See Yourself Behind The Mask — Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Marvel Movie For Us

II wasn’t gonna talk about Spider-Man: Homecoming, really, because after fifteen years of watching superhero blockbusters, you begin to learn a little. You start to learn that the late-night high received from watching what was once merely played out via action figures and comic books and Lego-shaped dreams in your head was just realized on screen. It might just be high. You know that, yes, you can log onto Twitter dot com and hear a bunch of dudes in Texas “Well, actually” their way through dismantling all the things you thought were cool about the movie you just paid two Chipotle-burritos worth to see. And yes, this was probably a Frankenstein movie crafted first in a boardroom before any creative being laid hands on it. It can be so deflating to go online and feel the stark, harsh comedown of watching what you thought was a great movie, only to pick it apart afterward and critique it into Wal-Mart $5 DVD bin oblivion. All I’ve gotta say to that is WHATEVER, HOMECOMING WAS THE COOLEST SPIDER-MAN MOVIE SO FAR.

In preparation for Homecoming, I rewatched a few Spidey films. The original movies mean quite a great deal to me, I was a child when they were released. Though, that didn’t stop my father from taking me to each of the midnight showings back when those existed. We’d go to the now-closed Century Theatre in west Tucson; the kinda-dingy one right off the freeway, notorious for carjackings and a lack of security that was prime for movie-hopping. Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy will forever be “Capital-C” Cinema. The kind of Cinema that’s referenced into eternity. The sort of cinema that, when witnessed for the first time on a screen larger than life itself, evokes the feeling that you’re watching the newest thing that can exist at that moment in time; whether it’s 2002 or 2012. It’s the best thing Hollywood or anyone can produce at that moment, even when it’s not. Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a perfect movie, but seeing those POV shots of Spidey running, leaping, and swinging through New York on a giant IMAX screen was a joy to watch. Hundreds of people came together to create this. It was people’s job too.

I live in Atlanta, Georgia, where nearly every Marvel Studios movie has been produced since Captain America: Civil War. It’s where the most expensive movie production ever, Avengers: Infinity War and the untitled 4th film, is being shot only ten or so miles away. Though it’s very infrequent, Atlanta is mentioned or seen in much detail. Save for the beautiful ode to Atlanta Baby Driver. Watching these film in Atlanta, there’s a certain pride that takes place that wasn’t quite felt during my time in Los Angeles. During the credits we’re forced to sit through each Marvel movie in hopes for a teaser for future installments when the big Georgia Film peach logo appears, the whole theater erupts in applause.

However, despite having scenes in New York and DC, remnants of Atlanta remained in Homecoming, and that makes me so happy. Whether it’s a recognizable street corner or simply Donald Glover’s presence, the film definitely felt Atlantan. Combined with that, for the first time, the New York City Peter Parker’s growing up in is the same one I’ve been living vicariously in every summer for nearly ten years now throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

MILD SPOILERS FOR SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING AHEAD

In the cold open for Homecoming, the prologue that precedes the Marvel Studios logo and before we’re reintroduced to Peter Parker Post-Civil War, we meet Adrian Toomes, played by Michael Keaton in 2012, days after the events of the first Avengers film, who's been tasked with cleaning up the Chitauri mess left behind by The Avengers. Then, with all his financial eggs invested in the clean-up contract with the city, he’s undercut by Tony Stark’s federal Damage Control department. Though that doesn’t stop him from keeping some alien weaponry for himself, and thus the super-powered arms dealer Vulture is born.

From there, I knew we were in for something special. Warmed up from his fight with (most of) the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War, high school sophomore Peter Parker (played brilliantly & charismatically by Tom Holland) is discontent with his life and eager to receive a call from Tony Stark. So much so to the point of quitting all of his previous passions and devoting all of his time to Spider-Man, even if that means screwing up more often than solving a crime. Meanwhile, Tony Stark’s mentorship is distant and restrictive, despite the clear patriarchal connection. And, the famous “With great power comes great responsibility” line is flipped on its head when great power mostly comes from great tech created in part by Stark’s genius.

