With Great Cameos Come Great Nostalgia: My Unpopular Thoughts on “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I finally had the opportunity to see Spiderman: No Way Home. The film hit theaters six months ago, but since I have a) small kids; b) a wife who actually likes these kinds of movies; and c) no time to get away for a movie date with her, I resigned myself to small-screen viewing. I even waited until I was able to get the film for free from my local library (support your local libraries, gang).

Finally, after months of anticipation and trying very hard to avoid major plot spoilers (I couldn’t avoid them all, so I knew about most of the cameos already), I sat down and watched the movie.

And it was…fine?

MCU Later

I remember seeing Iron Man in the theater back in 2008 with two good friends of mine. The three of us absolutely geeked out when Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows and said the words “Avengers Initiative,” and I was an MCU mark ever since. Even the Marvel films that weren’t quite as good (sorry, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3) were still great because I was 100% bought into the epic plotline. Captain America was my guy (#TeamCapForLife), and every new film that filled out the sprawling Infinity Saga was an absolute joy, culminating in Avengers: Endgame and one of my favorite images in all of cinematic history.

“No. You move.”

Once Endgame closed the book on the main storyline I’d been following, I started to lose interest in what came next. I understand, times change and actors move on, so you rotate in new characters with new histories and plot lines. But when you couple the loss of iconic characters like Iron Man and Captain America with the introduction of new narrative threads that seem to be written to make ideological statements rather than tell good stories, my interest really starts to wane. I watched the direct-to-streaming Black Widow; it was decent. I enjoyed some of the Disney+ Marvel series like WandaVision, Loki, and Hawkeye. (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should have been great, but it really left me cold. Plus Bucky should get the shield; I won’t budge on that fact.)

In other words, Marvel Phase Four doesn’t really do it for me. I almost watched Shang-Chi, and I heard it was pretty good, but I just never cared enough to commit for 2 hours. I passed on Eternals because I heard enough about the plot and content that I knew it would just tick me off. From what I gather, Doctor Strange 2 is weird and dark and could be fun, but making Wanda OP and focusing the whole plot on America Chavez is kind of a buzzkill. I’m not even going to bother with Love and Thunder, because Jane Foster as “The Mighty Thor” was a stupid idea when the comics rolled it out in 2015 and it’s stupid now. Thor is a name, not a title.

Okay, okay, enough blather. That’s a long way of saying, when it comes to the Spider-man films, I consider Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as the last of the old guard. I like his performances and thought they stood up to (if not exceeded) the best of the other two big-screen adaptations. Since I found myself ready to move on from pursuing any new Marvel entertainment, I figured No Way Home would be the last Marvel movie I’d actively seek out to watch. I’m not saying I’ll boycott future Marvel films; I just don’t expect I’ll care much either way. Plus, it sounded like NWH was universally adored, so I’d be going out with a bang.

Which is why No Way Home ended up falling short of my (overly-inflated) expectations.

[SPOILERS HENCEFORTH–YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.]

Your Friendly Neighborhood Teenaged Melodrama

The first half of No Way Home was okay but I found myself siding with Doctor Strange–I was getting increasingly exasperated with Peter. So much of the narrative’s first half falls into the trope of “complication caused by grown[ish] people not having a simple conversation”–in this case, Peter not realizing he could reach out to the MIT Admissions office and plead for his friends’ case. I know, I know: he’s just a teenager, he’s got big stuff going on, cut him some slack. But that’s just the thing: I found myself becoming frustrated with the character and realized it’s another case in which I’m shifting from sympathizing with a story’s young protagonist to siding with the mentor/adult. Middle-age comes at you fast, man.

I was also annoyed by Peter’s response to otherworldly supervillains being “I can fix them!” There’s so much about these people that Peter didn’t know, but his naïve assumption that they just needed rehabilitation or a helping hand was sweet but pretty stupid on the face of it.

And yes, I realize that the narrative beats of the movie essentially justified Peter’s idealism, but that made zero sense to me. Flint Marko? Stupidity and bad luck turned him into Sandman; he could be turned around, sure. I’ll even buy Doc Ock’s restoration, since it was established that he was being mind-controlled by the tentacles. But Norman Osbourne? No. Norman Osbourne became the Green Goblin because the goblin was always inside him, even before he injected himself with serum. His greed, his lust for power, his willingness to cut corners and succeed at all cost were part of his character. The serum only magnified it.

Peter’s (and May’s) apparent belief that there’s no such thing as an irredeemable bad guy is short-sighted and foolhardy. Hey Pete, remember a guy named Thanos? Big, purple, wrinkly chin, Malthusian maniac committing planetary genocide across the galaxy? That experience alone should have showed Peter Parker that some guys just can’t be reached. And as a result of Peter and Co.’s foolish idealism, they put the lives of everyone in their condo building (and the wider city) at risk, and May is killed by Green Goblin as a result.

