Sunday, 16 July 2017

Review: Spider-Man - Homecoming (second-pass)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (IMAX 3D / second-pass / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 133 mins / Dir. Jon Watts / Trailer

So I went to see Spider-Man again, at London's Leicester Square IMAX*1, this time. And while the film obviously no longer held the element of pleasant surprise for me, I loved it every bit as much. More in some places. There won't be any wanging-great plot spoilers in this piece, but I'll be coasting over some of the events and characters which do and don't appear, hence the spoiler-warning.

[ On a side-note that I may as well slip in here, I loved that before the movie there was an ad for Dell gaming-computers using modified footage from the film. And in that sequence in the movie, you notice that the laptop Peter actually uses in class has the logo obscured. His friend Ned later uses a machine with Dell branding on it, though. Now, given that the current rights-owners to Spidey are the same people who'll work photo-realistic tech-appearances into an animated feature, I think someone in the Sony Brand Placement department is currently furious about the 'deal' that's been struck with Marvel. And I couldn't be happier at that thought. ]

So when I left the cinema after watching Homecoming for the first time, I felt something which hadn't come over me for quite a while. Excitement. Not the anticipation and intrigue I get before a movie, but the feeling that a huge door has been kicked open and now anything is possible. The endings of Doctor Strange and Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 were satisfying, but this was a buzz I haven't had since the closing moments of Amazing Spider-Man 2 (ironically enough), or Iron Man 3. It was that feeling of wanting to go right back in and watch it again. Immediately. And a few days later when I left the IMAX auditorium*2? There it was again. Outstanding stuff.

At that final shot (of the main film), where Peter Parker has returned home and found the real reward of his labours awaiting him? That look on his face of triumph, humility and acceptance, all at once? The camera panning slowly to the figure behind him, slightly out of focus, and that final line of dialogue? The first tim I saw that, I grinned like an idiot; the second, I had tears in my eyes. At Peter's side, we've taken our first step into a larger world.

The first distinction which makes the film work in a crowded marketplace is that while it's a reboot, it's not an origin-story. Thankfully. Either Marvel are confident in their target audience's familiarity with this flagship super-hero by now*3, or even they don't think they'll get away with telling a variation of the same story for the third time in fifteen years. Narratively, this gives the film a wider scope than many of the series' standalone movies featuring a 'new' hero.

It's also important to note that the new movie isn't 'classic comic' Spider-Man, either in tone or execution, but that's always been the way of the MCU. To take the core traits of the characters and reinvigorate them to fit a new, larger story. Homecoming does this even better than most in the series - Holland is his own version of the web-slinger, but still intrinsically the Parker/Spider-Man we expect. In terms of bringing a character we know into a story we don't and having them interact with the continuity, this is MCU at its absolute finest*4.

Instead we get relatively subtle (if still incredibly direct) cues from the script as to what's brought Parker to our attention this time: He was bitten by a spider (which is now dead), and Aunt May has had a tough old time of things lately (presumably because Uncle Ben is sitting on a cloud somewhere, next to a spider). Peter's climbing and acrobatic skills are inherent to him, he builds his own web-shooters, and everything else comes courtesy of the Stark-engineered suit. But the writers (and even I'm embarrassed to say that there are six of them on this project) don't feel the need to dot-every-i and cross-every-t, just yet. Familiar names like Mary-Jane Watson, J. Jonah Jameson and Gwen Stacy haven't been shoehorned into the story. Just yet. This is MCU Spider-Man, more concerned with its wider tableaux*5 than providing a fan-service checklist of Greatest Hits references*6. Although on a nemesis-level, with Vulture well and truly established, we get Shocker and Scorpion bookmarked in the continuity for future rumbling, as well as a few other character-seeds sewn into the bargain.

But Homecoming isn't just an advert for the next film in the series. The story develops and grows Parker's character rather than just setting it up for something else. Indeed, by the way this chapter is wrapped up (and the credits-stings in particular), you get the feeling that while Marvel are more than happy with the integration between rights-holders, Sony are playing things like they're not sure what happens next. Stark's line about Toomes' crew being 'below the Avengers pay-grade' would seem to imply that Spidey's solo adventures could be Sony-only ventures. Nothing is ruled out, but neither is it writ in stone. The question is, do Sony get to carry on using the Tom Holland Spider-Man in their own standalone movies if they don't include any other MCU trademarks? And the next question is, would we want them to? The Venom movie might go some way to answering those, but according to Marvel producer Kevin Feige, our friendly-neighbourhood web-slinger won't be present for that one. Which feels a bit like making a Joker flick that doesn't also feature Batman; possible, but weird.

And how long will Spidey be around in the MCU timeline? This film doesn't commit to inducting him into the permanent line-up of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, but nor does it write him out of the future, either short or long term. Any future MCU-appearances (even a flash of the suit or mention of a character-name, presumably), will require the ongoing agreement between Marvel Studios and Sony which is currently in place*7 (although Deadpool managed to squeak round this with its heli-carrier appearance), so in for a penny in for a pound, right?

We should anticipate significant spider-presence for the foreseeable future, I think.
In the meanwhile, I'm off to see Homecoming again…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
MCU-stuff. Spidey-stuff.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Best? Difficult to say. Not least because the groundwork has been laid for it to get even better.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shall look sternly over my spectacles and ask you to explain yourself.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Still not sure. Thought I heard one in the ferry-scene first time round, but didn't hear it at all this time.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Pre Vizsla's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Despite that particular cinema having a constant schedule of films to show in the format, this has been the first movie outside of Star Wars which I've seen (indeed wanted to see) in IMAX. [ BACK ]

*2 The IMAX experience was amazing again, as I expected (indeed, that's why I went). It's so good to see the (almost) ghost-less 3D in its intended colour-range. The big one at Cineworld's Leicester Square is the best screen for audio/visual reproduction, but with some of the worst leg-room I've ever experienced. I'm 5'11", that's not exactly lanky, and even I was getting knee-cramp by the 45 minute mark. [ BACK ]

*3 It should be noted that 2008's The Incredible Hulk played much the same hand, leaving the heavy-lifting of historic exposition largely to the viewer's memory of Bill Bixby, and of the 2003 cinematic offering from Ang Lee. [ BACK ]

*4 Although obviously, The First Avenger is still the greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Don't bother disagreeing, I will fight you on this. [ BACK ]

*5 It's arguable of course that the original comic Spidey was in the wider Marvel universe to begin with, and the stories still had room to fit those names into their roll-call... [ BACK ]

*6 And that's not to put down Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man flicks at all, it's just clear that there was going to have to be a significant style change when Parker stepped into the MCU. [ BACK ]

*7 Although speaking of cross-promotion: during a chase-scene, Peter Parker - who says in the film that he's aged 15 so was born around 2002 - points out that Ferris Bueller's Day Off is "a great movie". That would be the Ferris Bueller's Day Off which was released in 1986, sixteen years before he was born. Yet in Captain America: Civil War, Parker refers to The Empire Strikes Back as "that really old movie", despite it only being six years older than Bueller. The hell, Parker? (although the vintage Kenner X-Wing which hangs in Peter's room could well be an allusion to this apparent anomaly). [ BACK ]

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• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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