Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Good Balancing Act

This is the first standalone Spider-Man film in the MCU. Spider-Man was previously introduced in Captain America: Civil War where he fought alongside the other Avengers. Before that he was simply a local crimefighter whose superpowers were spider-like abilities to crawl walls, superhuman agility and enhanced mobilities and the ability to shoot high-tensile strength spiderwebs at his enemies. In Civil War, his abilities are further enhanced with the help of a brand-new high-tech suit by Tony Stark. This Spidey film explores the character following his adventures with the Avengers. The film must now contend with two challenges. First, it must prevent Spider-Man from becoming a gimmick. With many of his advanced capabilities coming from Stark’s technology, it is easy for the character to over-rely on technological features and lose his essence. Second, previous movies have seen set the precedent for conflicts that involved saving the universe. A movie that is setting up the “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” cannot possibly have stakes that high. At the same time, this film needs to be interesting enough to hold up after a number of awesome films.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is able to overcome both these challenges. Even though Parker has the new and improved Spider-Man suit he got from Tony Stark, the film isn’t about the suit. Despite having every advantage, for instance, Spider-Man’s able to survive and defeat his enemies because of who he is as a fighter on the inside, and not what the suit provides him. He almost drowns in his high-tech gear, but successfully beats Chitauri technology in an old pair of red tights.  Furthermore, it manages to keep the film interesting by using the technologies that have come from the Chitauri in the aftermath of the first Avengers’ movie. The challenges are still formidable – after all, it had taken a team of six Avengers, much older and much more established than Spider-Man to defeat them the last time. But the context is much more local. The film basically uses what is exciting about villains from outer space without having to involve them at all. So, Parker can be the “friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man” and still be a total bad-ass about it.

There were two other note-worthy things about the form of the film. First, since our protagonist is only 15 years-old, the film needs to feel young. Tom Holland certainly does his part by playing the role to perfection. But beyond that, the film conveys levity and freshness through the use of music. Particularly in the first half of the film, when Spider-Man is established as a superhero, the accompanying music shows that this development is light and fun, rather than serious or epic. But the music doesn’t try to occupy centre-stage like it did in Guardians of the Galaxy (that film did it perfectly, but we don’t want that to become a hack, do we?) It is much subtler, and complements the developments on screen rather than highjacks them.

Second, the film made me think about how movies use flashback. In the scene when Spider-Man has almost been defeated by Vulture, and he must find the strength to get back up and fight, Parker stares at his reflection in a puddle of water that showed his mask as being only a part of his face. As a viewer, I can see that Parker’s dilemma in that moment is about whether he can do what is right when he doesn’t have his suit. This visual is also accompanied by Parker remembering Stark’s words, “If you are nothing without the suit, then you don’t deserve the suit.” In my opinion, this made an otherwise powerful scene too loud. I don’t understand why directors and editors choose to insert scenes or lines we may have previously heard/seen in the film as flashbacks in later scenes. If the film is engaging enough, the audience is already clued in to its tone. Adding extra dialogue is simply unnecessary and leads me to believe that the director considers his/her audience stupid.

In conclusion, Spider-Man: Homecoming can retain all of the charms of being a teenage superhero film while still holding up against the weight of the movies that have preceded this one.

 

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy 1&2: Creating the ultimate fun fantasy

Hello. I know it has been a while. But life (and exams) got in the way. I know Avengers: Endgame is already out. I have already seen it too (thrice). But I believe these are just fun movies to watch and talk about at any time of the year, not just as countdowns to a particular movie. So I am going to continue posting reviews. Without further ado, here goes. Guardians of the Galaxy 1&2… I have reviewed them together because they are similar in style in many ways.

Of all Marvel movies, I have been most sceptical about this one. Before its release, the Guardians were a relatively lesser known group of the Marvel Universe. Not having been a superhero fan until recently, I didn’t know anything about it other than what the thumbnail on Netflix chose to show me. When I first saw Guardians characters in Avengers: Infinity War, I wasn’t thrilled. They were too unfamiliar, and with everything going on in the movie, the writers spent little time introducing each character (Infinity War is the one movie that Marvel didn’t even pretend could work as a stand-alone film.) When Guardians came up on my list, I was prepared to be bored and uncomfortable. And the movie is anything but that.

Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, engaging and imaginative. It has some really trippy visuals. There are two things, however, that make this movie special. First, the concept. The protagonists in the movie all different creatures belonging to different planets. For me, just the thought that there could be a group of people (and a genetically enhanced racoon and a humanoid tree) who are touring through outer space and having crazy adventures blows my mind. It is the ultimate fantasy – a group of outsiders getting front row seat to the secrets of the universe. And props to the makers for taking this concept and using it to tell interesting stories.

The second thing that is special about Guardians is the use of music. The film features an awesome mix of tracks by different artists (all compiled into a cassette appropriately labelled ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 1’ and ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 2). And the tracks are used to carry the narrative forward by managing the viewers’ emotional responses to the scenes on screen. For instance, in Guardians Vol. 2, the opening credits are set to Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra. The opening credits features the Guardians defeating a giant space monster. Since the film is just starting out, however, the makers don’t want the audience to feel any tension from the action. The scene serves to establish the next few scenes in the movie, remind us who the characters are and start a little bit of the action off. But the addition of the song brings levity to the scene. Similarly, the first few action sequences are also set to songs. We still get to enjoy all of the action in a traditional Marvel movie but its funnier and lighter. Once the principal conflict of the film has been established, however, the songs begin to fade away. Action sequences towards the end are almost always about struggling to survive and save the world (in this case, the universe), and the viewer needs to feel the characters’ adrenaline. Chase sequences (that were similar to the ones in the beginning) suddenly appear grittier. Guardians is perhaps the only movie to have used music so strategically. The only other film I can think of that did this is Thor: The Dark World, where music intensifies the emotions in the scene following Frigga’s death.

And there you have it. My complete 180 on Guardians of the Galaxy. And after watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I can’t wait to see these characters return in Infinity War and Endgame.

 

Observing the use of music was a new exercise for me. Going forward, I want to pay closer attention to this aspect of films.