07 July 2017

The Uncanny, Spectacular, AND Amazing Spider-Man 6

I do feel we should just call this Spider-Man 6 (2017). Why not? That's totally what it is. Movies do really seem so adverse to reminding viewers how often they've seen the same crap over and over again. Pirates and Transformers are pretty adverse to numbering their installments. But there's a lot of hype with this new Spider-Guy, and possibly rightfully so. It's getting damn good reviews and exists in a holy fusion of popularity: Spider-Man AND the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There hardly seems like anything can go wrong with this one.

"Are you not entertained?!"
There seems to be a lot of hatred towards SONY and their treatment of the web-crawler, but this tends to forget how damn good each of the Sam Raimi Spider-films were (yes, even that one) and how the studio really got that superhero story right in the era of Daredevil (2003) and Fantastic Four (2005). That era seems so nascent now, doesn't it? Well, I've defended Daredevil, too. There's absolutely no denying, though, that the Andrew Garfield spider-films of 2012 and 2014 were wretchedly fucking terrible. That's really a shame, too, because the casting was outstanding, particularly Garfield, who not only had the nimble frame to make a convincing wallcrawler, but was generally a much better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, even if he was a much worse Peter Parker.

Those films seem really really off in just about everything that makes Spider-Man great: the grappling with power and responsibility (first time you've heard that), the teen drama, the metaphor for puberty and learning about the world, and the curse of powers that were thrown at a random science nerd, not born with, trained for, or desired. Then again, anyone who reads a Spider-Man comic ought to know that the character is always wrapped in incomprehensible clone drama, typically runs into villains galore (see Sinister Six, The [2018]), and is definitely steeped in parent-death conspiracies that will make your head fall off. All of that was really captured in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) - it's all awful, but you can't say it isn't true to the character's natural plotting.

After that fiasco that imploded SONY's always-doomed Sinister Six shared universe (or wait...did it? Dude, that's a WHOLE other thing right now), it seemed natural to throw the webhead back into the arms of its creators, who in the past fifteen years have finally done pretty well for themselves in adapting their stories to the big screen. The "Homecoming" in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) always seemed a bit forced to me, even a bit snide. It's an inherently soft title that has all to do with the character's meta-role in the giant comic corporation's schemes (let's face it, Spider-Man is ALWAYS #1 in Marvel), along with the sense of returning to simpler stories, Peter Parker in High School, John Hughes by way of web-shooters and spandex.

This is all good stuff, but at the same time, it's soaked in 'memberberries that feels safe and regressive rather than something weird that pushes the character forward. At the same time, though, it's pretty clear that pushing the character into weird places does nothing but generate awful, awful stories, both in film and comics. For better or worse, Peter Parker tends to work best in High School. Maybe that's because that's how most young nerdy fans identify with him - study every day and you can get randomly bit by a radioactive spider and become ripped and plow the hot redhead you've always had a crush on. It's a huge fantasy that's driven billions of dollars of income into writers and producers' pockets over the years.

Time and time again it seems like Disney is the only studio who knows what it's doing, and it's fairly clear that Homecoming is going to make a ridiculous amount of money this weekend. There is literally no other good film in theaters right now, and Wonder Woman (2017) is about burned off. There's not really many feel good true summer flicks left, either. It's as if Disney was so ahead of the curve they knew that The Dark Knight (2008)-level grittiness would be totally played out in time and audiences would rather bend towards cheeky cheer and fuck yeah they've been successful riding a wave of positive flicks.

In terms of the actual story, characters, and actors presented so far, we got a nice preview in Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) of what Tom Holland can do and his relationship with Rob Downey's Tony Stark, which the marketing has been heavily leaning towards here. I'm not exactly sure why this is even a thing - no one knew who the hell Tobey Maguire was in 2002 and that film exploded that summer. Then again, granted we're now in a much different era. This assuredly rests on the still-wide ranging appeal of Downey's seventh outing as the character and a means of both bridging the gap between the well-established MCU and this new arachnid on the block, and providing a safety net of built-in popularity. Actually, fuck that, this is Spider-Man - that character should have been in an Iron Man movie nine years ago to launch that obscure character. Life got weird, man.

Holland seems capable so far of doing both the Peter Parker and the Spider-Man thing, although his role in CIVIL WAR was admittedly a glorified cameo and we didn't really get to see him do any heavy emotional lifting. I still think the hot Aunt May played by Marisa Tomei is bizarre, but that's my burden to bear. Zendaya and the rest are all basically wild cards, but none look egregiously terrible so far.

I do sort of wish they'd keep Stark out of it and let Spider-Man work on his own, but I sort of get why that has to be a thing now, after they established that relationship in CIVIL WAR. It still seems kind of forced and lame. The biggest thing I'm looking forward to, though, is Mike Keaton as the Vulture, which completes his career path in so many satisfying yet weird ways. I've been actually looking forward to dishing on this for a long time. Let's dig in:

Michael Keaton had some fame in the 80s of course, but blew up really big playing Batman in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). He parodied this while playing a famous actor trying to hide from the stupid emptiness of his superhero past in Birdman (2014), which also drastically criticized the superhero-industrial complex. Now, of course he turns full circle playing the Vulture in Homecoming, the other side of the morality coin, yet still a flying animal-themed character in a superhero flick. Batman - Birdman - Vulture. It's amazing and I hope they lampshade this somehow. It does almost feel like an afterthought since you've got RDJ and Spider-Man himself taking a lot of attention. Apparently he's pretty good, and hopefully he's a solid, intimidating villain.

Let's hope he retains that creepy soul-sucking youth power
Let's get into that for a second, because Spider-Man has one of the best Rogue's Galleries ever. Besides three incarnations of the Green Goblin, we've seen Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Venom, the Lizard, the Rhino, Electro, and now the Vulture on the big screen. I still think we've left out two of the best villains that I never appreciated until I was an adult - Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio. The former has more complex pathos than any other Spider-Villain by far (maybe any villain ever), and the latter would make for some damn good trippy fucking cinema. There are so many other solid B and D-grade villains. Shocker. Boomerang. Speed Demon. Puma. Scorpion. How come there isn't a Scorpion movie?! That's probably the other real big one. Hobgoblin. Demogoblin. Carrion. Maximum Carnage! Apparently Carnage might be in the Tom Hardy Venom movie, but I still think that sounds far too hackneyed to attract Hardy.

This is all to say we could easily have a Sinister Six movie - they're all around. You don't need Alfred Molina, but you could throw together Doc Ock, Sandman, Lizard, Rhino, Electro, and Vulture and get shit done. Just don't make Electro looks like Dr. Manhattan played by Jamie Foxx and Lizard look like Gary Oldman in Lost in Space (1998) and we'll be all good. A lot really comes down to simply good production design, and if the Garfield movies fucked anything up big, it was that.

I've got good feelings about just about everything attached to this film, which is rare for this column. It'll definitely do fine financially, and looks like it's squirming into some good reviews, if only because people are really into this being a good, rewarding film. I do think it needs to do something to stand out amidst both superhero films and Spider-Man films, but if it can wash out the past ten years of bad tastes that fans tend to have, it'll actually be pretty significant.

What do you think?

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