A GHOST STORY (2017): The Horror of Observation

Horror cinema as of late has been going through a bit of a diverse phase right now. Mainly thanks to companies like A24 who put out challenging films that defy what tends to be put out into theaters. Stuff like It Comes At Night,  The Lobster and Tusk. Who take the horror conceits and give us something… distinct, if not always good. A Ghost Story is one such oddity. A film about loneliness, the nature of supernatural immortality and someone eating a pie for five straight minutes in an unbroken shot. It’s not like much of anything one could be seeing in a theater. That’s commendable, but not always consistently popular. Yet… I couldn’t help but fall in love with this weird little time piece.

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Director/writer David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) has been a fan of genre explorations. His films take basic tenants of their genres and turn them into gripping emotional tethers to get us past the initial appearance. Saints was a wistful yet authentic twist on a crime romance and Peter’s Dragon took an awful Disney film and turned it into a soulful journey of one boy growing up after intense tragedy. Now with A Ghost Story, Lowery takes the concepts of a horror film and gives the entire thing an existential point of dread. One where we see just how ultimately insignificant we are as people in the grand scheme of things. And how that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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A Ghost Story handles a type of existential horror and dread that few others would go through. It’s a wonderful example of exploring the genre from the perspective of the ghost. But not on a mere spooky haunt level. We see a bit of that in a sequence that shows Lowery loves horror, but it’s framed in a cruel dramatic tragedy. That our ghost (Casey Affleck) says so much with so little dialogue or direct body language. After seeing him as a live man alongside his wife (Rooney Mara), we don’t need him to express human concerns. There’s a subtle but wonderful build up to all this that shows Lowery loves the horror genre. But, taken from a different perspective.

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In a scene where two young kids and their mother are frightened by a ghost, we sympathize with the ghost as much as the humans. There’s this ongoing endless waiting for the ghost that shows us the enormity of time. The vast endless nature of time and how it swallows up many a human in its wake. A Ghost Story isn’t about the horror of dying as a means of leaving our loved ones. It’s about the horror of being immortal and seeing our loved ones go through horror we can’t help them through. Being absent in real life only to not be able to be distracted by something else. To just witness for hours on end what they’re going through from the distance. All the grief, regret and – most terrifying of all – acceptance & moving on from us they go through.

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It’s a chilling idea, which is presented in long uncomfortable shots by A Ghost Story. There’s an extended sequence where Rooney Mara eats a pie. It’s about five minutes long, in about one interrupted shot. The type of sequences that’ll drive people mad with impatience as they have to sit there and watch this elongated & unsettling scene of a woman stress eating to the point of tears. It’s uncompromised and brutal in a way that might deter people. But it’s a brilliant way of putting us into the mood of realizing what this is. How time plays a crucial part in the understanding of the world this film builds. One where we are doomed to hover over what we love most as it goes through the best and worst of times.

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Through scenes like this, we see how our titular spectre goes through generations of advancements. How the house he loved in life goes through varying phases. Ones that leave him a cold spectator as life goes on and withers without his presence ever being known. A Ghost Story directly tackles topics of human legacy and futility in a way that may just be a bummer. And in truth it sort of is. Confronting the feelings of meaninglessness and sadness are the cornerstones of this story and they don’t leave you on the highest note to think about. Especially when so much of the film is dialogue free, allowing the visuals to really sink into your brain.

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David Lowery plays with the concept of time visually in simple yet touching fashion. A Ghost Story is shot with 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with the corners rounded. The entire film feels like a faded photograph, one that’s been in a photo book for ages. It’s a feeling that gives further credence to the themes of loss and lingering dread of this afterlife. We get a few hints that this isn’t the only time this has happened. We see another ghost next door, waiting in vain for someone who never shows up. We see the history of this land both current and past in ways that blow our perceptions of linear storytelling out the window. It’s a cute image, given they’re two Charlie Brown style sheet covered ghosts. Still, those vacant eyes say so much about living and the human condition and being obsessed over the smaller details. The tunes hummed that last enough to keep us going. The books we read to lighten our imaginations. Our ghost slams those things into our senses through his limited yet impactful powers can get to people, if only briefly.

