Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the sixth “Spider-Man” film, and it’s easily the best since “Spider-Man 2” (from the original trilogy). The Spider-Man franchise has had a bit of inconsistency, starting strong but ending a bit weakly with the dreaded (but somewhat over-hated) “Spider-Man 3”; then, rebooted with 2 completely forgettable films and a forgettable Peter (played as dutifully by Andrew Garfield as possible). As reliable as Spider-Man is as an entertaining comic book hero, his movie franchise hasn’t been as dependable.

Marvel still wants to save their golden boy, however; they threw him in “The Avengers: Civil War”, and a young, boisterous Tom Holland was cast. His cameo was brief but fun, and gave enough of an excuse I guess, to give him a full feature length film.

But this time, the studio was smart to not reboot the whole story all over again, so that in the 3rd time in 15 years, we’d have a “Peter Parker origin story”. In “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, directed by Jon Watts (“Clown”), we already know Peter is Spider-Man, and he’s already fought with the Avengers. This allows the character to be exactly where he needs to be, and not re-introduced again.

Parker has returned from fighting the Battle of New York, and is ecstatic that he’s been able to cut his teeth with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., if you didn’t know that already) and the Avengers. He’s given the guise of being an intern to the Stark company, so no one suspects what he’s really up to. His Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) encourages him in his internship, and he seems to be the envy of some students at school. But Parker has his teenage problems: he longs for a shot at a girl named Liz (Laura Harrier), a brainy and beautiful girl that is keen to Parker’s attraction. He also has a little rivalry with the school rich kid Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Tony Revolori), who competes with Parker in the ‘mathletes’. And, unfortunately for Parker, school comes before superhero. He still has to do his homework.

The city has its share of thieves and criminals, but none more powerful than a mysterious villain referred to (in credits only) as the Vulture. He’s only known in the film as Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a contractor whose business is co-opted by Stark’s own Damage Control following the Battle, to clean up the after effects. Toomes, dismayed but not detracted, steals some of the artifacts himself and sells the exotic weapons at a high price to support his family. Toomes is a lunch bucket villain. He’s blue collar, not looking to take over the world, just looking for a piece of American Pie.

But this doesn’t sit well for 15 year-old Peter, who trails him and tries to stop him by himself. This bothers Stark, and Parker’s chaperone Happy (Stark’s colleague, played by Jon Favreau), and it gets Spider-Man in quite a lot of hot water.

For us, as an audience, we’re licking our chops to watch Spider-Man fight. And, like Stark, his suit is powered by AI, a bit of a SmartSuit. His AI, Karen (voiced by Jennifer Connelly), helps him out of jams both with the bad guys, and gives some sage life advice.

Also along for the ride is Peter’s school friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who wants to be “the guy in the chair”, the one behind the scenes who aids his super hero friend. At first Peter is hesitant; but after some run-ins, and Ned’s assistance, he agrees. Ned’s contributions are essential to Peter’s escaping certain doom, and proves his worth as his “sidekick”.

There are some breathtaking action sequences that string the film along, including one that takes place on the Staten Island Ferry; and the other atop the Washington monument. The Ferry sequence may remind viewers of the subway scene in “Spider-Man 2”; but it doesn’t feel like a rip off. This is actually the bread and butter of a Spider-Man story: he has to save a piece of New York City. In the 1st movie, it’s the Queensboro Bridge (in the reboot it’s the Williamsburg Bridge).

Most of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is watching Tom Holland eat up the Peter Parker role. He’s the youngest actor to portray the character, which works to its benefit. There’s a literal breath of new life into the character; and for some reason, it makes him more believable than previous incarnations played by Garfield and Tobey Maguire.

