erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2017 posts

Monday August 07, 2017

Movie Review: Dunkirk (2017)


I’m glad it exists. I’m glad Christopher Nolan decided to cash in his considerable Dark Knight chips by making a World War II movie. But it’s not great. Sure, the sound; sure, the visuals; sure, the temporal dislocation. But the story? Who are these guys and why do we care?

I admit I was thrown off a bit by the time frame. We keep cutting between three groups of people in three different locations and with each we get a time frame:

  • The Mole: A week
  • The Sea: A day
  • The Air: An hour

It took me most of the movie to realize, oh, that’s how long we were viewing each of their stories. We got a week’s worth of the story of Tommy (Fionn Whitehead, looking like Ewan McGregor’s younger brother), one of the soldiers surrounded by the German Army on the beach at Dunkirk, and trying to get home, across the English Channel, by any means necessary. We get a day’s worth of the story of Dawson (Mark Rylance), who, rather than let the British Navy commandeer his boat to rescue the boys, makes the journey himself, along with his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and teenage hand George (Barry Keoghan). And we get one hour of three RAF pilots, led by Farrier (Tom Hardy), who fly over and take on the Germans bombing the British troops on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Does it change much, knowing this beforehand? Dunkirk movie reviewAre there subtle connections that you otherwise miss? That I otherwise missed?

Three stories
Tommy is our protagonist at the first location but I kept losing track of him. That storyline keeps adding similarly sized, dark-haired boys in army fatigues: Gibson (Aneurin Barnard), first seen burying a comrade on the beach and possibly taking his boots; and Alex (Harry Styles), whom Tommy and Gibson save from being crushed by a sinking, listing ship along the mole/dock. At times, particularly during the action scenes, I couldn’t tell who was who. Is that the point? That one soldier blends into another? That they become interchangeable? But interchangeable also means replaceable. We care less about Tommy because Alex and Gibson are there.

For such a harrowing moment in history, their story almost becomes a comedy of errors. Tommy and Alex try to sneak onto a disembarking vessel by bringing a wounded man on board, but they’re ordered off. They hide on the mole, where they meet/help Alex. They manage to get aboard another boat, but that one, too, is sunk, and they return to the beach, which almost feels deserted, and hide aboard a grounded fishing boat, waiting for high tide. But first the boat’s Dutch owner arrives, and then Germans, who use the boat for target practice. As high tide arrives, the boat begins to sink, while Alex accuses the silent Gibson of being a spy. He’s not; he’s French. He goes down with that ship, I believe, while the others get aboard another, which is torpedoed. Is that the fourth ship he’s forced to abandon or the fifth? Either way, he, and I guess Alex, are eventually pulled onto Dawson’s boat and make their way across the channel.

While all of this has been going on, there’s been more tightly controlled drama aboard Dawson’s boat. In the middle of the channel, they rescue, off the hull of a downed ship, a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy), who doesn’t want to return to the battle, which is where Dawson’s ship is going. So Dawson lies to him and keeps going. But at one point he becomes violent, knocks George down the stairs into the cabin. At first he can’t see; then he’s dead. There’s a great moment, later, when the pilot asks after him, and Peter, anger in his eyes, is about to tell him off; then something like wisdom appears there, his father’s wisdom, and he lies. He tells him George is OK. It’s a gift he gives him; one less burden to carry.

Then they pull into Dunkirk and rescue Tommy, et al.

The drama in the third storyline is the drama of the gas gauge. Farrier keeps going even though the gas gauge reads low, then it’s knocked out so he can’t tell. Of the three planes, one is lost in an early dogfight, the second, piloted by Collins (Jack Lowden), is ditched in the channel after a second dogfight (Collins is rescued by Dawson’s boat). Farrier continues to France, shoots down more Germans, is hailed as a hero as he flies over the beaches of Dunkirk. Then back to the gas. Rather than ditch the plane, he lands it on the beaches, intact. “Won’t the Germans capture it?” I wondered. “Won’t that be dangerous?” Nope. He sets it afire, then surrenders to the Germans. Does he sit out the rest of the war? Does he survive five years as a POW? Who knows? We don’t even know who he really is.

We don’t know who any of them really are.