Finally–FINALLY–things start getting interesting when the other Spider-men enter the narrative.

Web-Slinger, Perspective-Bringer

I finally started enjoying the movie in earnest when Ned opened some portals (never mind that this is a skill that took students of the Ancient One concerted effort and practice to learn and yet Ned pulls a “Rey” and derps his way into it) and pulls in Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker from the Sam Raimi trilogy and Andrew Garfield’s Peter from the Amazing Spiderman films. Having these two actors inhabit these characters and interact with each other and Tom Holland was an absolute breath of fresh air. Their comedic banter and brotherly teasing/encouragement made me wish the trio were onscreen for most of the film instead of the last 45 minutes or so.

The unexpected benefit of bringing in these two alternate versions of Spiderman (whom I’ll call TM and AG for simplicity’s sake) is that the narrative deepened from a simple story about rehabilitating multiversal miscreants to wrestling with the impact of loss, regret, and vengeance. TM’s Peter talks about carrying the weight of Uncle Ben’s death for years before making peace with it, while AG’s Peter admits that he let his anger at the loss of Gwen Stacy get the better of him, leading him down a darker path. They each warn Tom Holland’s (TH’s) Peter of the dangers he faces in the wake of Aunt May’s murder.

Each of the alternate Spider-men also got a particular moment to shine. For AG, it was the mid-air rescue of MJ, which provided a surprisingly poignant moment in which he lowers her to the ground and asks if she’s okay. Then MJ sees that AG-Peter’s eyes are filling with tears and she asks if *he’s* okay. That one got me, gang. Andrew Garfield brought more emotional weight in that moment than most of the movie had up to that point. For TM, it was the climax of the final fight, as the TH-Peter was about to bring the Green Goblin’s glider down on him (one-upping the Goblin’s previous onscreen death by turning mere inaction into murderous intention). At the last moment, TM’s Peter slides in between the two and grabs the glider to prevent the death-blow (perhaps intended to be in a visual echo/counterpoint to the shocking violence of John Walker in FATWS). TM-Peter talks the new Spider-man down, convincing him not to seek bloody vengeance and allowing for Norman Osbourne to get an antidote serum (again, lame) and be sent home.

In the end, I think what I loved most about having Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprise their incarnations of the web-slinger was that they brought the element that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker most clearly lacked: perspective and experience. They each portrayed Spider-man as an actual man. Those versions of Spider-man seemed to have something interesting to say.

Don’t Look Back–You Can Never Look Back

Look, I can almost hear you screaming at your screen right now, “That’s the whole point about Spider-man!!! He’s a teenager grappling with superpowers!!!” And I agree. That’s what I’m trying to say with this review: I enjoy Spider-man as a comics/film character just fine, but I just can’t relate to him in his current incarnation because I want him to grow up and he’s not doing that in the MCU films thusfar.

Perhaps, you could argue, the resolution of the film–current-era Peter tells Doctor Strange to cast the worldwide forgetting spell, everyone in the wrong universe is sent home, and Peter accepts total relational isolation as a sort of penance for his mistakes–that will force Peter to grow up as a character. It’s possible. That could be interesting, if written well. I just don’t know if it will be, with the current trend of heavy-handed messaging in MCU Phase Four. (Plus, we all know that even though Holland signed on for another trilogy, at least one of those films will be a vehicle for introducing Miles Morales as his eventual replacement.)

In the end, here’s my final analysis of Spider-man: No Way Home: it’s a decently-good Marvel movie that leans heavily on nostalgia, but I think I might just be aging out of the MCU fanbase…and that’s okay. If the film teaches us anything, it’s that you can’t live in the past; at some point, you need to find closure so you can move on to other adventures.

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But hey, I could be completely off-base, with this overly-wordy and possibly terrible take. Feel free to tell me all the ways I’m mistaken in the com-box below, as long as you 1) watch your language, and 2) be respectful. (My com-box, my rules.) I look forward to reading your roasts.

#Blogtober2021 Day 10: Capsule Movie Review of “Wonder Woman 1984”

You may be thinking, “Didn’t this movie come out months ago?”

Yes it did. Welcome to the life of a parent of three littles. We…don’t go to the movie theater much. So my wife and I just finished this one (split over two nights) on DVD a few minutes ago, and I figured I’d give you my raw initial reaction. Ready?

It was fine.

I heard several commentators online talk about how bad and disappointing and woke the movie was, so my expectations were pretty low. But it was fine.

