Tag Archives: Tom Holland

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After years of negotiations, Sony finally did the smart thing and shared its precious rights to Spider-Man with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Because of that, Spider-Man ended up being one of the highlights of the awesome Captain America: Civil War, which got everyone super excited for his first Sony-Marvel solo film, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The verdict? Pretty damn good. Homecoming was just about everything I had hoped it would be, and many of my concerns about it turned out to be unfounded.

First of all, as promised, Homecoming is part of the MCU but also a standalone film. It helps if you have seen Civil War, where Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man first appeared, but it’s not imperative. The film uses the famous airport scene as a segway so we don’t have to be reintroduced to the origins story all over again. In that sense, Homecoming feels like a sequel of sorts at times.

Second, Homecoming is, as they claimed, a different Marvel film. They weren’t lying when they said it was a high school movie, a teenage coming-of-age film with a John Hughes vibe. For those too young to know who John Hughes is, think Lindsay Lohan’s Mean Girls or Emma Stone’s Easy A, or Hailee Steinfeld’s The Edge of Seventeen. It’s got a lot of light humour and witty dialogue, not too much heavy drama, and plenty of high school-related themes. In other words, it actually features an environment and issues a high school Spider-Man would be dealing with, like girls, popularity, keeping secrets, etc.

Third, the trailers did not give too much away, as I had feared. After seeing the first couple of trailers, I had in my mind how the movie would pan out, and I’m glad to say it was quite different to what I had expected in terms of progression and characters. There are a few neat surprises and choices I thought worked well.

Fourth, and thank goodness, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) did not dominate the film as the marketing suggested. Iron Man was in all the posters and a good chunk of the trailers, but that was just to sell the movie. This is very much a Spider-Man movie in which Tony Stark plays a small but pivotal role. He has a significant presence, but  Downey Jr doesn’t take up much screen time — more than a cameo but less than a major supporting character. I think director John Watts gets it just right.

The performances are excellent. Tom Holland shined as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in limited screen time in Civil War, and he’s just as good carrying a 133-minute movie. Apart from actually looking like a real teenager, he’s extremely likeable and captures that teenage angst perfectly. He’s my favourite Spider-Man to date.

And thanks to Michael Keaton, who plays his third-winged superhero/villain (Batman, Birdman, and now Vulture), Homecoming has one of the best bad guys in the MCU. I was a bit meh about Vulture before because he felt like just a bad version of Falcon, but Keaton elevates his character, giving not just justifications for his actions but also multiple dimensions to his character. It’s not his abilities or gadgets but his character and demeanour that makes him great. He’s empathetic when he needs to be and menacing and terrifying when wants to be. Kudos to Keaton, because villains have always been the weakest link in the MCU, and now they have a new baddie who can rival Loki.

The minor characters are a bit of a mixed bag. I initially thought going for the diverse casting might end up being a problem, though eventually, it all worked out for the best. Jacob Batalon plays Ned, a new Asian character and Peter’s affable best friend. There were a few times he got somewhat irritating, but that’s what he’s supposed to do. Laura Harrier is Liz, the girl Peter has a crush on. At first I didn’t think she was a good fit for the love interest, but later on, I understood why they chose her. Two bigger names that made splashes when they were cast — Zendaya and Donald Glover — were relative disappointments in that they barely go to do anything. On the other hand, Tony Revolori gave us an interesting and funny version of bully Flash Thompson, while Marisa Tomei did her thing as “hot Aunt May”.

In terms of action, Homecoming is not revolutionary but holds its own in the MCU. I would say it’s on par with any of the action sequences we’ve seen in any of the previous Spider-Man films in terms of excitement and creativity, except with better special effects (the movements of the pure CGI Spider-Man are more realistic). That said, despite some excellent set pieces, I would have preferred a little more action and a better climatic battle. But that’s just me.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t say Homecoming is one of the best MCU movies, but it’s a very good one targeted more at teenagers and young adults rather than small children and older audiences. It’s a very good Spider-Man movie, a very good coming-of-age movie, a very good high school movie, and a very good comedy, plus it’s got one of the best Marvel villains ever in Vulture (Michael Keaton).  I Throw all of that together and what you end up with is a light, fun and entertaining experience that doesn’t quite add up to “great”. It’s nothing that will absolutely blow you away, but hey, Marvel can’t give us Iron Man, The Avengers, or Civil War every time. I’d put it on the same level as say an Ant-Man, maybe even a shade higher.

