage to keep events hurtling along to the conclusion. Even if plot points are lost in the melee, there’s still plenty to keep you entertained. Some of the more enjoyable scrapes may go on for longer than they need, but they’re still an absolute blast. Whenever you watch your hero go up against a villain there’s almost always the inevitable feeling that they’ll beat the bad guy. Yet seeing brother against brother (and sister!) is bitter/sweet. You know what each are capable of making it a photo-real top trumps, but you won’t feel good about either emerging victorious. The consequences of defeat are a little too high.

Thankfully, amidst the Avengers affray, we still stop to consider Captain America – his name is on the title after all! Not only that, but if you do have time to stop and think amongst the set-pieces, the threads from Cap’s journey are picked up and examined. Although her name isn’t mentioned, the text message to inform Steve of Peggy’s death is a heartbreaking realisation that he only has one person left from his old life. While this only serves to reinforce the Steve’s self destructive compulsion to protect Bucky, there’s still a peak under the bonnet of his true blue nature:

“I don’t mean to make things difficult.” Steve says earnestly to Tony
“I know. Because you’re a very polite person.”
“If I see a situation pointed south, I can’t ignore it. Sometimes I wish I could.”
“No, you don’t.”
“No, I don’t.” Steve confesses.

It’s not that one of the powers bestowed from the Super Soldier Serum is being contrary, but it does speak to the cost of integrity being compromise. As stoic and inspiring “planting yourself like a tree” may be, is it worth it when the result isn’t heroic sacrifice but in fact the suffering of others and loss of true friendship? The exchange also suggests a true understanding between the two. They may never be explicit about it, but it’s a deep running compassion that only a deep friendship can grant. Why else would Tony put himself on the line to bring Cap in after he escapes with The Winter Soldier?

It’s with this in mind that makes the personal price infinitely more crushing.

Captain America: He’s my friend.

Iron Man: So was I.

4* – Saving Private Barnes


Ant-Man: Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

Marvel’s Ant-Man is something of a peculiarity. While the other Marvel Cinematic Universe installments may have centered around their title characters and their stories, were similar as far as the narrative beats went. It may have something to do with the obligatory origin story, but they could all wore the fitted genre of superhero snuggly enough. That is until 2014 when Marvel released both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. While Guardians could play fast and loose in it’s sci-fi spaceship – free from setting up a lone superhero – Captain America stretched to espionage thriller. Following on from their success Ant-Man confidently owns it’s peculiarity and leans heavily on the tropes of a crime-caper. Who’s never wanted to see a metahuman heist?

While the likes of Tony Stark, Peter Quill and even Thor tread the fine line of charismatic douchery to give them something to rise from, they eventually display the self-sacrifice that comes with altruism. After all, ever since the comics, the hallmark of a Marvel character is their flaws just like you and me. Then there’s Captain America, in his own league, the measure all characters are to be compared. Enter Ant-Man, or rather Scott Lang. As far as heroic title characters go, he’s probably the most identifiable. Sure, you may not have been to prison, but it’s closer to an every-man comparison than billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Like us, Scott has made mistakes, paid for them and forever trying to break even. It’s a refreshing change from stoic thunder god or infallible father-figure which everything comes that little bit easier. How many people in the MCU thus far saved the world and struggled to make alimony payments?

Thankfully, director Peyton Reed is careful to use Lang’s misadventures to flesh him out and not handcuff him emotionally. While the effort is made to bring us something a little different, both in terms of character and tone, there’s a lot of care to remind us we’re still in the MCU. Not only will the opening shot of a half-constructed Triskellion keep the Cap fans happy, but the following exchange involving Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and Hank Pym provides a gratifying insight to the inner workings of early SHIELD. Later, not only does Hank Pym disparage the Iron Man Armour, but the New Avengers Facility set up in Avengers: Age of Ultron sets the stage in setting up the final act. It’s dutiful recognition to the sandbox Ant-Man plays in, but not one it relies on to provide superhero legitimacy.

Despite references, viewing Ant-Man as a standalone movie, rather than a chapter of the MCU, proves more rewarding. Lang’s journey from zero to hero is cemented with sympathy. Hank Pym has been watching Lang for a long time and when he mentions that Lang turns to crime whenever things get tough may force a defensive rise out of the more invested audience member. Hank may be right, but who wouldn’t want to use their gifts to make their situation better? Sounds like other heroes we know!