Oddly empty 
That’s the main problem I had. I’m not a fan of backstory but I wish I had something to distinguish these guys. Likes? Dislikes? Turn-ons? Of the three storylines, the most interesting was “The Sea,” because the drama there was at close quarters, involved moral dilemmas, and you had Mark Rylance aboard. I could watch him in almost anything. He’s got something like the wisdom of the world in his tone and on his face. He intrigues. Hardy does, too, in his inscrutability. The others? Not so much.

And the point of it all? Churchill hoped to evacuate 30,000 and they managed to evacuate 300,000. Except ... we don’t really see it here. By focusing so tightly on three stories, we don’t see the bigger picture.

It was a retreat that was courageous—that’s another point. Tommy and Alex return to England and guilt sets in; they feel the shame of losing. But then Tommy reads Churchill’s speech, “We shall fight on the beaches,” etc. from the local newspaper, and at train stations they’re hailed as heroes, and everyone feels better. Except ... In this movie, Dawson, Peter and George are certainly courageous, and so are the RAF pilots. But Tommy and Alex? They're just trying to do anything to get home. Which is certainly human, and involves courageous acts, but it’s not exactly full of the heroism and sacrifice of the others. Meaning the most important story in the movie felt the most ... pointless.

I’m glad “Dunkirk” was made, but I came away feeling oddly empty. I thought, like Peggy Lee, is that all there is? I longed for people smarter than Christopher Nolan making our movies.

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Posted at 06:27 AM on Aug 07, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Thursday August 03, 2017

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious (2017)


I really only watched this (Vinny) because at the moment it’s the 11th-highest-grossing film of all time—worldwide and unadjusted. That’s a comedown for this series, by the way. The previous iteration, “Furious 7,” is the sixth-highest-grossing film of all time—worldwide and unadjusted. It grossed $1.5 billion in 2015.

“Fate” lost about $300 mil off that total, grossing $1.2 billion, but that’s still, you know, astonishing, all the more so because it did it without much help from the good ol’ U.S. of A. You’d think muscle dudes in muscle cars would rule in the states, but “Fate” earned only 18.2% of its worldwide gross here. Is that low? Yes. There is no film in the top 100 worldwide grosses that has a lower U.S. percentage than that. Most aren't even close.

Basically, as the world has cared more about Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew, we’ve cared less.

MOVIE Worldwide U.S. U.S. % Year
The Fast and the Furious $207.30 $144.50 69.70% 2001
2 Fast 2 Furious $236.40 $127.20 53.80% 2003
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift $158.50 $62.50 39.40% 2006
Fast and Furious $363.20 $155.10 42.70% 2009
Fast Five $626.10 $209.80 33.50% 2011
Fast & Furious 6 $788.70 $238.70 30.30% 2013
Furious 7 $1,516.00 $353.00 23.30% 2015
The Fate of the Furious $1,238.80 $225.80 18.20% 2017

It’s about the nicest thing I can say about American culture at the moment.

Punch in something
“Fate” isn’t all bad. The intro of Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is telegraphed but fun. You see him in close-up cajoling unseen troops, telling them he chose them because they’re the fiercest warriors on the planet. The Fate of the Furious movie review“Kids,” I thought. “Maybe junior high football players.” Better: girls soccer. Pre-game, on the field, he leads them in a Maori warrior dance that freaks out the other side, and when he’s visited on the sidelines by a government official with an assignment, he chastises the man for not knowing that a “Tay-Tay concert” means Taylor Swift. The Rock is good at this. I also like the official observing all the moms in the stands looking their way. Hobbs, with arms like oaks, says, yeah, they’re great at cheering on their kids. “Except,” the government dude says, “there seems to be more moms than kids. Way more moms.”

That’s fun. Then the plot kicks in. And what an idiot plot it is.

You know a film series has run out of ideas when it turns the protagonist evil (see: “Superman III” and “Spider-Man 3”), and that’s more or less what they do here. Dom doesn’t become evil; but because he’s blackmailed by Cipher (Charlize Theron), the greatest computer hacker in the world, he’s forced to do evil things.

