Spider-Man Homecoming – A Spoiler-free Review

How do you talk about a movie without talking about a movie? Do you simply say that it was good or bad, give it a rating, and throw together many words that ultimately don’t mean a thing?

I’m going to go a different route and talk about Spider-Man Homecoming in terms of how it made me feel, rather than the many, many little details and geek-out moments I could share.

It started with the opening, after the Sony logos were done with. I was transformed into a child by the first strains of music, and left wide-eyed as Marvel worked their magic. Every word, every line, every bit of action, every little mention that tied in to something else washed over me as I remained constantly awed by the fact that this was the first Spider-man movie that actually has Spider-Man, as I know him, in it.

The achievement of this film isn’t in the set pieces, the acting, or the directing, all of which are of high quality; instead it’s in the little things, the little details that make Peter Parker seem like a whole person, rather than a limited stereotype. He runs through many emotions through the film, not just a handful, and all of them are given their natural place, rather than being forced.

I give this film a solid 9/10. I’d love to write some of the theories and details I have, but that’ll have to wait until a few more people have seen it.

Doctor Strange – Ayoub’s Spoiler-Free Review

Doctor Strange is not a character I’m overly familiar with, so the latest movie from Marvel Studios had very little to live up to in terms of character canon for me. Of course, it still had to live up to all the other Marvel Studios films.

This film has all the ingredients of the other films in the MCU; humour, a human story, action, and good versus evil, but it felt as if the balance was different. It’s a darker tale than any of the others so far. I have a feeling this was intended as a poke in the eye to the DC bunch – here is a darker story, and yet there are sprinklings of humour, often in the most unexpected of places (when you see it, you’ll see what I mean). At it’s core, however, this is a martial arts film. If there were an Iron Fist movie, it would be somewhat like this one.

While the bad guy is obvious as the bad guy, the film also deals with the concept of using dark power for good, and it deals with it well, but all of that makes the bad guy little more than an excuse to have a film. Other than Loki and Ultron, the bad guys in the MCU haven’t been that impressive, and this film is no different in that respect. Not that this detracts from the story as much as it could.

Now, before I get too tempted to throw in spoilers, I give the film 4/5 stars easily. When you go watch it, there are two end credits scenes. One hints towards Ragnarok, and the other hints towards Doctor Strange 2.

DC vs Marvel – A Tale of Two Theories of Filmmaking

Having seen both Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War, I felt it was time to talk about the differences between the cinematic approaches made by the two biggest comic book dynasties around.

The most glaring difference (without having seen Suicide Squad) is that DC’s films are much more dark and serious in tone than Marvel’s efforts. It’s as if DC saw Marvel’s success and wanted to emulate without cloning, and that was the best way they could think of doing it. I think it goes a little deeper than that.

DC’s Batman comics have been dark and serious for a while, and Superman has also gotten grittier, but both still have more humour in one issue than Batman vs Superman. These stories are working in comic book form because humour, even wry humour, adds another dimension to the characters. Without that the characters would be two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, and that’s how they appeared on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s comics have also changed in some ways. Comparing the first Secret Wars to the latest event, just in the way the stories were told, shows a shift in language: the depiction of the heroes back then had them all sounding much like Thor – Heroic, loquacious, and serious. Today’s Marvel comics, while still action packed, show more well formed characters in that they are people who talk like we do. The comics show all sides, dark and gritty as well as light and fun. They’re more three-dimensional. Marvel have managed to translate this well in their films.

DC’s films tell a story, but one filled with mostly angst-ridden characters who seem to think that all there is in the world is the serious business of fighting crime. Even the people they love pull away from them in tragic pose to try to kick them out of their personal well of angst, but all it does is drive them deeper. It’s almost Twilight-esque (and anyone who knows me knows that is the worst insult I can give a film). Only their villains show any hint of humour, and yes, even that’s dark. They wear their pain on their faces all the time, such that even the rare moments of levity have the weight of pain behind them. It’s the same mistake that Sony made with the first Spider-man trilogy: they took away his wit and replaced it with duty.

Marvel films, while telling a story, present characters. They humanise their heroes. Civil War is so much better than Dawn of Justice because it’s not two relative strangers going head-to-head, it’s two friends. That’s what Zack Snyder forgot in his cursory read of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. In that comic, Superman and Batman were friends, but estranged. They had a long history, which made their estrangement complex and beautifully nuanced to anyone who had read even a smattering of the many crossovers the two giants have had. All of that was abandoned for a wafer-thin reason to show almost exactly the same fight from the comic in the film. DC, in their rush to catch up with Marvel, tried to do in one film what took Marvel six, and ended up with a mess. It’s that legacy that also helps Marvel stay ahead – The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already rich with texture. If The Avengers had been made with none of the previous five films for context, it would have been a mess as well, but it would have still been fun to watch.

This led me to a realisation:

DC wants you to care about the events of their films, while Marvel wants you to care about the characters.

