The Thing about Cinematic Universes..

Let’s ignore the fact that I disappeared for a few months because life is crazy and just go into a deep dive on Cinematic Universes. So I recently, like a few optimists out there, watched the movie known as “Justice League”. I also, like a majority of the population, saw “Thor Ragnarok”. Additionally, me and a few other nerds on r/marvelstudios spent weeks praying for a trailer for “Avengers: Infinity War” that was given to us last week and blew all of our minds…and just happened to break the record for most viewed movie trailer on Youtube.

I know that not writing reviews for either Thor or Justice League were very out of character for me (although not as out of character as Batman was…), so just to be really quick about it:

  • I loved “Thor: Ragnarok”. It was unexpected, the improv feel made me happy, I got to see more obscure comic book things I never thought I’d see on the big screen, sure it was pretty weightless on the universe when compared to the Ragnarok comic book but I’m fine if we goof off with Thor and Hulk before we get real for “Black Panther” and before the potential for a major shake-up in the next two Avengers movies. Lastly, Jeff Goldblum is a national treasure and I won’t accept anything less.
  • “Justice League”…I’m not mad, I’m just frustrated. There is a decent movie in here bogged down by unfortunate tragedy behind the scenes, bad production decisions separate from that, and absolutely horrible executive decisions. However, the more I think/talk about it, the more I actually do get mad because it finally became very obvious that whoever is making the decisions behind the DCCU doesn’t actually care about the characters and what they’ve done for people (there is an entire generation of us that grew up on the Justice League Animated Series). I’m sick of being an apologist about it, this thing was a mess and frankly I’d be okay if they cancelled the DCCU.

Between the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios (coming up on their 10th anniversary) juxtaposed with the potential $500k loss on “Justice League” for the DCCU, the laughably bad attempt at a “Dark Universe” by Universal, Sony literally making a deal with Disney so that Spider-Man can be better, and the upcoming X-Force from Fox that spawned from the success of “Deadpool”…It’s becoming obvious that studios are struggling and scrambling to achieve what Marvel Studios has. In this post I’ll attempt to limit being an MCU fanboy/gushing over my idol Kevin Feige to try and pinpoint why studios that are trying this “Universe” thing are failing.

(P.S: Vanity Fair published this article for the MCU’s 10 year celebration, I’ll be referring to it quite a bit.)

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Making a Franchise Before Making a Good Movie

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Take a good look at that picture. That was a promotional image released by Universal for their “Dark Universe”. Objectively it looks cool, especially the inclusion of A-list celebrities, so what’s the issue? This thing was circulating the internet BEFORE the first film in the franchise, “The Mummy”, was even released. Universal jumped the gun to announce and plan this multi-billion dollar list of movies…and the box office revenue/critical reception to the first film speaks for itself. Here we are now with rumors of the thing possibly being cancelled due to top members of the production teams wanting out.

It was pretty gutsy of them to go for the power move, but now it just looks silly. Its even more embarrassing than that scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Harry literally walks down the aisle of Sony’s slated “Sinister Six” movie that we now know never happened and never will.

It’s great that you want to be ambitious and bold, even Feige took a huge risk with the initial phases of the MCU. Still, we come back to the fact that that first Iron-Man movie was absolutely amazing and is still the gold-standard for superhero origin movies, not to mention that the Avenger initiative wasn’t brought up once in the movie until the credits rolled. In some of these other franchises…the first movie wasn’t exactly great (“Man of Steel”, “The Mummy”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) and felt the need to rub their non-existent franchise in your face. It was a “start smaller and build” strategy for Marvel, versus a “We have a Franchise coming up, the first movie will be out in a year” strategy for the others, and that is a HUGE difference when it comes to building fans as well.