Without all the bells and whistles that come with bring a Marvel hero, Ant-Man is a pretty successful heist movie. The first caper, to unwittingly steal the Ant-Man suit, not only the establishes Scott as a science-bro, but also sets the foundation for the escalating heists. By the time the final heist on Pym Technologies take place, the wizened sage has passed on his knowledge to Scott and also his failings. The surprisingly heartbreaking scene when Hank explains his wife’s demise to his daughter, Hope, blindsides you. In amongst the tomfoolery of Scott’s gang and a training montage, this emotional beat packs quite the punch without putting the movie’s tone off-kilter and yet still wraps up the character arcs to free them for the final act. Speaking of which; when the team break into Pym Technologies to stop the bad guy selling the Yellow Jacket to Hydra, the film has built up so much joyus good will, they could of marched in through the front door. Instead it stretches your suspension of disbelief to the point of accepting frying servers with an army of wild ants. There’s more moments to point a questionable finger at, but you’ll just be having too much fun.

4* – Big Trouble in Little ‘Frisco

Avengers Age of Ultron

Avengers Age of Ultron: Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

“A camel is a horse made by committee,” as the saying goes. Much like the villainous robot’s birth, Avengers: Age of Ultron was created with the best of intentions and while the undertaking of producing a sequel to the jewel in Marvel Studios’ crown wasn’t taken lightly, too much was asked of it.

In the original super-outing of Avengers, audiences got to see the culmination of all their heroes, if not the franchises, of Marvel’s best and brightest. Never before had we felt so trusted as audiences to follow the detail and combined narrative of an entire shared universe. We were rewarded too. Joss Whedon rewarded geeks, nerds, regular cinema-goers and Friday night visitors to a healthy dose of super-human spectacle. Even the most casual Whedon fan is familiar with his ability to throw together a group of dysfunctional people, put them through the mill and still emerge triumphant. However, Whedon’s ability to have the moments and exchanges inform both characters and story always takes him to first place (as reflected in the Avengers record breaking box office returns). This wasn’t Mojlnir-sourced lightening in a bottle. So what could go wrong?

Well, you seemingly overload the movie with the responsibility of ending “Phase 2” and starting “Phase 3”. If that wasn’t enough, how about introducing characters and set ups to serve other individual outings. It all seems a little messy even before the death-from-above climax we’ve come to expect. While the whole endeavor has the burnt whiff of studio interference, Whedon still makes a heroic effort in keeping the wiring complete enough to power the creation. Although, no one’s looking for a template of the first Avengers, audiences still want another helping of their favorite flavors. As such Avengers: Age of Ultron hits many of the same beats as it’s predecessor. Although the movie opens with the Avengers as an cohesive team to begin Ultron still blindsides them (a la Loki being arrested and imprisoned on the hellicarrier). They have a heated disagreement after Ultron introduces himself (a la the lab argument under the scepter’s influence). Even Scarlet Witches hellishly introspective nightmares that pulls the team apart has the same results as when Loki left the hellicarrier after killing Coulson and letting the Hulk loose. While the comparisons are easily drawn, there’s a lot that’s fresh here. The Hulkbuster sequence is inspired wish fulfillment and while a bit messy the chase in Korea still manages to imbue the action with the heavy stakes.

Oddly, it’s not the familiar beats that make Age of Ultron feel like a facsimile of it’s progenitor. With everything that’s packed in to Age of Ultron the highlights aren’t quite able to escape the overall dirge. You’d be hard-pushed to find another superhero flick that achieves the heights in pace, action and whit, but with the bar now raised so high by Avengers and even Captain America: The Winter Soldier everything packed in by studio execs only serve the tip the balance of what would otherwise be a finely tuned superhero movie.

As such, Age of Ultron is a reflection of it’s villain. A twisted machine of it’s well-intentioned creator.

3* – No Country For Bold Men


Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

“When I look around, you know what I see? Losers..” offers Star Lord to the rest of Guardians of the Galaxy, just before the climax. So too could have the ninth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic cannon. By this point most of the established Marvel heroes already had sequels. Tony Stark had 3 chalked up and Captain America had the second in the chamber. Audiences were more than comfortable with their heroes battling ne’er-do-wells to save their Tera firma. Although Thor may have come from Asgard, Midgard was very much his battlefield of choice, particularly as his earth-bound squeeze lived here. Why then did we need to strap in, blast off and spend time with a bunch of Star Wars rejects that were, by their own admission, losers?

The answer is exactly that. All the Guardians are literal aliens – even if Peter Quill is half human and half something else entirely. Yet there’s so much we have in common with these space truckers. Peter corrects his offering when the rag-tag group look at him: “I mean like, folks who have lost stuff.” Although this is actually one of the emotional linchpins of Guradians of the Galaxy and galvanises what we already knew (That this unlikely group had become an unlikely family) it embues the film with a real heart lacking in even the Avengers. It’s no accident that the film starts with Peter’s mom dying moments before he’s sucked into a ravagers blinding tractor beam. Gamora too has her family violently taken from her and “fostered” into the most abusive environment imaginable. Rocket never has one, while Groot only has the wise-crackin’ rodent as anything close to a sibling. While dysfunctional they have all moved on to some semblance of interstellar life they could cling to. Drax however is still very much in the anger phase of mourning. As an audience, we may not have all experienced these things, but it’s very much something that has touched us. Quill continues “And we have, man, we have, all of us. Homes, and our families, normal lives. And you think life takes more than it gives, but not today. Today it’s giving us something. It is giving us a chance.”