Such as? Well, the assignment Hobbs gets, for which he recruits Dom’s crew, involves heisting an EMP device that can knock out an electronic grid the size of a minor city—or something. It’s in Germany—or somewhere. How do they get it? Do they sneak into some facility, take down guards, and then...  Yeah, no. They just have it. It’s literally cut to the chase: They’re driving away, glibly jawing with each other, with the German police on their tail. There’s a stunt with a wrecking ball that probably killed a bunch of cops but whatevs. More important is when Dom sideswipes Hobbs’ car and takes the EMP. The announcement to the rest of the team is made with all the gravitas of a newsman reporting on the JFK assassination: “Dominic Torretto just went rogue.”

So that’s the first evil thing Dom does, but you really gotta wonder about the second. Cipher and her team (mostly her team) hack into cars throughout Manhattan, which divert and trap a Russian official in a limo who’s carrying a nuclear football. In the aftermath of being stopped cold by dozens of cars that drop like confetti from elevated parking garages (pretty cool scene, actually), Dom shows up with his big boots and big arms and holds a torch near the limo’s gas tank. The Russians surrender the codes meekly. Then Dom has to fight through his team, who are waiting for him, which of course he does. Cuz he’s Dom.

All of which makes you wonder what Cipher has on him that makes him take so many lives and risk billions more. His Google search history? Photos when he had hair? Video when he was in a choir singing falsetto?

Nope. Cipher has Elena (Elsa Pataky).

And she is...?

Uh, she was in the last four “F&F” movies.

I don’t remember.

Neither do I, really. But she played a cop in that “Fast Five” one.

Right, now I remember. But why is he risking everything—family and his wife and his friends—for Elena?

Well, Cipher also kidnapped Elena’s baby.


Which is Dom’s

Got it.

And not. Why doesn’t he let his team, or Hobbs, or his wife, in on it? Doesn’t he trust them? And who wasn’t he willing to kill so this son could live? I mean, nuclear codes? Isn’t it bad enough that Trump has them? Here’s what one of the team says after Dom gets away:

They’ve got an EMP and a nuclear football. I don’t’ know what it is, but they’re building toward something.

Brilliant, Brainiac.

Charlize is good, cooing to and threatening Dom’s baby in her arms. But as the world’s premiere computer hacker, she’s not exactly, well, hands on. She’s more Capt. Kirk spouting orders from command center. These orders include (and I shit you not) “Hack ‘em all!” and “Punch in something—it’s not right!”

Punch in something? Brilliant, Brainiac.

What is the fate of the Furious?
The final battle takes place in Russia—or someplace—and involves a nuclear sub which breaks through the ice and fires a heat-seeking missile at Dom in his muscle car. But Dom deeks out the missile (yes), and then, with it still on his tail, he drives his shit up and over the submarine, like Evel Knievel, causing the missile to do its chicken-coming-home-to-roost thing with the sub. Boom! And the good guys win. Again. Forever again.

There are, I'm sure, scenes more ludicrious in the long history of movies. But there shouldn’t be.

So why did Cipher need Dom? Who knows? Better question: How did Vin Diesel become a star? The Rock I get: arms like oaks and personality. Jason Statham, returning as Deckard, I get: parkour moves and personality. Diesel’s just a lug.

We’re stacked with players, by the way. Even without Paul Walker as Brian, the team consists of Dom’s wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), over-the-top comic relief Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Ludacris), who mostly insults Roman. Kurt Russell, chewing scenes, returns as secret agent Nobody. “Game of Thrones”’ Nathanlie Emmanuel returns as Ramsey, superhot computer hacker, while another “GOT” vet, Kristofer Hivju (Tormund), is Cipher’s right-hand man. The new blood—maybe the new Brian?—is Nobody’s by-the-book assistant, played by Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, who learns to loosen up a little at the end. As all good white boys do.

Who do we lose? Elena, who is killed in cold blood by Tormund on orders from Cipher. Tormund buys it, too. Cipher survives for another day and another movie. 

The fate of the title? I guess it’s that: more movies. Less their fate than ours.

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Posted at 06:32 AM on Aug 03, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Monday July 31, 2017

Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)


War. What is it good for?

