In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
As the guy who is always ready and willing to defend Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the flawed but still pretty sweet superhero movie that had the audacity to – gasp – be a bit different, it’s hardly in my nature to be curmudgeonly about comic book movies. As long as it has superheroes punching and zapping and flying and swinging, I’m in. So why is it that the trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming has me feeling such little passion?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m seeing this movie the moment it comes out, and I fully expect to enjoy every second of it, but I also fully expect to, well, expect everything which could possibly occur in the film. Yes, there are elements which prove to be new, and deserving of our excitement such as Peter Parker actually being the appropriate age, the mixed-race casting, and Michael Effing Keaton as a villain, but it’s still almost certainly going to be the same old product, just with a different suit and different logo. Peter will start fighting low-level crime, stumble across larger level crime, and then choose to fight the bigger criminals against the wishes and warnings of a smarmy Tony Stark. The trailer all but guarantees that Stark will pop in to spew cockiness for a few minutes and then suit up to help Spidey in a battle against Vulture.
No one will get hurt, nothing will change, and at most the character arcs will consist of the following: – Peter will learn about confidence, but also learn the values of being a team player – Tony will learn about trust, and also learn (again) the values of being a team player
I’m pretty sure Aunt May will deliver a speech to Peter regarding his deceased Uncle’s outlook on life, most specifically the relationship between great power and great responsibility, all the while being too savvy NOT to know that her nephew is definitely Spider-Man. Peter will engage in madcap tomfoolery to keep his secret identity hidden to varying degrees of success, and this will be thematically linked to the transition from adolescence to manhood.
It sounds like I’m hating, and I assure you that I am not. I have come to trust the Marvel machine implicitly, and while they’ve had ups and downs across the MCU (I’m sorry, but Benedict Cumberbatch straight up SUCKED in Dr. Strange), they’ve never failed to deliver solid entertainment with enough action and emotional resonance to keep me coming back for more. It truly is the best time for a nerd to be alive, with the caveat that our unnecessarily strong pushback against cinematic experimentation has resulted in safe brand management rather than rich storytelling.
A good example of rich storytelling in a superhero movie is Spider-Man 2 (Raimi, not Webb). In my estimation, it remains the best superhero flick we’ve ever had (Batman Returns a close second – everything else leagues behind), and since it was only married to its own franchise, it had the ability to be its own thing. Most people still rank it highly in the genre. When Spider-Man 3 attempted to go a bit weird, it was deemed a horrifying sin against everything good. Then came the Webb films, both sloppy-but-valiant efforts which were mostly hated. I myself was not a huge fan of either entry, but they definitely had a Batman & Robin effect on the cinematic life of the character. I fear that Homecoming will elect to play it safe while further hindering its identity by functioning more as an MCU puzzle piece than a film of its own.
I want filmmakers to be permitted to project their own vision into each film. I want colors to pop. I want action sequences to push the bar. I want to be given a chance to love, hate, defend, and disagree with flawed, human characters. If this is all at the risk of a film being a misfire, I’d say it’s worth a try. I’d rather have filet mignon with a side of Laffy Taffy than a hundred meals of pretty good hash browns.
This is most of why I will always defend BvS. It’s clear to me why people didn’t like it, even if it did ultimately suit my tastes, but out of every superhero movie which came out in 2016 (I count six), it’s the only one we still talk about. Why? Because the filmmakers went for it; because it attempted to be a piece of art as well as a piece of entertainment; because they swung for the fences when they could’ve done just fine with a bunt.
And that’s why I’m not trembling with excitement for Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s going to be awesome, yes, but then it’s going to be over, at which point it’ll be brushed aside to make way for the next product on the assembly line.*
It should also be noted that I’ve watched the trailer for The Fate of the Furious at least 5 times already, so I’m probably completely wrong about everything.
*I just conjured a vision of said assembly line where the foreman, tasked with producing the next big MCU flick, yells to his crew, “Avengers! Assemble!” I couldn’t not mention this.