It’s been a long time since we had a good Spider-Man movie, 13 long years in fact. Since Spider-Man 2 back in 2004, a masterpiece of the superhero genre that still stands up as one of the best of all time, we’ve had several attempts to keep the web-slinger going. Spider-Man 3 was a complete mess, overloaded with villains and led by a far-too-old Tobey Maguire, not to mention the horrific emo dance sequence, while the Amazing Spider-Man pair of films tried too hard to update the series for “modern sensibilities” (whatever that means) and the results were uninspired and extremely dull. I’d come to believe that as long as Sony still held the rights to the wall-crawler, one of my favorite comic book heroes, we’d be doomed to mediocre reboot after mediocre reboot, never again having a Spider-Man movie worthy of the name.
So imagine my surprise when a deal was reached between Sony and Marvel/Disney and Spider-Man wound up being one of the best parts of Captain America: Civil War. And now here we are, with Tom Holland’s first full outing in the famous red and blue spider suit, and the results are pretty impressive. Spider-Man: Homecoming is naturally the best Spider-Man movie in 13 years, although that’s really not saying much. It’s a lot of fun, one of the funniest movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it gets a lot of things right. It’s not perhaps the home run one might be hoping for, but it’s solidly in the top half of MCU films, getting a lot about the character of Peter Parker right, while managing to tie in cleverly with the larger universe of films. Oh, and Tony Stark is in it, getting a little redemption after his last outing in Civil War.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps expanding, seemingly showing no signs of stopping. Each new film brings us new heroes to fight new villains, new locations or planets filled with people to save, and new clashes and conflicts to bring characters together or drive them apart. But while Doctor Strange certainly continues the trend, it broadens the universe in entirely new ways, pushing not only the boundaries of superhero storytelling but of visual craftsmanship. It’s a mind-bending head trip of a film, which attempts to introduce a spiritual aspect to an otherwise science fiction series, all while serving up some of the most creative and exhilarating action sequences in recent memory. Doctor Strange may stick to the tried and true Marvel origin story formula, but it’s a fun ride anchored by a strong cast and impressive effects, and it offers an intriguing glimpse into the potential future of this ever-expanding Universe.
Since I seem to have less and less time to work on the blog these days, I thought I’d try something new this week. I’ve collected some of the major movie (and TV) news stories this week that caught my eye and written up my instant reactions. This allows me to have something to post on the blog but without requiring me to sit down for an hour (or two or three or ten) at a time to write them. I’m going to be working on some new ways to get content out quicker here on the blog in a way that fits into my work/life balance a little better, even if it means going against my instincts and posting shorter, less in-depth articles. Keep an eye peeled for more in the coming weeks, provided I don’t fall farther off the face of the earth in the meantime. Thanks for reading!
George Lucas not involved with writing of Indiana Jones 5
And there was much rejoicing… except from me. I know most people will be thrilled if George Lucas is kept far away from everything, particularly Indiana Jones. The response to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was… rough, let’s say, and it’s sure to be a relief that he won’t be involved with the story side of the next Indiana Jones movie (he’ll still be an executive producer). But it makes me sad. I loved Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and I’ve repeatedly defended the Star Wars prequels. Is Lucas a fantastic writer? No, of course not. He’s crafted some truly clunky dialogue and some annoying characters. But he is a superb storyteller. The problem for many is that he has no interest in tailoring his stories to meet audience expectations. He makes the stories he wants to make, and doesn’t care if people would rather see something else. I think that’s admirable even if it does upset fans and isn’t exactly the most profitable way to make movies. I can’t blame anyone for preferring The Force Awakens to the prequels, as The Force Awakens was the biggest helping of fan-service ever dished out by a major studio, but I’d rather see the story the creator originally intended. Regardless, I’m still excited for more Indiana Jones, especially since Spielberg is still involved, and if this helps more people to be as well then so be it. I’ve just heard enough George Lucas bashing to last a lifetime, and every new story just seems like an excuse for more.
Marvel Addressing Gender Inequality
Apparently, Marvel Studios is attempting to create a more gender equal work environment. Victoria Alonso, the VP of physical production for Marvel, said that things “should be 50/50” when it comes to making movies. I love this, and I desperately hope it’s true. Marvel is a major powerhouse in the movie industry right now, and if they make a strong effort to have a gender balanced workplace, particularly at the top, then their continued success would hopefully inspire other studios to follow suit. There’s always the possibility that this is just lip service (the remarks were delivered at a Women in Technology event), but I really want Marvel to follow through on this. Imagine Marvel Universe were half of the films are written, produced, and directed by women! So far, the MCU TV shows have been far more gender balanced both onscreen and behind the scenes than the films are, and diversity is always a good thing. Now if only they can be convinced to be as proactive about racial diversity and LGBTQ inclusion.
Shaun the Sheep 2
Shaun the Sheep was one of my favorite films last year, even though I never actually got around to reviewing it. I’ve been a fan of Aardman forever, since the first time I saw a Wallace and Gromit short, and Shaun the Sheep fit right into their catalog of films. It was so refreshing, almost a silent movie, both hilarious and sweet and old-fashioned. It was the sort of movie that works perfectly for all ages, and I wish more movies would be willing to take a risk and slow things down to let the filmmaking breathe. So I’ll be first in line for Shaun the Sheep 2, whenever they get around to releasing it. Hopefully by then our first child (due next year) will be old enough to watch it!