This is another summer 2017 movie that got gangbuster reviews and made me go, “Eh.” (Cf., “Wonder Woman,” “Baby Driver.”) I understand the accolades. “War for the Planet” is an unconventional action-adventure movie—meaning there’s not much adventure and little action. There’s mystery, which is a positive. It’s artistic. There are homages to great movies in the past—particularly “Apocalypse Now.” It prefigures, or anticipates, the previous “Apes” series by naming a mute girl Nova and a baby ape Cornelius, and giving us those creepy, x-like crosses Charlton Heston sees at the edge of the Forbidden Zone in the original ’68 movie.

Wait, does that mean we’re just a few years away from those events? That the little blonde Amiah Miller will grow up to be the smoking hot brunette Linda Harrison? That Cornelius will become Roddy McDowell, and our current wandering, idyllic ape society will build a small adobe village while its various species quickly stratify into scientists (chimps), lawyers (orangutans), and soldiers (gorillas)?

War for the Planet of the Apes reviewSeems a tad early. The original “Apes” was set hundreds of years in the future (3978 to be precise), and we caused it with our nukes (“You blew it up! Damn you all to hell!” etc.). But I guess we should allow writer-director Matt Reeves a little artistic license. Each “Apes” planet, after all, should be caused by whatever we currently fear: in the 1960s, nuclear war; in the 2010s, James Franco.

Fear of an ape planet
Speaking of fear: Should I get into the potential covert racism of the series? How the novella was written in France during the Algerian situation, and how the first series was popular during the Black Power movement, and how this series came about during the Obama years? The difference between this series and the original, of course, is who we’re rooting for. Charlton Heston, he dead. Indeed, it’s tough to find a starker casting difference between NRA president Heston playing the hero in ’68 and legal marijuana advocate Woody Harrelson playing the villain today. Woody does it with a touch of Col. Kurtz (shaving his bald head), while his face-to-face with Caesar (Andy Serkis) contains a coda like a Trumpian tweet: 

You are impressive. Smart as hell. You’re stronger than we are. But you’re taking this all much too personally. So emotional!

But it’s the first part of that dialogue—the “smart as hell” part—that sadly proves incorrect.

The movie opens with an army sneak attack on apes in the jungle, which, despite many casualties, the apes win. Caesar arrives, grayer than ever, eyes the captives imperiously, but shows mercy. He lets the captured go.

Bad move. Shortly after, Caesar is betrayed by the white ape, Winter, who leads the enemy to the apes’ caves, where Caesar’s wife and kids are killed by The Colonel (Harrelson), wearing war paint similar to Brando in “Apocalypse.” From that moment on, the movie becomes a revenge flick; Caesar even leaves his people in pursuit of it.

Smart move—by the filmmakers. Governing is not only hard, it’s boring. In the last movie, the ape village scenes did nothing but bore me. Here, Caesar winds up traveling along the coast on horseback with the orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), the gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), and the chimpanzee Rocket (Terry Notary). Along the way they pick up a mute “Les Miz”-looking blonde girl, Nova (Miller), and a nearly bald, comic relief chimp named “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn), who reminded me of some combo of Golem and Jar Jar Binks. They also come across a mystery. The human soldiers are killing and burying their own. Why?

Caesar’s not particularly smart in any of this. He’s following an army but isn’t stealthy. In the human military compound near (I believe) the California-Oregon border, he creeps close, is captured fairly easily, and has no plan of escape for either himself or his village—all of whom were captured after he left them. They’re forced into slave labor, building a wall of crude stone to the north. To stop what? To hold back what?

We also get the inevitable confrontation between a hero and villain who want to kill each other, and neither takes the opportunity. The Colonel lets Caesar live in chains while a chained Caesar doesn’t rip the Colonel’s face off with his teeth. Instead, it’s words words words. It's Trumpian tweets. 

Caesar surmises that another human army isn’t coming to join the Colonel but attack him and his men. Thus the wall. (Except ... don't they have helicopters?) And the reason for the attack? It’s about the dead soldiers. The simian virus that killed off much of humanity has a variant strain that makes humans mute and simple-minded like Nova. So the Colonel, intent on protecting the species, orders infected humans killed and buried. Caesar, and the army to the north (Portland?), not to mention the movie itself, look upon the Colonel’s order with horror, but it's actually the smartest thing anyone does. When Nova brings her tiny, faceless doll into the compound, and the Colonel unknowingly picks it up, he gets the disease like that. That’s how deadly it is.