With this in mind it’s a wonder that Guardians of the Galaxy is such a rawkus ride. While Iron Man had been quick witted and Thor had the fish-out-of-water follies for comic relief, Guardians is genuinely funny. From Quill’s disappointment to not having his code name recognised by his pursuers, to Drax’s literal interpretation of the idioms we all take for granted, the laughs are plenty. Even the secondary characters have moments usually saved for the title characters of lesser movies. Each one is an earned character-driven reward that hits it’s target rather than just impacting on the surface. However without the charm that Guardians seems to effortlessly plume from its thrusters, it would be a jumble of set-ups and punch lines like Spaceballs.

“To do what?” Rocket returns to Quill. If anything pulls Guardians into the gravitational pull of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s the McGuffin. While it’s probably the most obvious infinity stone, it spends the first half of the movie encased in a patterned, chrome orb. Guardians establishes itself in it’s own universe (no pun intended) with little help from the earth-bound Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all the intergalactic shenanigans it’s very easy to miss the real craft of James Gunn’s storytelling. If Suicide Squad demonstrated any lessons it’s how easily an ensemble of main characters can quickly sputter the engines of the narrative and reach a terminal velocity of non-investment. In Guardians, not only do you care about each of the 5 character’s arcs, but there’s interesting secondary characters. Yondu’s ravagers are lovable rogues, the Nova Corps inner workings are clear and even Nebula’s motivations are understandable.

Quill finally responds to Rocket, but he’s talking to all of the Guardians: “To give a shit. And I am not gonna stand by and watch as billions of lives are being wiped out.” It’s not only a triumph of storytelling, but come the end of the movie you’re hard pushed to find a better feeling. Avengers may make you punch the air, but the conclusion of Guardians makes you want to take everyone dancing!

5* – Footloose and Fancy Ships

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Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad SPOILER-Free Review

The movie offerings from DC haven’t been able to catch the kind of breaks that Marvel has. Man of Steel seemed to catch a kryptonite bullet from the fans. Then Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice took a baterang to the face from critics and audiences alike. DC have been a little braver – for better or worse – Snyder guiding a moodier and more sub-textual ship than Captain Feige. Whatever your opinion is, DC always had one thing over Marvel…it’s villains. As devilish as Loki may have been, he pales in the mythos of the Joker. So then, it’s surely a no-brainer to stuff DC’s rogues into a movie and watch them cause chaos.

Suicide Squad carries on the courage of it’s older, more mature relatives. From the opening sequence it’s bold and unapologetically brash. While the movie almost presents itself as a reflection of it’s title characters – messed up, haphazard and certainly not afraid to have a little fun – it also feels at times likes it’s uncertain of itself; making too much of a rawkus to try and persuade us of what a rip-roarer it is. There’s crash cuts, character bios that clatter audibly over the frame and overlaying graphics that nearly hammer you into submission. It’s first act is a whistle stop tour of the universe it’s setting up. The super maximum security prison of Belle Rev is walked through while characters are introduced with names and stats that seem like top trumps on ecstasy. Once the tastier bat-involving origins are run through, it all gets a little noisy. Great music cues seem reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy, but never quite hit the note they’re going for. As intros go it’s fun enough but it’s oddly unconvincing.

It’s hard enough to accomplish the narrative juggling act when there’s a handful of main characters. Too little development and no one cares what happens to your two dimensional characters. Too much time spent on each and every character means the story unravels as the audience forget why they’re even there in first place. While Suicide Squad does enough to keep you entertained the juggling gets wobbly despite the titular effort it makes.

Suicide Squad really does have it’s moments. This is thanks, in no small part, to it’s cast. Although all are careful not to ambush each other with jostling scenery chewing, there are those that stand out. Will Smith deftly handles the balancing act of merc with a heart, but the film doesn’t seem interested in developing this and it’s a tough sell to have us believe any stirring of his conscience. Margot Robbie exudes lunacy while her humanity peeps from behind her eyes as Harley Quinn, but then it’s quickly back to the same shtick for a quick laugh. Jai Courtney is spectacularly cast as the audacious Captain Boomerang, but isn’t given the screen time to really flesh it out. It’s a wince-inducing disservice, particularly when each character should have their own air-punching moment, but falls a little flat.

Despite the giddy spell Suicide Squad tries to put you under, you feel a little bit groggy when you come around.

3* – Where the Wild Things Almost Were

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