3.75 stars out of 5

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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I ain’t gonna lie: despite suffering some superhero fatigue as of late, especially after the bitterly disappointing Batman v Superman, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Captain America: Civil War, was still probably my most anticipated film of 2016.

In my view, the MCU has not put a foot wrong with any of its movies (I’m counting from the first Iron Man film back in 2008), with each entry ranging between “fantastic” and “pretty good”. Though Avengers: Age of Ultron may have disappointed some fans, Civil War has been promising to impress for months. Apart from pitting the franchise’s two biggest leads (Captain America and Iron Man) against each other, the film was bringing back most of the characters from the Avengers while also introducing us to the likes of Black Panther and villain Crossbones. And when Disney reached a deal with Sony to finally bring Spider-Man to the MCU, the internet lost its mind.

It’s no wonder that Civil War has been dubbed Avengers 2.5, which could have been a cause for concern but for two pertinent reasons. First of all, the film was being framed as the third entry in the Captain America standalone franchise  (hence the title), and as such there was going to be a definitive focal point rather than simply an orgy of evenly distributed superhero action. Secondly, the film was being directed by the Russo Brothers, the huge comic book nerds who gave us the brilliant Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If anyone was going to do the movie justice it was going to be these two champions.

The hype for this movie was through the roof. The trailers looked great and Marvel was so supremely confident that it screened the film for critics a month out from its US premiere next month — and lifted the review embargo shortly thereafter. Of course, the critics have been very kind in return (97% Rotten Tomatoes), so much so that DC fanboys have accused Marvel of paying critics to slam BvS.

It was under these heightened expectations that I stepped into a surprisingly packed cinema on the morning of the first day of public release (a weekday, no less). I was hoping for awesomeness and accepting nothing less, and so I am super glad to report that Civil War does not disappoint. It’s by no means perfect and couldn’t quite live up to the astronomically positive hype, but as superhero movies go — and remember, the bar keeps getting higher as we keep demanding more — this one is about as good as they get.

Now I admit this is a bit of a dick move on my part, but I’ll be making some comparisons to BvS. It’s just the natural thing to do, given that both are mega franchises about two beloved superheroes going up against one another while setting the stage for the next ensemble movie (in this case, The Infinity Wars). It helps us put things in perspective and reminds us just how hard it is to get such movies right.

And so the first thing I will say is that Civil War kills BvS in terms of storytelling. To be fair, it’s not exactly an even fight because we’ve been with these Marvel characters for years and multiple films, while BvS only had Man of Steel before it and had to introduce one of its two main protagonists. That said, the end product could not be more different. Civil War is a lesson in great storytelling that Warner Bros and Zack Snyder should try to learn from. From the pacing and introduction and development of characters to conflict development and editing, Civil War shows BvS how it’s done. The story is tight and flows, gliding along as opposed to plodding along. Whereas BvS felt like a fragmented mess at times, Civil War felt like a well-lubed machine that knows when to crank things up and how to build things up so audiences can follow and become emotionally invested.

I don’t want to go into the story too much, though rest assured that there is a damn good story in there, not just a simple premise and a bunch of fight scenes. The stakes feel real and the dilemmas of the characters feel real. The rift in the Avengers stems from a fundamental difference in philosophies, and the film helps you see both sides. Ultimately, this is what makes the movie successful — you don’t really know which side to choose, as Captain America and Iron Man become both protagonist and antagonist.

What impressed me most about what the Russo Brothers did with this movie is how they managed to make it feel very different to just another Avengers movie, or even just another Captain America movie. The story is a continuation of Winter Soldier (though it incorporates events from the previous MCU movies, especially Age of Ultron) and comes across as clearly a Captain America movie. This story has plenty of other key characters, but Steve Rogers is without a doubt front and center. At the same time, the film also does what The Avengers did so well, which is to bring so many characters and plot strands — some old, some new — together seamlessly.

Without giving too much away, I count around a dozen people in this “civil war,” and none of them are neglected by the Russos. Captain America and Iron Man of course get their screen time as leads, though it is surprising how everyone else is given their moment and opportunities to shine. Perhaps this is why the 2.5-hour running time is justified, because you really need that much time to make sure everyone gets in on the action while ensuring that it remains a story about just one or two main characters. Importantly, at no point did the running time feel long. In fact, like Chris Evans says in the trailer, I can do this all day.

