Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home 2021

Directed by Jon Watts. Screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, (based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko).

The film opens immediately after Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), where Spider-Man is revealed to the world as Peter Parker. In desperation to regain a normal life, he turns to Doctor Strange for help but a spell goes wrong and characters from alternate realities appear in his world.This is the third installment of the current Spider-Man franchise under the Sony/Marvel deal, with Tom Holland in the titular role. He’s joined again by Zendaya, Jacob Batelon, Jon Favreau and Marissa Tomei plus many returning characters from the previous films and Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong and J. K. Simmons are also appearing.

Of course, there have been other relatively recent iterations of this beloved comic book character, played by Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire (my personal favourite web spinner), and this movie brings all three together. Added to the mix are villains from these previous films too, played again by Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church and Willem Dafoe.

The premise of bringing together so many characters from previous films is bold but not unheard of (Marvel’s Avengers movies anyone?) and I have to confess, I was afraid this would be yet another shallow exercise in fan service, which is my feeling about some of the recent Star Wars and Star Trek releases. This is especially true of season two of Picard, (currently streaming on Amazon Prime in Australia) which is rapidly becoming my biggest disappointment of 2022. This time, Patrick Stewart’s Picard is crossing swords with not only the Borg Queen but also John de Lancie, reprising his role as Q, (a kind of intergalactic Loki) one of my all time favourite Star Trek roles. But a lot of what made these characters so very special back in the day has been lost in the cocoon of nostalgia that engulfs this series.

What should be exciting, dangerous and new is lost, with fine actors being placeholders rather than extensions of their previous roles. It doesn’t move their stories forward, resulting in Picard feeling hollow, insincere and (it galls me to say this) boring, whereas Spider-Man: No Way Home feels surprisingly fresh and at times, incredibly moving.

And I think the key is in the screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. All our Spidey’s are written to behave and react true to their particular characters. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man has come to terms with it all, very calm, very zen; Andrew Garfield’s emotionally damaged version gets the support and validation he needed – if only from his other selves; and Tom Holland’s man-child is still trying to be everything for everyone.

They’re all striving to be better men and the script gives them space to do that – in surprisingly redemptive ways. And the same can be said for the returning villains, (particularly Molina, Foxx and Dafoe) who are all just as horrible as they ever were, but through a good script they’re given room to grow.

Naturally, it also helps to have a massive budget to employ people like Mauro Fiore (one of the great action cinematographers currently working) as DoP and the small army of specialists required to create special effects that are smooth and surprisingly seamless.

This film is a joy from start to finish. Spider-Man: No Way Home is available to rent or buy through Amazon Prime but was recently released on DVD and Blu Ray world wide. If you like fan service done right, this is very highly recommended.

Spider-Man: Far From Home *NO SPOILERS*

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Directed by Jon Watts

A quick review tonight. We’re in the midst of flu season here in Tasmania and this is the first chance I’ve had to get to a cinema to see this movie.

This was always going to be a difficult film, coming after the high drama of Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019) but for the most part this is a fun, surprisingly frothy romp around Europe with Peter Parker and his school friends. While I’m definitely not in the target demographic for this, I really related to the awkward teen moments of Peter, MJ and co.

As one would expect this far into the franchise, Marvel’s visual effects are up to their usual high standard and the production values generally are what I’ve come to really appreciate. But I felt there were issues with how the narrative works and particularly the motivations of the villain not being plausible. In Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Vulture was a fully realised bad guy, with very believable reasons for his actions, but here I couldn’t find the same rationale.

There’s an old maxim in writing that says you can never have a really satisfying protagonist without a fully formed antagonist. Without heading into spoiler territory, our main villain and his happy band of hench-people just didn’t ring true to me. That amount of maniacal, mad scientist level vitriol and egotism was something I’d expect to see in the 70s cartoons, not the urbane, hip, 21st century MCU.

Nevertheless, this is still a solid entry, with a great central performance from Tom Holland who balances the awkward teen who just wants to be a normal kid and the smart, heroic action hero. He is undoubtedly now my favourite Spider-Man. The rest of the cast are just as strong, and it was lovely to see Jon Favreau and Marissa Tomei having a ton of fun as Happy Hogan and Aunt May. The final set piece is really very satisfying and though this isn’t my favourite film in the franchise, it’s still a rollicking good ride.

Do stay for the very end, the two cut scenes are not only very funny but also nod to future directions for the MCU Phase 4.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios. Directed by Jon Watts.

It’s Saturday night and I’ve just got home from the movies. I wanted to see Edgar Wright’s latest release, Baby Driver and probably should’ve seen Wonder Woman (yes I know, it’s shameful I haven’t seen it yet!) but I’m really pleased I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming!

From the opening credits that riffed the Avengers theme music around the old Spiderman TV series theme, this was fun! Tom Holland is really excellent as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and at 21 can just about pass for a geeky, awkward 15 year old high school student who’s discovered he has superpowers. And I think that’s what I really found charming about this film, it was as much a coming of age story as a superhero film. The scenes that involved the young cast were really well done, and although not aimed at a middle aged audiences like me, I really found myself caring about those kids. My standouts were Ned, beautifully played by Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend and Zendaya (playing against type) as the mouthy and happily dysfunctional Michelle.

Among the grown ups present, Michael Keaton made a wonderful villain as Adrian Toomes/Vulture, Marisa Tomei was sympathetic and lovely as Aunt May and of course, Robert Downey Jr. ate up every scene he was in. I was really pleased to see Jon Favreau reprising his role as Happy Hogan too.

A lot has been said about the necessity for yet another reworking of this franchise for the big screen, but I think the Marvel makeover was warranted and definitely a success. I do think it owes a great deal to the Sam Rami 2002 Spider-Man – especially the school scenes. I still think Rami’s take on the material was excellent for two of his three films and today, somewhat underrated. But this is Marvel, so the set pieces are well choreographed, intense and the CG is for the most part very well done. Unlike some of their more recent efforts, the final battle didn’t overstay its welcome and like most of the MCU features, this film made great use of music. The scene with Spidey swinging around New York to The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Pop” was fabulous.

Perhaps above all, this movie made me laugh out loud more than once, and I left the cinema with a smile on my face – a fun popcorn movie 😀