Some of the fight choreography was super-hokey. Some of the dialogue was clunky. The transparent painting of Maxwell Lord as the comics version of DJT was eyeroll-inducing. But the premise was just goofy enough to work, some of the ideas (e.g. truth being essentially the greatest good) were really nice, and the tender father-son moment at the end made me tear up, which was unexpected.

When it comes right down to it, the film stands or falls on the performances of the leads, and Gal Gadot is just excellent as Wonder Woman. She elevates the material. And despite the strained justification for his return, Chris Pine is great on screen and he and Gadot have excellent chemistry.

So yeah. If you haven’t seen it yet but are still planning to, it’s worth a look if you go in expecting it to be middling at best.

I know that sounds like damning with faint praise. It’s really not. I just think I’m at the point where these movies don’t hype me up like they used to. That peaked with Endgame and everything since has been “yeah, okay, sure.” It’s not life-changing. It’s amusement. A-muse. Says it right there in the etymology of the word itself: don’t think to hard about such things.

Anyway, that’s what I got: WW84 is an imperfect but entertaining popcorn movie that benefits from the viewer expecting little and being pleasantly surprised.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below.

“Let Them Fight!”: The4thDave Reviews “Godzilla vs. Kong”

Dramatic Recreation of Title Character to Avoid Copyright Infringement (Hi, Legendary Pictures!)
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We have established already that I’m a mark for Godzilla movies, so I pretty much knew going in what to expect and what not to expect. When you purchase a ticket for a kaiju movie, you’re not looking for deep characterization, complex or thoughtful plotting, or meditative storytelling that reveals something true and surprising about the human condition.

The formula for a successful Godzilla movie is as follows: Godzilla + other monster + smashed buildings + cool visuals and loud noises + extended fight sequences + Godzilla wins = Success/Profit.

Does Godzilla vs. Kong do the job? My (mostly) spoiler-free thoughts below.

Monkey See, Monkey Smash

Up front, the film seeks to put the viewer in Kong’s corner. As a proud member of #TeamGodzilla, this was mildly annoying, but hey, I get it. Godzilla is unrelatable and cold; he’s a hurricane, an unrelenting force of nature (at least until you give him a kid–then things get weird). Kong has a better chance of connecting to the human characters more easily (as we’ve seen in the history of King Kong films), so it make sense from a storytelling standpoint to make him the connection point for our audience stand-ins on-screen. And as the film ramps up and it seems like Godzilla is going rogue and turning against humanity, the humans need the big ape in their corner.

I wasn’t a huge fan of his last “Legendary Monsterverse” film, Kong: Skull Island, mainly because I think it didn’t know what it wanted to be and tried to include too much Acting and Story to be an effective Kong film. (See formula for Godzilla success, above.) That said, I thought the CGI for Kong was really good at that point, and it’s only gotten better. The CGI of Kong’s face and fur in GvK were gorgeous, and it just looked so good on the big screen. (Yes, I watched this in a theater–more on this later.)

In fact, the visuals overall were really stunning in this movie. As I noted previously, the visuals for Godzilla: King of the Monsters were really muddy and dark, so that it was difficult to appreciate the designs of some of the creatures. In GvK, there are beautiful, vibrant vistas that provide the backdrop for these creatures to move and interact, from lush and otherwordly naturescapes to the futuristic neon of bustling urban centers. You can clearly see what is going on at all times, so the fighting and destruction of buildings was crystal-clear and spectacular.

The visuals, the sound design, the fight sequences were all on-point and delivered exactly what I was hoping for.

Unfortunately, the acting and plot also met my (low) expectations.

Cameo, Friend of All Actors

(That was a very weak Gamera reference; you’re welcome.)

Okay, let’s talk plot: it was…let’s be kind and say it was “busy.” But that’s the thing, gang: you probably shouldn’t expect the plot to make much sense. This is part of the whole Godzilla mythos.

In the Toho days, there were all sorts of bonkers plans to try to stop the big guy. Weird, stupid, nonsensical pseudo-science that “just has to work because it’s our only hope!” This movie was no different. I won’t give anything away, but characters were throwing out terms like “gravitational inversion” and “psionic connection” and “living super-computer” like these were sensible, logical terms. It’s gibberish. It’s fine. Eat your popcorn.

The biggest flaw of this movie is frankly that there are too many human characters with not enough to justify their presence, while other characters from the previous films are all but forgotten. Fine actors like Kyle Chandler are given just a few scenes, while characters like Charles Dance’s villainous Alan Jonah are completely ignored in this movie (which doesn’t make sense due to how the post-credits scene from KOTM *should* have played into this film!).