The strongest parts, like much of the MCU films, involve humor. There are a lot of quality laughs here, and it certainly strengthens the film’s entertainment value. Stark’s scenes are amusing; but it’s a lot more than that. RDJ doesn’t have to save this film. He’s just a piece. Keaton is exceptional as the ice cold Toomes, just trying to make a good living, but is also cutthroat. Batalon as Spidey’s BFF is also cute and charismatic. And, can’t forget Zandaya’s Michelle, or “MJ” (duh!). On balance, the whole cast provides good performances. Holland and Keaton’s stand out, but they all do well to round out the film.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” brings confidence back to the franchise, and sets up nicely for its own series. I want to see more of Holland as Peter, and watch him grow up a little. He already started to toward the end of the film. Now, as a future Avenger, we can see the character finally reach his full potential.

Just don’t go forcing Venom on us again right now, mkay?

My rating: :-)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

In 2014, we were treated to a new batch of heroes from Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was skeptical at first because I had never even heard of this comic book series before. It turns out, the Guardians go back to 1969, however the ones depicted in the film are from a “modern” reinvention, that goes back to the latter part of the 20th century. While there’s history there, this is a relatively new series. Nevertheless, my wariness for a new comic book franchise was diminished when I saw that James Gunn, formerly of TROMA, was attached to it. I’ve been a fan of his work dating back to his early days, and really enjoyed his later films such as “Slither”. When I saw the first “Guardians of the Galaxy”, whatever reservations I had were completely vanquished. I was thoroughly entertained by the characters: Star-Lord, or Peter (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). I actually couldn’t wait for their next adventure, having so much fun watching them in their first film.

Now, we’re treated to that next story; and once again, it was a pleasure. The cast is a bit bigger this time, including previous side characters (and somewhat villains) such as Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). While the core Guardians are still the main focus, there is an ample amount of time given to these other characters, especially Yondu.

The opening credit sequence alone is enough to fall in love with this film. We see a growing Baby Groot (only potted in the finale of the last film), dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while the Guardians fight a giant slimy creature as a favor to a group of people known as the Sovereign, who are condescending but open to rewarding them for protecting their (precious?) batteries. Nebula, Gamora’s sister, is being held by the Sovereign, and release her back to the Guardians once the task of destroying the creature (in another amusing sequence) is complete. However, Rocket steals some of these batteries, and the Sovereign goes after them. Their style of space battle resembles old Atari games for some reason. It’s inexplicable, but funny nonetheless.

We also open with another story, that becomes part of the bigger plot, that involves a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), young and dashing, charming a young woman. We later find out what the significance of this flashback is, and are re-introduced to Ego as an older man, who now claims to be Peter’s estranged father.

When the Guardians escape the grasp of the Sovereign, and other shenanigans, Peter and Gamora go with Ego to his home “planet”, along with his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a mysterious but intriguing character that catches Drax’s fancy (although he’s unwilling to admit it). We learn that Ego is known as a “Celestial”, a god-like being, and can control pretty much anything he wants, if he can share that power with someone. He wants that someone to be Peter, who is unsure whether to believe that this is his father.

Father and son relationships are extensively explored in this film–I almost wonder if this would have been better suited to be released around Father’s Day. You have the backstory of Peter and Ego, with Peter still holding onto his resentment that he watched his mother die without his father around. Then, there’s Peter and Yondu, who raised Peter to be a thief and stands by his reasoning: “he was skinny, and made it easy for thievin'” (paraphrased). Yondu, part of the Ravagers–a group of intergalactic smugglers–refuses to admit any other reasoning why he kept Peter around. But we find out why later in the film. It makes sense, and it’s actually quite touching.

That’s the other strength of the film. While it is funny–sometimes uproariously so–it’s also poignant at times. There’s a lot more to this film than just space battles and quick wit. And I think that, like Peter Jackson maturing into his calling for “Lord of the Rings”, James Gunn has found his calling in “Guardians”. It’s like he was made for this series. Yes, it strays from the original comic books and that’s partly why I credit him so much. He made this his own in a sense; and here, in this sequel, he’s really mastered it.