There’s likely going to be a common criticism about the sheer levity of it all. Spider-Man: Homecoming’s most prominent villain isn’t quite Shocker or even the Vulture; it’s the 5 Spider-Man films that preceded it. Ditching the origin story or indeed any of the pitfalls that may make you say “Spider-Man movie X did it better,” what we’re presented is essentially a build-off of what you’ve seen told so many times before. Pulling a 180 from the needlessly brooding Amazing Spider-Man, the laughs-per-minute in Homecoming is almost untenable. It’s a straight-up comedy, with nothing like the terrifying moments in Sam Raimi’s trilogy (Jeez, remember that terrifying “finish your prayer” scene between Aunt May and the Green Goblin?) to bog down the film’s central mission: to deliver the funniest, most charismatic Spider-Man the silver screen has ever seen.

The hugely diverse cast is also definitely worth notice, too. Nearly every supporting classmate character in Homecoming is played by a person of color, there’s at least one openly gay role in the film, as well as most of Peter’s teachers. Never does it feel forced or unnatural. In fact, it’s the most natural-feeling cast of characters in a blockbuster in a long time; and that’s intentionally so. Spider-Man has always been the bridge between the everyman and the spectacular. Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like the most 2017 think you’ll see all year. Miraculously, everything about it feels current, timely, and fresh.

I’m gonna mention Donald Glover again, not only because I’m so proud of him and everything he’s worked for over the years, but because of the pivotal role he played in Spider-Man as an icon. Back in 2010, when Spider-Man 4 was canceled, a reboot was looming, and Community was at the height of its cult popularity, there was a Twitter campaign started you may remember — #Donald4Spiderman. It actually grew quite large, and posed an important question: why does Peter Parker need to be white? Couldn’t he be played by anyone? Andrew Garfield was eventually cast, but the problem remained, and Marvel Comics took notice. Seemingly starting the trend of mindfully-diversifying our heroes, Brian Michael Bendis (creator of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic series — a parallel universe from the main comics) killed off Peter Parker and created Miles Morales; a half black, half Latino character inspired by Donald Glover. Miles is a 15-year-old poor kid from the Bronx who wins the lottery in two ways: he’s accepted into a prestigious science academy (the same we see Parker and co. attending in Homecoming) and, he’s bitten by a radioactive spider that may have crawled into the duffle bag of his villainous uncle.

Aaron Davis, played by Glover, mentions his nephew in the film, condemning the Shocker’s powerful and deadly weapons as too dangerous. He clearly cares about his family — a huge theme in Homecoming — and I’d put money on the fact that we’ll probably begin to care about his nephew too when he’s introduced into the Marvel universe sooner rather than later.

Marvel Studios films often face criticism that, because of the nature of the MCU, they feel flat and TV-like. Sometimes it’s in the way their shot, and other times because of the stakes that can sometimes fall short of threatening. Despite the comedic and lighter nature of the film, there are very distinctly dramatic and powerful scenes. It’s the Capital-C Cinema I was talking about earlier. Especially in the third act when Parker is put to the test by Michael Keaton’s terrific performance as Vulture. There’s a sense of devotion and power behind his character and his motivations, it’s palpable in Keaton’s famous micro-expressions. Motivated by family, Vulture ends up being one of the best villains the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Kevin Feige said recently that 2019’s untitled Avengers film will be the conclusion to the 22-film arc that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building towards, with the upcoming Spider-Man sequel taking place mere minutes after the events of the film. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is acting as the cornerstone for the future of Marvel, and it seems like a safe bet. There’s really no telling what Marvel Studios has to offer for years to come, but the train isn’t stopping anytime soon, even when Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, and company are reaching their final destinations. Even with the sometimes episodic nature of the MCU and after the sixteenth entry in the series, it’s still capable of evoking Capital-C Cinematic moments akin to Spider-Man 2’s famous train scene. This time, however, literally anyone has the potential to be behind the mask and inspire a generation. Even you.