My concerns about how the film was going to introduce the new characters turned out to be unfounded. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is amazing. The Amazing Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is…er…amazing. Perfect casting and perfect characterisations. Black Panther is more integral to the plot, but Spider-Man is, in my opinion, the best incarnation of the popular character we’ve ever seen on the big screen. I can’t wait to see both of their standalone films (Black Panther in 2018 and Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017).

It is important to remember, however, that Civil War isn’t just all out action. There are plenty of scenes that drive plot and build character so that we actually care about them and their plights when they eventually come to blows. But when the film decides to give us action, it is scintillating action. This is a big call, though I’m not afraid to call it: Civil War has the best action scenes of any MCU movie — ever. Probably of any comic book movie — ever. I think the film might have taken some hints from Netflix’s Daredevil series in focusing more on gritty and innovative combat sequences rather than CGI. The hand-to-hand fights are exquisitely choreographed and the stunts are brutal and bone-crunching. And because there’s so much emotion involved, the blows between the superheroes also feel more personal. It’s far more than just a bunch of indestructible freaks putting on a show.

The 17-minute sequence that has become known simply as “the airport scene” is as glorious as advertised. You’ve got all of them going head to head, and yet it never feels messy or fake like it did in Age of Ultron, despite the fact that there was probably just as much CGI involved. To put it in perspective, if I try to think of the fight scenes between Batman and Superman in BvS, I just remember the two of them taking turns punching and tackling each other through walls, which got a little “meh” after a while. The fight scenes of Batman against regular terrorist dudes, on the other hand, were far more entertaining and creative. The fight scenes in Civil War are all at that level or higher, and the craziest thing is that even without the airport scene it’s still got some of the best action sequences ever filmed.

The performances are excellent across the board. Chris Evans might suck in everything else he’s in, but there’s no denying that he is perfect as Steve Rogers/Captain America. And we already know how good Robert Downey Jr is as Tony Stark/Iron Man, though I think he is better in this than he has been in any other MCU movie since probably the first Iron Man. In Age of Ultron, Downey Jr seemed a little tired of the character, whereas here he appears to have a lot more energy. Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany — all of them are solid. Special mention goes to Paul Rudd, who pretty much provides a laugh-out-loud moment every time he says or does something as Scott Lang/Ant-Man. It makes me very eager to see the Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018.

As I said earlier, the film is far from perfect, meaning Civil War is not without flaws. As is usually the case with MCU movies (with the exception of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki), the main antagonist is a little weak. I like that the villain is someone who relies on brains as opposed to brawn, but unfortunately his/her motivations are somewhat contrived, and his actions are in some cases nonsensical or unnecessarily elaborate. The same can be said for some other minor characters who pop up in the movie. Having said that, these are relatively minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, and I’m just grateful that the film sticks to its promise of being a Captain America vs Iron Man movie all the way to the end as opposed to throwing in some kind of all-powerful monster at the last minute so they can become buddies (cough, Doomsday).

So now I’m combing through all the MCU movies thus far (I’ve seen them all) and I’m wondering where Civil War ranks among that list. I’ve always thought that the first Iron Man and the first Avengers were the standouts, and I’ve recently added The Winter Soldier to that list after watching it again a couple more times. To me, Civil War is arguably in the top 3, or at worst in the top 4 after the aforementioned trio. What it also shows, categorically, is that the Captain America franchise is the best solo-character trilogy in the MCU, besting the Iron Man trilogy (thanks to a lacklustre second film) and the Thor trilogy (no matter how good Thor: Ragnarok is). This is a unique film that combines the best of both worlds: the personal, engaging story of Captain America and the spectacle and thrills of an ensemble superhero movie. I look forward to seeing it again.

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: Kudos to the marketing team for the trailer, which showed enough to get everyone super excited but not revealing the whole story and its many intricacies (unlike, again, BvS). Smart use of editing to mislead and avoiding certain subplots and characters all together made sure there were enough surprises for audiences. While some great lines and scenes did lose some impact because they were in the trailer, there’s so much more to the film than the trailer suggests.

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

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I’ve never read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (it’s one of those “on the list” classics), but that didn’t stop me from being intrigued by In the Heart of the Sea. Based on the award-winning non-fiction book of the same name by Nathaniel Philbrick (throw this book on the list too), the film tells the harrowing tale of the American whaling ship Essex, which inspired Melville to write Moby Dick in the first place.