There was never a moment where I was bored, antsy, or frustrated. There are moments when Drax gets a little carried away, and a few awkward moments here and there–but for the most part, all of it works in the grand scheme. The film is almost two and a half hours long, and it really felt like it needed all of that to tell a complete story. Nothing is rushed or slapdash. Gunn takes his time building something and working it into a satisfying conclusion. Yes, there are some cliched, predictable plot twists and devices–I think that comes with the territory of a superhero film. They’re all, by design, franchised to be the same story structure. But there are some really nice surprises along the way, and you might want to keep a few Kleenex handy at a few points.

I know the future of this series ultimately will tie into The Avengers at some point–if the rumors are true–but as they stay in their own universe, I hope Gunn sticks with the series. To me, he’s the heart and soul and foundation of it. Yes, the characters are great–Peter and Gamora have excellent chemistry. Even Mantis and Drax share some nice screen time. Rocket is always a pleasure. And I can’t write this review without completely gushing over Baby Groot. He is adorable, and steals a lot of scenes.

But it’s everything that makes this sequel even bigger, and better than the original. It brings everything up a level, which is what sequels are supposed to do anyway. It’s a great way to start the blockbuster season; but more than that, it stands alone as probably the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year.

My rating: :D

Doctor Strange

November 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The Marvel Universe, like any universe, can always welcome Benedict Cumberbatch with open arms. He takes the character of Doctor Strange–that’s his real name, not just his super hero name–an arrogant, callous, selfish surgeon who is involved in a car crash that nearly destroys his hands. This of course renders him useless as a surgeon; and even though the crash was 100% his fault, he still goes on a quest to try and heal his hands because he doesn’t think that maybe he deserves this punishment for being such a mean guy.

His love interest, Christine (Rachel McAdams), tries her best to stick by him professionally and personally. Professionally because she works with him, and personally because she is in love with him. But he turns her away, and he goes on his own to find his cure. He hears about a former patient that was cured of paralysis of his spine. He was told he’d never walk again, and he defied that. Strange can’t believe such a thing, but he’s given his file which convinces him. This takes him all the way to Kathmandu in Nepal, to a compound called Kamar-Taj. There, he meets The Ancient One–that’s her real name, not just her super hero name–an intelligent, wise, and has incredible powers that intrigue Strange. She also happens to be bald, but Tilda Swinton can pull anything off.

Strange learns that we can harness an energy and use it, divining from other universes and multiverses and whatnot. It’s like Hawking mixed with Confucius. With time, belief, and training, Strange can harness the energy himself, and cure his hands. More importantly, the Ancient One and her disciple Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) want to recruit Strange to fight against a dark entity who wants to control all universes–Dormammu. Dormammu has his own disciples, including Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who is the resident adversary in this yarn.

Dormammu eventually makes an appearance–he isn’t all that intimidating, looking more like a cross between a Michael Bay Transformer and a Disney ride prop (I wonder why). The dark realm that he controls actually looks a bit inviting. Not a murky, dangerous looking place but rather a blue hued star system you’d see at a Planetarium. But Dormammu means business, and the Ancient One needs to find as many soldiers as she can to destroy him.

He acts as a devious type who can lure you into using dark magic, thinking that you will be more powerful and use it for immortality. Strange, for the most part, doesn’t want any part of the revolution–but he’s roped in, and decides he can actually serve mankind humbly. Somehow he has a cosmic draw to the magic and sorcery, and attracts a sharp looking cape that becomes his pal, and protects him.

There are some really big laughs in this film, which adds to its entertainment value. While the origin story plays out as standard fare, and there really are no surprises in the storytelling, the spikes of humor are a nice touch. One involves a running joke with a resident Master, Wong (Benedict Wong–that’s his real name, not just–OK you get it), who is quite a treat. There is some play with the name “Strange”, which is a little more predictable but still elicits laughs.

Mordo and Strange have nice chemistry working together to fend off the evil forces, and the action sequences are pretty spectacular to watch. As a spectacle, it’s what you’d expect from Marvel. Again, it’s not anything better than what we’ve seen in previous films in the MCU–but Cumberbatch, Swinton, Wong, and Ejiofor all make it something a little more special.

It’s a good two hour venture into a new piece of an ever expanding universe–and that’s better than what DC is giving us so far.

My rating: :-)