I say this because I found myself having a hard time caring in the last few minutes of Batman vs Superman. I should have cared. I should have felt something for a character that did what he did, but after all the angst, it just seemed a little uncomfortable. I’m skirting around spoilers here, and I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll expand on this with anyone who messages me on Google+. My emotional response to the confrontations in the two films highlighted this difference between the approaches taken with these two films, and it is because of that difference that Marvel will continue to get better reviews than DC.

The problem for DC now is that, if they listen to their critics and go in a more Marvel-like direction with their efforts, then they will have still lost. They will only ever be remembered in cinema history as the other superhero franchise. They need to make people care about the characters in the films, but not by copying Marvel’s formula, and the first thing they need to do to achieve that is to get rid of Zack Snyder. They need someone running the show that understands the characters, and isn’t solely interested in elaborate set pieces. They won’t do this, however, because of the money they made from Batman vs Superman. The initial bubble in ticket sales for that movie inflated it’s gross, and that’s all Warner Brothers and DC care about right now, so it’s not likely that they will change a thing.

Zack Snyder has done what I previously thought impossible: He made a worse Batman film than Batman and Robin. It’s sad, because Ben Affleck did a good job with the material he was given, and while Batman vs Superman has some good points about it, it’s flaws are only magnified when compared to Captain America: Civil War. Maybe the folks over at DC should have a closer look at the universe that Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl are building on TV and take their cues from there.

Captain America: Civil War – Ayoub’s Spoiler-Free Review

I just saw Captain America: Civil War today, because it was released in the UK early, and I’m going to try to calm down and write something that’s not just a long list of words that amount to OMGOMGOMGOMG!

Suffice it to say that the movie gets 5 out of 5 stars from me!

There are three major items I want to discuss, without spoiling anything, and the first of which is T’Challa, the Black Panther.

Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman‘s portrayal of T’Challa was flawless. I had concerns with how the character was progressing initially, but by the end, I was satisfied that he was written faithfully. There were a great deal of fantastic performances, and to stand out in the company of Robert Downey Jr. is not easy, ever, so yeah. It would have been very easy to have T’Challa descend into one of any number of stereotypes, and as it went on, I feared that would happen, until, without fanfare or anything that seemed out of the ordinary, he suddenly gained a whole lot of depth.

The next major item is Spidey.

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Tom Holland has already achieved one thing, as far as I’m concerned, with his portrayal of Spider-Man – he has acted in the best Spider-Man film to date. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield did decent acting jobs with the material they were given, but neither one of them were given material that evoked the same emotional response I had (and still have) when reading Spidey in comic book form. He wasn’t in the movie for a long time, but many of the basic details about the webhead were covered well. I do have one issue, however, and it’s a minor one: Aunt May is not supposed to be sexy! “Aunt May” and “sexy” shouldn’t even be in the same state, let alone the same sentence! But, you can’t take the sexy out of Marisa Tomei… A very minor quibble, to some, but Aunt May has always been portrayed as more of a grandmotherly figure. It will be interesting to see other opinions of that at some point.

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about the story itself. The bad guy in the movie is bland. He’s not memorable at all, but then he’s not really supposed to be. This isn’t a simple tale of good versus evil, like Age of Ultron, or The Avengers. It had much more depth than any of the other Marvel films that came before, and unlike those, has considerably more depth if the other films have been watched. While the other films benefit a little in terms of depth of reference, I feel that there is too much about this one that will go over the heads of people who haven’t seen at least the previous two Captain America movies as well as Avengers and Age of Ultron. This may be an action packed special effects extravaganza, heavily laced with humour and everything else you’d expect from a Marvel Studios film, but I will admit that going in, I feared I would find it lacking in a post Deadpool world. I’m glad to report that it wasn’t lacking at all. I doubt Marvel will be able to pull off an equally deep and engaging story in a hurry. That would be too much to ask, I think. It’s not that the future Marvel films will not be good, far from it, but this was more than a black and white tale of good versus evil.

Like I said above, this film gets a full 5/5 from me. All I can say is that if you’ve enjoyed the Marvel films to date, go watch it as soon as you can!

Matt vs Batman Vs Superman: The Review of Justice

(Note: This review contains no story line spoilers that were not obvious in the trailers)
So when Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice premiered in Hollywood, the fan reaction was amazing. People were posting far and wide about how amazing it was. That is until the critics had a say. A movie that premiered on Rotten Tomatoes at 95% Fresh (based on viewer response and is currently 71% for that same metric) only comes in at a 31% Fresh for critics. So who is right, the audience or the critics? I am here to tell you both.
Lets start with the good.