By that time, the Portlandia Army is in the process of attacking, the apes are in the process of escaping, yet Caesar remains behind to get revenge. Except he finds the Colonel mute, drunk, suicidal. So after much ponderous decision-making, Caesar lets the Colonel kill himself. Then he escapes fire (stuff blowing up) and ice (an avalanche), and leads his people to the promised land. It’s kinda Biblical. Or will be.

Stinkin’ pause
Here’s a question: After that avalanche kills off most of the two human armies, and the apes trek to that promised land, next to a nice lake, why do they assume they’ll be safe there? Because they’re away from the coast? Because we've reached the end of the movie? What about the humans in the hinterland? Aren’t they assholes, too?

I admit I like the cleverness of some of “War for...” Military men have “Monkey Killer” scrawled on their helmets and have scrawled “Donkey” (as in “Donkey Kong”) on the backs of the quisling apes. But there are too many problems, too many dead spots, too much stupidity. These days in particular, I want smarter leaders. 

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Posted at 07:57 AM on Jul 31, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Monday July 17, 2017

Movie Review: Ming Yue Ji Shi You (2017)


A few years back I complained that more than a few European and Chinese filmmakers were taking the natural horror and drama of the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanjing and making them melodramatic.

This doesn’t do that. Here, director Ann Hui takes the natural horror and drama of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and makes it undramatic.

Hui is a celebrated and critically acclaimed member of the Hong Kong New Wave. She received a lifetime achievement award at the 2012 Asian Film Awards, while her last two films—“Tou ze” (“A Simple Life”) in 2011 and “Huang jin shi dai” (“The Golden Era”) in 2014—won best director honors at both the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Film Festival. I assume “Ming yue ji shi you” (“Our Time Will Come”), which was released a month ago in China, will be up for same.

But it makes me realize why some of our better, quieter films don’t travel well. A lot of cultural nuance must get lost in the journey, and we’re left with ... this.

Ming Yue Ji Shi You (2017) review“Ming” focuses on WWII-era guerilla activity in Hong Kong, particularly the Dongjiang (East River) guerilla unit, which, as the movie opens, is tasked with spiriting artists and intellectuals off the islands and into unoccupied Chinese territory. The Japanese are the least of it. You also have to navigate Hong Kong gangs and watch out for collaborators and quislings.

The main focus of our concern—if we’re concerned, and I wasn’t particularly—is Mao Dun (Tao Guo), an acclaimed left-wring writer who is boarding with Mrs. Fong (Deannie Yip) and her schoolteacher daughter Lan (Zhou Xun, ridiculously gorgeous). We see some of the machinations involved in getting him to safety. He trades in his western suit for traditional Chinese wear. Call-and-response passwords are exchanged. But he’s being watched and/or traduced, and the day of, we know the man claiming to be his contact is a collaborator. Dun suspects as much, too, but doesn’t know what to do. Then Blackie Lau (Eddie Peng), a cocksure rebel, shows up and kills the spy, and convinces Lan to chaperone Mao and his wife to the embarkation point. She agrees, and returns with a soft glow of satisfaction. She becomes a guerilla herself.

I suppose this contrasts with one of her first scenes. In a meadow on a sunny afternoon, she releases her pet rabbit into the wilderness rather than allow him to wind up on the family dinner table. In the same scene, she rejects the marriage proposal of her boyfriend Kam-Wing (Wallace Huo), since it comes on the heels of his announcement that he's going to ... another island? To Japan? Either the movie was too subtle, was translated poorly, or I wasn’t watching closely enough. Maybe all three. Kam-wing winds up working for a Japanese official, but he’s no collaborator. He’s part of the rebellion, ferreting out maps and other important documents to the Allies.

Much of the guerilla activity is, in fact, paperwork: bringing pamphlets from Point A to Point B; passing notes and eating them to prevent detection. Lan’s mother, initially dismissive of her daughter’s activities, gets involved, too, but she’s caught, imprisoned, tortured. Blackie comes up with a plan to rescue her, but Lan, seeing how hopeless it is, how many lives will be lost, tearfully abandons it, leaving her mother to her fate (digging her own grave with a bowl before being shot in the head).