Pixar date switch
In interesting news this week, Pixar switched the release dates of two of their future films, bringing The Incredibles 2 forward a year and delaying Toy Story 4 by a year. Of the two, I’m definitely more excited about The Incredibles 2, so I’m happy we’re getting it sooner. I just can’t seem to muster up much enthusiasm for Toy Story 4, as much as I’ve loved the previous three. I just feel like Woody and Buzz’s story has been told and finished at this point and there’s not much to be gained by returning to the toys’ world. I’m confident that it’ll be very good, especially with Lasseter at the helm once again (even if the last movie he directed was Cars 2), but I just don’t feel the pull from it that I do from another Incredibles movie. The Incredibles seems perfectly situated for a sequel, especially in our current age of wall-to-wall superhero movies. Hopefully Brad Bird and company can deconstruct some of the more modern tropes of the superhero genre in the sequel, all while giving us more insight into the Parr family. However, of all of Pixar’s upcoming films I’m most excited for next year’s Coco, and the fact that supposedly no further sequels are in planning beyond those announced. I loved Finding Dory more than I can say, but I’d still rather have original films over sequels.
Bryan Fuller stepping back from Star Trek: Discovery
The last year’s worth of press for Star Trek: Discovery has been quite the mixed bag. In the positive column has been the news that it will be set in the Prime universe, will feature openly gay cast members and a female lead, and that Star Trek vet Bryan Fuller is in charge. On the other hand the show will only air on the CBS All Access streaming service, will be a prequel series (we’ve tried that before), will be heavily serialized, and “more adult” than previous Trek. Add in the fact that the release date has been a moving target and that production is supposed to start next month despite no cast having been announced and things seemed to be off to a rough start. Well new this week it was announced that Fuller would be stepping back from his showrunner role due to his inability to make sufficient progress for CBS thanks to having too much on his plate. All-in-all, I’d be shocked if Discovery is ready to go in March at this point. I’m still intrigued by what I’ve heard so far, even if the teased ship design for the show was underwhelming, and I’m excited about the promise of having more Prime universe Trek to watch. On the other hand, I hate the idea of subscribing to CBS All Access just for this, and it doesn’t sound like the show has its act together yet. I’m worried that it’ll be either a rushed job or we’ll end up with a show without vision or a rudder.
Sherlock Holmes 3
Warner Bros. has assembled a team of writers to work on a third entry in the Sherlock Holmes series featuring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. I’m ambivalent about this. I’ve enjoyed the series thus far, though the first film was much better than the second, but I don’t feel any pressing need for another. I find Downey and Law entertaining in their roles, and I enjoy the atmosphere of the films (particularly the music), but they’ve been far too action-heavy for my tastes when it comes to Holmes. I’ve read a lot of Doyle, and these movies aren’t anything close to the original stories in terms of style or content. I’m ok with a reinvention, but to make them so action oriented is to miss out on what made Holmes so special. So while I’m sure I’ll eventually see Sherlock Holmes 3, I’m not particularly excited about it. On the other hand, if it means Guy Ritchie will have to drop out of directing a remake of Aladdin for Disney then I’m 100% in favor of more Sherlock. What a bizarre and off-putting choice of Ritchie for Aladdin.
What do you think? Do you have any opinions on the week’s entertainment news? What stories stood out the most to you? What big scoop did I miss? Did any of the reports change your enthusiasm level for upcoming films? Is Star Trek: Discovery doomed to fizzle out with a whimper? Of the many sequels in the news this week which are you looking forward to the most? The least? Will other studios follow Marvel’s lead on gender equality? Should I continue to do these news roundups in the future? What will be the big news next week? Let me know in the comments!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was perhaps my biggest surprise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. While Guardians of the Galaxy came out of nowhere with its unconventional style and Ant-Man managed to impress despite its troubled production, The Winter Soldier blew away all of my expectations. I enjoyed Captain America’s first outing, particularly because of its strong cast, but overall I was underwhelmed by its uninteresting plot. I loved what Joss Whedon did with the character in The Avengers, but I never imagined that The Winter Soldier would be so thrilling. The Russo Brothers brought a very specific cinematic flavor to Captain America, which combined with a witty screenplay, the best action sequences in the MCU, and a willingness to overthrow the establishment to give us a movie that works on many different levels. Following that success, the question of Captain America: Civil War became not “Is it any good?” (because with Marvel’s track record at this point, they have the benefit of the doubt) but “Just how good can it be?” What could the team that brought us The Winter Soldier do with a larger roster of heroes in what could just as easily have been titled Avengers: Civil War? The result is another excellent entry in the Marvel series that, while perhaps not reaching the top tier of what Marvel has to offer, shows that there is still plenty of fuel in Marvel’s tank. Civil War is an exciting, emotional ride with interesting things to say, that is willing to take our heroes in new directions, reshuffling the cards for the next hand that Marvel will deal over the next few years.