  • It is a beautiful movie with a lot of very cool artistic sequences that I am positive will be translated by someone to the comics, if not other media. One particular scene at the very beginning of the movie struck me as a great twist on something we have seen many many times. Also, the scene where we show Superman’s battle with Zod and crew from Bruce’s standpoint is a sight to behold.
  • Batman, while not incredibly comic book accurate, is EASILY the closest version to the comics to date. When the movie “Batman” (2020) starring Ben Affleck finally releases, I suspect it will take the place of “Batman” (1989) as my favorite Batman movie. He is dedicated, he is incredibly smart, he is a complete asshole and he beds random women. More to the point, he is a detective who has dedicated his life to fighting the bad guys. More on my opinion on that can he read here.
  • Superman LEARNED from Man of Steel. My biggest gripe about that movie was how he handled the fight in it. While not directly, it is addressed in this movie. Superman IS much closer to the pillar of virtue we expect him to be.
  • We introduce a female superhero and no one is screaming (or even inferring)  “equality”. It does not seem shoe horned in and it seems natural that she is there. Lets face it, we need more female superheroes and believe me when I say, Wonder Woman kicks some major ass!
  • The Batmobile is ALMOST as cool as the Tumbler from The Dark Knight movies, making it the second coolest Batmobile ever.

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Now the bad:

  • There were three sequences, all linked, that were horrible. Like actively upset me and made me want to yell at the screen type of stuff. They were all related to Batman and if they were cut I would have been MUCH happier with this movie.
  • Batman killed people. That is my one problem with his character in this movie.
  • There were a couple sequences where you didn’t know where someone was. Is Gotham right across the water? Are we in Metropolis now? Where are people going? What is going on? There is a lot of that in this movie.

Notes:

  • Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is much better than expected. Not great, but lets be honest, we have never had a great Lex Luthor on the large screen. (Spacey did the best acting, but it was written extremely poorly).
  • The pacing was done much better than most “someone vs someone” story lines. Often times those stories don’t give enough time (or too much time) to the true villain of the story.
  • About three quarters of the way through the movie, a VERY obvious comic book fact is mentioned that I never realized and I feel like an idiot because it’s so obvious (and has been since 1938). By the sounds in the theater, I am not alone in not realizing it. Keep an eye (ear?) out for it.
  • People were upset that Gal Godot was playing Wonder Woman. They were worried that someone with such a small frame could not play the part of a warrior. Stop worrying. She did great and looked the part.

So yes, it was a fun movie to watch, I might even go see it again, this time in 2D (as you tend to lose details in 3D). I do suggest comic book fans go to see it, just don’t expect greatness and prepare for some brief scenes that you wish weren’t there. Don’t listen to the critics, make your own decision about the movie. IMHO, this was much better than Man of Steel, and not just because Batman was in it.

I give this movie 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Deadpool – Ayoub’s Opinion

This is not a review of the Deadpool movie. There are a great many of them around, and many of the positive ones have covered any points I would make in the way that I would make them. What I’m writing here is an opinion on what this movie means, and why we should celebrate that it saw the light of day.

Outside of Marvel’s own movies, too many of the other films based on comic books have been one director or another’s “interpretation” of that comic. Take for example the portrayal of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where some writer or director decided that the Merc with the Mouth shouldn’t have a mouth, or Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, where Galactus was turned into a cloud. These two are examples of a lack of respect or knowledge of the characters by the people making the films.

Deadpool marks the first non-Marvel Studios movie that attempts to be somewhat faithful to the source material. From one point of view, the Deadpool movie is more faithful to the character simply because the @#!&ing language isn’t censored the way it is in the comics. The biggest departure from the source material is the dead pool itself. In the comics, the dead pool was part of the Weapon X facility. Also, the absence of Ajax’s boss, Doctor Killebrew, seems odd. It’s clear in the movie that Ajax has a boss, but he or she is never mentioned.

Despite the changes, watching the Deadpool movie feels like reading the comic. The movie gets away with breaking all the rules because that’s how the character works in the comics, and the only way to make a Deadpool movie that will not be universally panned by every fan is to make it this way.

But why is this a good thing? Why should it be celebrated?

Because the success of this film should be a wake-up call, not only to the other studios with rights to comic book characters, but to Marvel Studios as well: It proves that making a film without major changes to a beloved character can work. It proves that making changes for the sake of making changes, or purely through the hubris of the studios thinking they can “improve” on the source, is not necessary. Deadpool works because it has been made by people who care about the source material, and by people who seem to be fans. They aren’t experimenting, and they aren’t setting off on creative tangents.

If the studios are paying attention, they’ll hopefully see that they need to rein in their teams, or find teams who are actual fans, and see what they can come up with in terms of telling the stories in a faithful, yet impressive way, otherwise we’ll never see a good Fantastic Four film, or a good Punisher film. I’m also hoping that Fox themselves pay attention and stop trying to stray too far from canon in the X-Men films.

The people behind Deadpool, led by Ryan Reynolds, have broken the mould by staying faithful to the mould, and that is why this film is important. Let’s hope for more of the same.