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A Ghost Story isn’t really a movie about how life is pointless. If anything, it’s saying that the idea of The Afterlife is pointless. Even if we do gravitate towards another plane of existence, what does that mean for us? What do we gain from existing in another plane and seeing life go on? Not much. It’s a film about showing us the most simple form of another world within our own and realizing how empty that is. How elongated and cruel a concept like that can be. It encourages us to be like Rooney Mara and not hold history or the future in higher stock than we do the present. What our actions do now and how vital they are to how we will eventually look back on them. A Ghost Story is the type of cinema we need more of. The type that genuinely pause to contemplate humanity in ways few other bigger films right now even come an inch towards. Mind bending, soul destroying and kind of beautiful all at the same time.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Spooky Sheets

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Dunkirk (2017): Simple Efficiency In Chaos

Christopher Nolan is one of the most celebrated directors of the moment. After the highly beloved The Dark Knight, Nolan has become one of the few auteurs who is given carte blanche to do whatever they want. Following the disappointing if unfairly maligned Dark Knight Rises and the over convoluted space epic Interstellar, Nolan is going for something smaller scale with Dunkirk. Rather than depict an event with over conflated stakes that are less operatic or intergalactic and more confined. A beach in France with thousands of soldiers held up for 11 days who try at every turn to escape death by leaving. Or use death as a way out of this situation.

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There’s a lot of archetypes at the heart of Dunkirk. It’s not a movie based in incredibly dense character development. There’s a lot of visual shorthand used to give us moments with these characters in the middle of this horrific battle. Which is forgivable, given we’re in the middle of a grounded war zone. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is admittedly someone you could easily lose in a crowd, but Nolan’s focus on him and contrasted casting with Gibson (Damien Bonnard) makes for a solidly engaging backbone. Two desperate shoulders who meet under intense circumstances. The subtleties are there, if not especially noticeable. This can hurt some of the actors’ chances to show off nuances, mainly with Tom Hardy‘s pilot character. He’s more there for the sake of the dogfight. Which is wonderfully put together, but often cuts to Hardy being tactical rather than human.

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That story is in total contrast with Peter Dawson (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his father (Mark Rylance). Two civilians who have the tools to help and risk so much in doing so. The story of Dunkirk hinges on the kindness of strangers. Their sacrifice to help those in dire need. Rylance and Carney have a believable father-son chemistry, but with the clear lack of vocal communication. Enough communication to get that Carney knows the importance of this. All to show he fully cares so the presence of a shaken soldier (Cillian Murphy) is all the more emotionally taxing. Nolan’s integration of the PTSD this soldier is experiencing shows an adjustment that Carney has real trouble with and Rylance is more willing to accept. It shows a side of WWII that wasn’t a factor at the time, especially this early into the war.

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Christopher Nolan is the modern James Cameron. Well, James Cameron is the modern James Cameron, but Nolan is taking a lot from his playbook and is having a similar career trajectory. An auteur who is being given the massive budget to do whatever they want after a series of successful genre efforts. All I’m saying is, don’t be surprised if Christopher Nolan becomes a hermit hiding technology any time soon. Usually though, Nolan doesn’t tend to make great use of visual shorthand. He’s more a fan of long winded speeches and elaborate ways of conveying how characters feel. What they’re thinking about. How they’re thematically driven. Which was honestly becoming grating in his more recent films. Dunkirk on the other hand takes more of Cameron’s visual shorthand, though without the over inflated run time. At 106 minutes, Dunkirk is one of Nolan’s shortest and all the better for it. We all get what we need about the characters to service the individual scenes at hand. Effective, but efficient.