There are essentially 2 groups of human characters, which I’ll call Team A and Team B. Team A has somewhat of an impact on the storyline. They make the choices that drive the action, but really only serve as faciliators to the spectacle. They don’t change anything fundamentally, because in this franchise, the humans are either provacateurs or spectators. This other group of humans includes Befuddled White Guy, Mother Figure, Villain Stand-In, and Little Girl Ape-Whisperer. Do they have names? Sure, but who cares. They have functions and that’s all we need right now. Hush now. Sip your soft drink.

Team B’s sub-plot is more-or-less pointless other than to provide a reveal that honestly could have happened without them (sorry, Millie Bobby Brown). This plot arc follows the antics of Comic Relief Guy, Heroic Young Woman, and Overweight Male Sidekick Who Provides One Single Moment of Usefulness. Other than that one key event (that could have been done any number of ways), they did not impact the storyline at all. At times, it just felt like a necessary vehicle because MBB is still a bankable rising star and the producers think that will get the kids into the seats. (As if the headliners aren’t sufficient!)

I’m being facetious, obviously, but let’s get real here. You didn’t pay your ticket price or HBO Max subscription fee to focus on the human beings in this one. You wanted to see the monsters. And that’s what you got. The humans are glorified subtitles segueing from plot point to plot point.

It sounds like I’m criticizing the film. I’m not.

This is what I came here for.

The Main Event: A Three-Round Championship Bout

And in the end, was I satisfied? Of course I was. This movie was a blast.

The three main fight sequences were thrilling and visceral. There was enough back-and-forth to convince you that Godzilla and Kong are at least competitive, if not equals. When they joined forces to square off against a third combatant, the action ramps up even more.

You know it’s a good action sequence when you find yourself phsically tensed up and flinching one way or the other as you’re watching it.

Now, I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers so far, but I feel compelled to say the following, so put your [SPOILER EARMUFFS ON] and skip to the next section if you don’t want to be spoiled:

While the filmmakers try their best to keep it even and ambiguous, there’s no doubt in my mind that Godzilla proved to be superior. Kong needed human assistance and/or weapons to beat Godzilla, and Godzilla essentially killed Kong at the end, before he was revived. The only reason Mecha-Godzilla almost beat Godzilla was because he had just finished fighting Kong and was exhausted/hurt. Having Godzilla and Kong take down the mech together and then give begrudgingly respect as they each retreated to their home base was a perfect way to end this film and leave the door open for future sequels. (I’m still holding out home for a Godzilla vs. Mecha-Ghidorah storyline–I’m just saying, there are 2 more heads out there somewhere.)

Okay, [SPOILER EARMUFFS OFF].

Support Your Local Moviehouse

I’ve been looking forward to this movie since it was announced…and delayed…and delayed again. With the way that the pandemic seemed to be threatening the economic landscape and the nature of how we consume entertainment, I had serious concerns about whether or not I would get to see this movie in a theater in all its big, dumb, loud glory.

Thankfully, as we seem to be moving toward the end of the pandemic’s grip on society, movie theaters have started reopening, and I was able to go with a group of friends and sit in a nearly-empty movie theater to watch this spectacle exactly as it was intended to be seen.

Before the show started, we settled into our seats, overpriced snacks in hand. The atmosphere was almost giddy, as we chatted through the previews for Fast and Furious 9, Free Guy, Black Widow, and a few other upcoming features. Then, the show began. We cheered, we laughed, we commented up and down the row at different points. And as the lights came up and the end credits rolled, we laughed and joked as we walked out of the theater, revelling in what we had experienced together.

It had been about a year and a half since I’d sat in a movie theater. And while my movie-going outings have become more scarce in recent years since I became a parent, I still got out once in a while, either on a date with my wife or on a Saturday morning with friends. When the pandemic shut down the theaters, I was concerned that this was the end of an era for moviegoing. While it was unlikely that theaters would go away entirely (at least at this point), I started to question if the era of the big megaplex theater was coming to an close.

Hopefully, as the world bounces back from Covid through better treatments, vaccine availability, and smarter health practices, we can get back to “normal”–or at least a better version of “normal”–so that things like live sports and movie theaters become part of our cultural experience again. There’s something special about sitting with your friends (or a hundred strangers) in a darkened theater and enjoying the excitement and spectacle of a blockbuster movie as a group. Moviegoing is a communal event, a shared experience. It’s not just about the movie itself; it’s the whole process–tickets, concessions, the seats, the conversations on the way in and on the way out. It would be a shame to lose all of that. I hope we don’t.

So here’s my final recommendation: Godzilla vs. Kong was a silly, senseless spectacle of smashing that should be enjoyed in a movie theater. Grab a group of friends, buy a big ol’ tub of popcorn and a soda, and have a great time.