Overreacting and Overcorrecting

If you’ve been paying attention, you might remember that a very common theme in production for the DCCU movies included extensive re-shoots and even re-writes. Justice League had to go through so many changes that they had to use CGI to remove Superman’s mustache that actor Henry Cavill needed for another role. The “Suicide Squad” script was heavily revised after the accidental enormous success of Fox’s “Deadpool”, and a ton of movies were announced and had casting rumors after response to “Batman vs Superman” and “Suicide Squad”, notably an Affleck directed Batman movie and a possible Gotham City Sirens movie starring Margot Robbie. At some point, it felt like DC was making it up as they went along and that isn’t on accident.

By changing their scripts, movies, and production plans on a whim, Warner Bros. showed us that this giant narrative they’re trying to accomplish wasn’t being given much thought. Rather, they were being extremely reactionary to the criticism and little praise their movies got. Now obviously things change for studios and it is good to cut what isn’t working and what is, but it’s like they would open up Facebook the day after their movie showed, compile every stupid comment they could find, and make huge executive decisions off of those.

For example: Suicide Squad’s reception was bad > but people liked Margot as Harley Quinn > Let’s announce “Gotham City Sirens” > What about all the issues about this movie? > They wont care once we announce “Gotham City Sirens”, we’ll seem progressive and it’ll be fine.

Similarly, think about the X-Men movies and “Days of Future Past”. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a damn good comic movie, but it arguably did seem like a response to the frustration behind “The Last Stand” and the success of “First Class”. If that doesn’t seem odd to anyone, think about “Apocalypse” (yikes) and the hinting of a very obvious intention to re-start the Phoenix Saga in a future movie…even though it would make more sense to do something new rather than to keep fixing Brett Ratner’s screw-up.

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Interfering with Creators

It’s such a shocker that the most successful movie DC had was the one where Warner Bros hired a good director and gave her a lot of creative freedom! That was sarcasm, that isn’t shocking it all. It also isn’t surprising that the less-than-successful MCU movies were the ones where Feige was least involved and Ike Perlmutter was still making huge decisions. I really don’t have to emphasize that the most successful comic-book movies had talented directors with creative freedom, that should be obvious. Yet somehow, bad decisions kept being made and in 2017 I got to see Batman suck in a movie for the first time since I watched “Batman Forever” (so many regrets).

Actually Caring

It warms my heart to read the Vanity Fair article and find out that Feige, like so many comic-fans/movie-nerds, is just an innocent fanboy with a desire to see his favorite characters represented properly on the big screen. That is the kind of person that should be in charge that rarely ever gets to be. What needs to be realized is that a lot of these characters that studios can “build a universe” around are all unique and can hold a lot of significance to a lot of people. Often times, people don’t even want to see a character in a live action movie because they’re scared it’ll be ridiculous (such is the case for me and Batman Beyond). So when executives view these characters as simple cash cows or good PR for their corporate image, it feels a little insulting to the fans. Again, this should be obvious, yet here we are.

Well that’s enough rambling about comic movies for now, see you soon for my review of *inhales*…THE LAST JEDI!!!!

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

Stay until ALL the credits are over. You wont regret it!

[SPOILER FREE]

I’m just going to say it: Aunt May can babysit me any time.

Now that I got that out of the way, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”! Wow, I can’t believe we finally got here…the beloved web-slinger is finally in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his own movie. You all know my thoughts on past Spider-Man movies and on Tom Holland already from my previous few posts, so we can dive straight in to this review.

This was a very fun, light hearted, character focused, coming-of-age story for the character of Spider-Man. It was the type of movie that could get you to smile solely off of its charm and vibe. Admittedly I had to sleep on this one to really figure out where I stand, and I hope that my audience understands that I’m extra critical when it comes to characters like Spider-Man and Batman because of how much they’ve done for me (hell, if we EVER got a Batman-Beyond movie, that would probably be my biggest challenge as an aspiring critic). While I will NOT say this is a better movie than Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2”, I will say this is the best Spider-Man movie we’ve gotten in the 13 years since Raimi’s second one came out.