Buy Spider-Man: Homecoming [Blu-ray] on Amazon

[Movie Review] Star Trek Beyond is the Sequel that Reboots the Reboot Into Darkness

Nobody was excited for Star Trek Beyond until like, a month ago. The first Beastie Boys-infused trailer hit, and it was hailed as the least-Star Trek thing to ever Star Trek, and the marketing and promotional push from about a month ago, along with the positive buzz have skyrocketed excitement, and it’s nice to see a film not outright bomb at the bomb at the box office, especially a good one.

Star Trek (2009) is one of my favorite movies ever made. JJ Abrams had crafted a movie I could watch that flick on a loop for days, and I have before. Seeing that movie in startling IMAX with my closest friends in Arizona is an extremely vivid memory of mine. Even the heavily criticized and admittedly problematic Star Trek Into Darkness was a bright and zippy romp that many forget came out the same summer as brooding and stupid blockbusters like Man of Steel and World War Z. I’m not here to talk about any of those movies, though cause they’re not movies that came out in theaters today.

One movie of relevance that came out the year the Into Darkness mystery box was revealed was Fast And Furious 6, directed by who would eventually be JJ Abrams’ post-Star Wars replacement; Justin Lin.

I like the Fast and Furious movies, not as much as others, but I can see their value. They’re movies about family. They’ve got muscles and cars and muscle cars and most of all, explosions. Justin Lin has a competent, logical eye for action and can make complex sequences intelligible, which is no small feat. Matching that with a return-to-roots, big sci-fi vision of space exploration shared by co-screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, and you have what’s actually a juxtaposition, and one that the film doesn’t make gel quite like the predecessors.

You may not have liked Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, but JJ Abrams and co. knew exactly what they were making and exactly how they wanted you to feel watching it.

Here, all the pieces are in play. We have an incredibly charming, impeccable cast, a three-dimensional villain played by the brilliant Idris Elba, and a fascinating new character named Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella. Michael Giacchino returns to score the feature, and with it, he plays with his astounding themes in experimental ways, but seems to pulls back the reigns when things get too ‘weird.’ There aren’t any pieces like “London Calling,” a memorable song from Into Darkness.

What’s left is a promise from co-star and screenwriter Simon Pegg, the self-elected Star Trek Reboot spokesperson that the series will return to its roots as a space exploration series. With Beyond acting more in tune with The Original Series, acting as both an epilogue to the show and a launching point from it, taking place three years into their five year mission (if you could possibly care about continuity at this point).

Let me get this out of the way, the movie is good. Make no mistake of that from the pessimism in my voice, the film is fine. The story is there. The cast is there. The set pieces are there (including a mesmerizing third act), and the charm seeps through, despite an apparent desire to disregard the previous film and wrap up every x thematic loose tie the previous films could’ve created. The characters you see in Star Trek Beyond are the characters you love from the original series from th60’s, and that’s probably exciting to many of you. Kirk growing up without his father, a casualty from the Kelvin Timeline, made him an inherently different character than William Shatner’s character, and that was very interesting to me. I thought that was interesting to everyone?

Now, we have obvious visual cues that Chris Pine has been watching and emulating William Shatner’s mannerisms, his signature expressions, and I definitely felt that. Everyone suffers the same fate. JJ Abrams’ Flanderization of the cast has been reversed, and the Star Trek films are now simply big-budget episodes of The Original Series, and that’s probably the best move for Paramount, Star Trek, and everyone involved, but it teeters on boring, and it’s definitely not the kind of film JJ Abrams would’ve made. Though JJ Abrams got to make the film he wanted to make, it’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Let me reiterate: Star Trek Beyond is fine. There are jokes. There are thrills. There are IMAX 3D tickets available on Fandango. It’s without a doubt one of the best blockbusters you’ll see this year, and in the upper-echelon of films, you’ll see this year, period. It has a Rihanna song in it! There’s not much more you could ask for from a Star Trek film or any film for that matter. So why am I feeling empty? What am I missing? Is it lens flares?


Tyler Scruggs is a writer and musician living in Atlanta with his partner Mark. When he’s not churning out internet content, he’s paying too much for coffee and buying movie tickets week in advance. Feel free to validate him on Instagram (@Scruggernaut), Twitter (@TylerScruggs), or on Scruff (you’ll know it when you see it).