The trailers certainly made the true story look very promising. Directed by Ron Howard, the film had the look and tone of a grand sea epic with that 1800s grit and a touch of the fantastical. It’s got a magnificent cast headed by Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Cillian Murphy,  Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) and Frank Dillane (Fear the Walking Dead). And for those who want to get to know the new Spiderman a little in advance of Captain America: Civil War, the film also stars Tom Holland as the youngest crew member of the Essex (sadly, he grows up to look like Brendan Gleeson…).

For some reason, however, the release of the film was pushed back from March to December, with Howard offering a vague explanation about the marketing people wanting to maximise the movie’s potential. Whether that’s legit or because execs were pessimistic about its performance or overly optimistic (it opens a week before Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the US and as December tends to be Oscar season) we’ll probably never know. In my humble opinion, the film probably would have done better in March because it was riding more hype at the time and simply because Star Wars is going to annihilate absolutely everything in its path. So don’t be surprised when In the Heart of the Sea turns out to be a box office flop.

That said, while I don’t think it’s an Oscar-worthy flick deserving of Howard’s pantheon of great movies, I do think In the Heart of the Sea is a very solid, well-made, occasionally breathtaking and sometimes heartbreaking film. It never quite reaches the epic status it aims for and falls short when delivering its most climatic moments, but it’s definitely still good enough to deserve your time, especially on the big screen (though I doubt the 3D — I watched it in 2D — is worth it). The special effects are spectacular, giving the film a sense of danger and tension a sense of groundedness it otherwise might not have had.

In adherence with my non-spoiler philosophy, here’s just a basic outline: Whishaw plays Moby Dick author Melville, who tracks down Thomas Nickerson (Gleeson) in the mid-1800s and tries to entice the reluctant middle-aged man into telling him the “true story” of what happened to the Essex about 30 years ago. And so like Life of Pi, the majority of the film is told in flashback, with a 14-year-old Nickerson (Holland) recalling the experience of going out into the ocean to look for “whale oil” (I had no idea such an industry existed). The initial focus of the film is the uneasy relationship between the Essex’s experienced first mate, Owen Chase (Hemsworth) and its green but privileged captain George Pollard Jr (Walker). Murphy plays Matthew Joy, Chase’s childhood friend and a crew member on the ship. All of these characters, by the way, are real people.

Now of course you know that the Essex encounters a whale, but it wouldn’t be accurate to say it’s just a “whale movie”. Yes, whales play a pivotal role, but they actually don’t occupy as much screen time as you might imagine. The story goes way beyond just whales, and for those who don’t know the fate of the Essex and its crew I’d recommend avoiding that knowledge to get the most out of the experience. A big part of why the movie is so compelling comes from not knowing what will happen next and who will survive.

As with all good films, In the Heart of the Sea is about the characters, and it doesn’t take long for us to get a good feel for each of them. I do think Captain Pollard’s character could have been a little stronger (he was a little one-dimensional), especially at the beginning, but by the end I did feel like I understood them all quite well.

Having said that, the movie never quite soars like I wanted it to. Despite the impeccable effects, it lacked the sense of awe I think it needed to elevate the emotional punch to the next level. One of the problems is that these men are all whalers, and whaling is freaking cruel and barbaric. There’s just no way around it. Granted, people back in those days saw things differently and we get that, but for modern audiences it can be hard to root for  characters who kind of deserve whatever is coming to them. As a result, it is hard to know how to feel toward the characters and the whale(s) they hunt.

This leads into the other issue I had with the film, which is that there is no clear moral to the story — at least not until the very end. And it’s the kind of movie that feels like it ought to have some deeper meaning because too much shit happens and it’s not obviously not just some fun popcorn adventure. Despite Howard not showing us the most agonising parts of the story, the film is undoubtedly a distressing experience, and because of that I felt there should have been a more profound message — the kind of message Moby Dick apparently has.

Notwithstanding the film’s flaws, Howard is too good of a filmmaker and storyteller for his film to suck. It’s perhaps not the memorable epic I had been hoping for, but In the Heart of the Sea still ticks enough boxes and has enough enjoyable, thrilling and dramatic moments to satisfy this viewer.

3.75 stars out of 5