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Peter is actually a sophomore in high school throughout this entire movie, and its fantastic. My favorite parts about this movie were all the grounded moments between the characters that impact Peter’s life: Ned, Aunt May, Liz, Flash, and Michelle…they were all great and it really felt like “high school” to me. Peter has high school problems while trying to balance being Spider-Man, and wants to do MORE as Spider-Man so he can be over high school already, and I felt like that was a very important trait/arc that they gave his character. I’ve already mentioned that I love Holland, but this casting for the supporting characters was also fantastic. Holland’s chemistry with Jacob Batalon (Ned) was absolutely perfect, Zendaya did what she had to do well with her character of Michelle, I loved Laura Harrier as Liz, and yes…I even liked Tony Revolori as Flash. While some might see these moments as a drag in the first two acts, I thoroughly enjoyed them, as they helped establish a young Spider-Man with a bright future.

Like I mentioned, this was just a very fun movie, and despite how cliche the “MCU snark” is getting, I actually laughed a lot during this movie. It wasn’t even because Spider-Man himself was a funny character (he was, don’t worry) but it was because of the right type and amount of jokes they threw in there that were out of the ordinary and matched the setting. For example, Hannibal Buress plays a gym teacher that shows a video of Captain America talking to the kids about a fitness challenge, and he makes a side-comment saying “I’m pretty sure this guy is a war criminal but whatever I have to show this” and I lost it. Even that stupid moment of “SPIDEY, DO A FLIP!” had so much charm to it, and I like that they catered the humor to the character’s situations rather than just having people throw quip after quip at each other.

Let’s talk about Michael Keaton and his character of the Vulture…Wow. The early reviews were right, Keaton gives us one of the best MCU villains we’ve seen (not that hard to do, but still). I was a little worried because Adrian Toomes is a tough character to make impactful throughout an entire movie, but they actually made it work by making him one of the people affected by the Avenger’s shenanigans. It was a good decision because while Toomes and his operation started because of unfair treatment by the Government and the Avengers, it related to the smaller scale of New York and made sense why Spidey would deal with this instead of SHIELD or something…because we forget that when he’s doing his own thing, Spider-Man IS a street-level hero. We get a relatable hero and villain with depth, and we get a lot of insight in to their motives and what makes them tick.

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Because this is Spidey’s “Homecoming” (haaaa) to the MCU, there are MCU references everywhere. Hell, there are even Spider-Man comic references everywhere. This movie takes place a few months after Civil War and we get to see a little bit of an “aftermath”. Robert Downey Jr. is, as most of you know, in this movie..but not as much as you would think, thankfully. He has a presence as a mentor and that is it, there’s no epic showdown with villains vs Ironman and Spider-Man despite what the PR might make you believe. Despite this, Marvel Studios comes swinging with this movie to say “Hey. Guess what. We have Spider-Man now.”…which actually brings me to my cons with this movie.

While the “MCU-building” aspect is cool…at times this movie can feel more like a “Marvel movie” rather than a “Spider-Man movie”. We’re all familiar with the MCU setup movies that don’t stand alone very well, and Homecoming has slight hints of this. Spider-Man IS the Marvel Comics poster-boy, so I kind of assumed that this story would be more grounded in his reality than it already was. While the light-heartedness was great, the movie lacked a sense of intensity and subtlety when it would’ve been appropriate, and most of the events didn’t feel as consequential. This is where I veer off from what others are saying in me saying that I wanted MORE. There was one scene between Toomes and Peter without their super suits that has so much tension..but that was the most that movie went in that direction where I feel like it had more potential. Spider-Man is a great character and I feel like at some point, the decision was made to play it safe with certain parts of the story. To be honest, I’m having trouble explaining why I was so bothered at some points…but I wanted to get this review out as quickly as possible so I hope I’m making sense (edits will be marked).

Also, this isn’t really a point about the movie…more about the marketing…but DAMN, trailers really messed this one up. I can honestly say that the less of the trailers/PR you ate up will mean a better time for you when watching Homecoming.

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“Spider-Man: Homecoming” has its moments where it very much feels like a product of a cinematic universe, but more than makes up for it with moments of charm and the understanding of a different kind of hero. I’m giving Homecoming an 8.5/10.