Much of the movie is like this. It’s about the heroism that still happens within the thing that doesn’t.

Zhou is lovely to look at, and Eddie Peng provides a welcome jolt every time he’s onscreen; but the pace of the movie is soporific, its loose ends puzzling. Kam-wing’s Japanese superior figures out he’s a spy, and cuts him with a Samurai sword but allows him to live; but we never see Kam with Lan again. Indeed, he’s the one rebel we never see interact with the others. How is his story connected? Is it just one of the many? And if the point of the movie is verisimilitude, life lived, then why are so many of the Japanese soldiers fat and stupid? Sgt. Schultz comes to mind. 

Meanwhile, the framing device, a la “Saving Private Ryan,” is a present-day interview with one of the guerillas, now an aged taxi driver (Tony Leung), who was 10 back then. Except he was a peripheral figure, barely involved in the events described. If he’s telling the story, how does he know the rest? If he’s not telling it, what’s with the framing device?

There’s a good movie in here but this isn’t it. Most of the characters, Chinese and Japanese, just seem to be waiting out the misery. I felt the same. 

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Posted at 06:22 AM on Jul 17, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Friday July 14, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)


When the announcement dropped a few years back that they were rebooting Spider-Man again—just 15 years after the original and only five years after the first reboot—I mostly shook my head. Yeah, congrats guys, Spidey’s part of the MCU* now. But another one? So soon? I mean, I don’t know if I can watch Uncle Ben die a third time.

(*Marvel Cinematic Universe. – Acronym-lovin’ Erik.)

Just how many ways can you differentiate yourself from canon? The 2012 reboot tried by:

  • making Peter a skateboarding hipster dude, played by an older-looking actor
  • focusing on a romance with Gwen rather than M.J.
  • focusing on the father-daughter Tracy tragedies (Spider-Man #s 90 and 121) rather than the iconic Uncle Ben one (Amazing Fantasy #15)
  • introducing a backstory about Pete’s dad, who was ... what again? A chemist? A spy? Wasn’t there a secret lab hidden in a subway station or did I just dream that?

Did Pete even catch the Burglar in the first reboot? And now another one? Good luck.

It’s not exactly news that they hit it out of the park.

Avenger No More!
“Homecoming” works because it goes younger, nerdier, funnier and more diverse. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is young and hot, while Pete (Tom Holland) can’t drive a car and can barely talk to girls. He’s 15. Spider-Man: Homecoming reviewWe get such Ditko-era stalwarts as Liz (Laura Harrier), Flash (Tony Revolori), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and M.J. (Zendaya), but reimagined in different ways. Flash, for example, is a verbal rather than a physical bully, while Ned is Pete’s Legos-playing best friend who discovers his secret identity. All of these supporting parts, by the way, are played by people of color. It doesn’t matter (in their world), and shouldn’t matter (in ours), but it does. It’s Marvel living up to James Baldwin’s line: “The world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”

“Homecoming” also works because it does two things most superhero movies don’t do.

First, you also get a real sense of how tough it is to put the “super” in “superhero.” Not emotionally, as in “Oh no, I’m a giant rock creature and no one will ever love me again,” but in just getting from place to place. Sure, Pete’s spider-powers allow him to scale the Washington Monument, but it’s not effortless—any more than you or I doing wind-sprints up a hill would be effortless. He runs out of breath; he all but clutches his side. In Queens, where he lives, there are no tall buildings to web-sling on to, and, at one point, he winds up running through backyards like Ferris Bueller. Plus crimes don’t just happen, wah-lah, in front of you. He nabs a bike thief but can’t find the bike’s owner. At one point, with nothing to do, he helps an old lady with directions. It’s all rather pedestrian. He’s a super kid trying to make his way in a world of super adults, and frequently coming up short.

The movie also answers the question David Mamet says every playwright/screenwriter needs to ask: What does the guy want? This is a rarity in superhero movies. Generally, once the hero becomes super, they have no motivation other than a grand one (stopping crime). Supervillains are the ones with schemes. Heroes are just trying to stem the tide. They’re reactive.