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Beyond that, Nolan also takes his sense of spectacle from the spirit of Cameron. Dunkirk is a pretty harrowing journey to go on, following three perspectives of the battle. It’s as if the opening horror show of Saving Private Ryan was an entire movie. Yet, there’s not an ounce of blood squirted. We see the carnage play out in bigger explosions and keep the gravity of the situation firmly in hand, but the gore isn’t the important factor. Every aspect of the filmmaking fills in the holes for that destruction. The harsh sound mixing of boats crashing. Heart pounding practical explosions. Even just simple shots of bodies floating in the grey murky water show the hopelessness of this battle.

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Dunkirk is such a refreshing move for Christopher Nolan. Without his usual crutches and a bit of restraint, Nolan has been able to create some iconic sequences, but hasn’t been able to match that up with a consistent story as of recent. Luckily, Dunkirk strips down the artifice and kicks its boots deep into the sand for an authentic cinematic account of this historic event. In many ways, it feels like the best version of an IMAX exclusive feature one can ever hope to have. That’s not an insult. It’s praise for something that’s a genuine cinematic experience. Nolan usually strives for this and – while not all the characters are consistently engaging – the story of this battle never misses a beat in terms of pure unadulterated tension.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Lost Helmets

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Valerian And the City of a Thousand Planets (2017): Unbridled Besson

Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets opens by giving us a pretty nifty standard to hold up to. In times of great turmoil such as now, the idea of humanity progressing to the point of achieving interstellar travel and finding peace with other culture and alien beings is pretty intriguing. The montage set to “Space Oddity” by David Bowie of us progressing is a wonderful one. It also leads into a dialogue/subtitle-less sequence of us seeing a prosperous alien society go about their daily lives… before their planet is destroyed. This 10 or so minutes of Valerian are so visually astounding, telling us about this world and these people with such gorgeous imagery. So, it’s a real shame that the rest of the film goes so downhill.

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It all starts to tumble when we’re introduced to our leads Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). They’re time and space traveling agents for human governments. They’re also in love. Kind of? DeHaan and Delevingne are attempting to have a screwball back and forth throughout that never really works. And it’s really the crux of their scenes as characters. Right from their initial holodeck beach encounter, the chemistry doesn’t land. Each bit of dialogue between the two of them is honestly horrendous. They’re not charismatic or endearing enough as people to get behind, especially as DeHaan delivers a vocal inflection I can only assume is “bad Keanu.” And Delevingne’s character is hauled back and forth between being a one dimensional damsel and a one dimensional badass within the span of a scene.

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They aren’t believable as agents. Neither seem genuinely interested in each other emotionally. Even worse, at no point do they convincingly interact with what’s around them. Valerian hinges on the reality of this world feeling authentic. That we are stepping into this world and following these two on their journey. Trouble is… that journey feels so scatter shot. There’s a vague through line, but nothing that truly keeps us grounded in this elaborate environment. With Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element, there never seemed like an artifice because he felt entrenched in this world. A citizen of this neo future punk world with butt ugly aliens and Chris Tucker radio announcers, even if he was jaded by all of this. There’s no point where either DeHaan or Delevigne do the same here.

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The story also feels so convoluted. Valerian is based on a 1960s graphic novel. I haven’t read it, but much of what I’ve heard makes it feel like a 60s spy movie flip on a sci-fi premise. That’s a style that clearly appeals to a French auteur like Luc Besson. So – much in the same why 2012’s John Carter felt lagging behind thanks to production woes and 100 years of sci-fi – there doesn’t seem like much of a modern update beyond the effects work. Down to the crazy plot mechanics that honestly seem like they’ve been taken by other sci-fi franchises… and done far better. Even down to the character archetypes, like the three informative small aliens or the blobbing gangster villain from the opening. The tropes are there, but the detail in character or motivation beyond plot points isn’t there at all.

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Valerian is the key example of how far down a CG imagery treated film can go down. Besson clearly cares about the wide expanse of this world. We see bits and pieces of these varying cultures during these action moments. The most intriguing sci-fi concept is that of the interdimensional market, which people have to use VR glasses to see and pick up things as a hologram of sorts. This is such a fun conceit and a cleverly edited sequence of Valerian and Laureline. Yet, their interaction and the ultimate conceits from there are over convoluted and predictable, to the point of being brightly colored mind numbing doldrums. We know their characters, we know their lack of drive and their ultimate moments of sacrifice feel as artificial as anything about them. Especially as the film doesn’t seem to know which one they undervalue more. Though Laureline is more likely, which is such a shame given Besson’s better work with female leads.

