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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Doctor Average

Doctor Strange has got a lot working for it. It’s the first sorcerer story in the MCU. The special effects are mostly visually stunning. The titular character is played by the beautiful Benedict Cumberbatch. It features another infinity stone. Music is used very well. And the plot is actually quite decent. But the promise of this film is left unfulfilled by poor writing. The writers have paid much attention to developing the character of Doctor Stephen Strange. Unfortunately, other parts of the story do not get a similar treatment. The movie is not as dumb as Ant-Man, but it gets close in parts.

Doctor Strange has a strange villain problem (#pungamestrong #Sorrynotsorry). It has two villains, and neither of them do justice to the film. From the very beginning of the film, we know Kaecilius is formidable. He also has a reasonably well-defined agenda. The problem is that he just lacks any personality or charisma. I couldn’t seem to care about him at all. The other antagonist is the Dark Lord Dormamu who wants to take over the Earth. I actively hated Dormammu. He is a piece of bad CGI and has no explicit motivation in his desire for the Earth. The conflict in this case relies exclusively on action in order to shine. To be fair, the special effects used are somewhat palliative in this case. It is a lot of fun to see different tricks being employed during action sequences. But I kept thinking how much better it would have been with a villain who made his presence felt or at least gave a damn. I also found Tilda Swinton’s character underwritten. I love Swinton’s presence in the movie, but her character also left me with more questions than answers. For instance, why did she have to draw power from the Dark Dimension? What did she do with those powers? Since the Dark Dimension is such a crucial part of the film, these questions definitely needed answering.

Now that I’ve finished hating on the movie, let me tell you what I absolutely loved – Benedict Cumberbatch shines in the movie. His character is extremely well written, and he essays the role perfectly. From the arrogant, almost insufferable doctor at the beginning of the movie, to a dedicated student of magic, to understanding that his gifts are not for his sake, but they are his to give to the world, Strange has a strong character arc. His evolution is what makes this film feel delightful when it does. It I also nice, I must say, to see an infinity stone being used strategically rather than being feared or weaponised. It shows that the infinity stones can be used in specific ways. Their power does not lie only in blowing things up (as shown in other movies).

Beyond this, I don’t have a lot to say for this movie. It’s a mid-range film through and through.