Not here. Pete wants something: He’s desperate to join the Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) brought him on board for “Civil War” but in the first minutes of this one he just plunks him back into his regular world with barely a how-do-you-do. Pete goes from stealing Captain America’s shield to watching dull Captain America PSAs with his classmates (a great, recurring gag). So of course he’s chafing; of course he wants to be in the center of things again. But Tony is a distant, dismissive father. He tells him to buckle down, do his schoolwork, and be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Basically he feels Pete is too young for the Avengers.

And he’s kinda right. In trying to prove he’s ready for the Avengers, Pete proves he’s not ready for the Avengers. He causes near disasters at the Washington Monument and on the Staten Island Ferry. He rushes in to save the day and ruins the day and rues the day.

But it’s not all on him. Tony Stark is not only distant father but distant oligarch. He’s above it all (literally) and too busy to clean up his own messes. He’s kind of an ass. At one point he says to Pete, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Um, dude? Aren’t you all suit? Stark’s mere presence creates envy but his sloppiness creates opportunities for destruction.

Hell, he’s the reason we get our supervillain.

The Vulture’s Prey!
Adrian Toomes, a.k.a., The Vulture (Michael Keaton), is one of Spidey’s oldest nemeses** but previously ignored onscreen. I can imagine the meetings with Hollywood suits: “Wait, this bald guy with the buck teeth and feathers? Pass.”

(** Vulchie first appeared way back in Amazing Spider-Man #2. – Anal Erik)

Well, the feathers have been replaced by metal and powered by alien tech, and Keaton makes him truly terrifying: a working-class hero with a giant (and not unjustified) chip on his shoulder. Eight years earlier, Toomes’ salvage company was hired to clean up in the wake of the alien attack in “The Avengers”; but then the feds swooped in, roped things off, and dismissed him. He was left with debts and doomed to bankruptcy ... except for the truck full of debris and alien tech at his warehouse.

That cache leads to the creation of three Spidey supervillains: Vulture,  Shocker (Logan Marshall-Green; Bookem Woodbine), and the not-so-terrible Tinkerer (Michael Chernus)***. Initially, Toomes just wants to get his and provide for his family. They rob ATMs and sell dangerous weaponry on the black market. But increasingly he wants revenge—on Tony Stark and the Avengers. He’s the opposite side of the same coin as Pete. Both are fixated on Stark. Pete, fatherless and uncleless, wants his love, while Toomes plots his destruction.

(*** The Tinkerer also debuted in Spidey #2 – Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Erik)

Is that third-act reveal too much? After Pete loses his Stark-manufactured Spidey suit, he focuses on high school and friends and asks his crush, Liz, to the dance. Life is on the upswing. Then Homecoming night he opens her front door and is greeted by her father: Adrian Toomes. It’s a jolt. It’s also one fantastic coincidence: My sworn enemy is the father of the girl I love! It recalls that first Green Goblin reveal****: My sworn enemy is the father of my best friend! And is it me or does that marriage seem ... off? No offense, Mike, but Garcelle Beauvais is a bit above your paygrade. That said, kudos to Keaton’s acting. At one point, he has to pivot from chaperoning dad to malicious super-killer, and he does so naturally and seamlessly.

(**** Spidey #39, natch. – Aren’t-You-Sick-of-Me-Yet Erik)

O, Bitter Victory!
Kudos all around, really. Holland makes an amazing Pete/Spider-Man, Batalon is pitch-perfect comic relief, Michelle/M.J. is great sarcastic sidebar. We get a Spider-Man #33 homage: Spidey, exhausted and trapped by an enormous weight, overcoming it to save the day. (I always loved that issue.) “Homecoming” has a 133-minute runtime but it zips. I was never bored. And I’m frequently bored at these things.

The final battle involves a planeload of Stark Industries tech, which Vulture hijacks because he’s trying to get Iron Man’s attention. He has to settle for Spider-Man’s. It’s almost poignant. Both of our leads are wallflowers at the dance, unable to get the homecoming queen's attention. It’s They Might Be Giants: No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.

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Posted at 06:04 AM on Jul 14, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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