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There’s a rich vibrant look to the world of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. But those thousands of planets seem hollow. Soulless. Aside from the translucent aliens we see during the opening, there’s no societal foundation that really makes the world of Valerian real. No person interacting with the CG characters or backgrounds seems to have a grasp on where they are or what they’re doing. Not just the leads. Every other people that populates the cast seem lost. Rihanna is some kind of shapeshifter with a main purpose that’s mainly fetishistic. Ethan Hawke randomly pops up as a pimp and plays it like a weak Elton John impersonator. Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock pops up to… badly give exposition. It’s so odd, but more in a confounding way than an interesting one.

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There’s something to encourage about Besson’s tact in getting Valerian together. Luc Besson worked for decades to adapt this comic he loved as a feature, getting $210 million to put the whole thing together. Valerian is a director driven, passion project that gives Besson total creative control. All of that is encouraging in a modern blockbuster landscape. That all being said, it’s also an awkward mess that shows the limited of such wide creative control. I can see a world where Valerian becomes well liked down the line for its daring. I’ll admit that’s commendable and could easily make this a cult hit. Like The Fifth Element. Which the central message of is ripped wholesale here and in a stunningly less thrilling fashion. Sometimes Besson reaches nirvana, but Valerian tries to go for more of a “more is more” style attitude. And it gets crushed by the megatons of weight of a thousand planets rapidly after the first ten or so minutes ware off.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Pooped Pearls

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The Whit of The Muppets’ Steve Whitmire

Kermit the Frog – much like Mickey Mouse – is an everlasting icon. The type of wonderfully simplistic creation that transcends eras. Jim Henson has received so much obviously deserved praise for creating something as long lasting as Kermit on every level. The design, the voice, the personality. Yet, there’s someone who often gets tossed to the side for keeping that character alive. Said someone is Steve Whitmire, a puppeteer who worked with the Henson Company for decades and continued the legacy of many personalities puppeteered by Henson himself after his untimely death in 1990.

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It’s weird thinking about that. Despite how crucial Jim Henson was to creating The Muppets, many of the productions that have been made in the lifetimes of more recent generations of fans – including myself – have been brought to life by Henson’s successor. Now, after nearly 40 years with The Muppets, it was recently revealed that Whitmire would be leaving The Muppets. One can speculate as to why this change happened, but what really matters here is celebrating Whitmire’s talents as a performer. Something that goes unsung given how often the Muppet characters are treated as identities on their own. We see so many interviews where The Muppets are treated as their characters rather than give credit to their performers. Which shows just how dedicated Whitmire and his contemporaries were and still are to these roles.

When Whitmire first took over for Kermit, like with any change, his voice was mercilessly judged for not being Henson’s. Admittedly, it is quite different. Whitmire has a more nasal approach, missing some of the natural gruffness that oozed out of Henson’s beard. The missing base was especially noticeable early on when Whitmire performed as Kermit. It didn’t help that his first performance in the role was The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, a massive tribute special to the beloved Muppets creator. Where everyone from Steven Spielberg to Harry Belafonte pay tribute to the fallen creator. Even his own felt creatures acknowledge his death and dealt with it through mutual song. So, it was just set up for Whitmire to fail by comparison even at this very early point.

Still, Whitmire proved his performing potential in The Muppet Christmas Carol, his first major production as Kermit. Despite a lack of that clear Henson voice, the earnest charm manages to shine through even in these early stages. The musical number “One More Sleep Til Christmas” doesn’t sound like someone doing a half hearted Kermit impression as much as a person with boundless love expressing it through a slightly more nasal voice than we’re used to. Part of the genius of The Muppet Christmas Carol really is in how it utilizes The Muppet characters for casting in Charles Dickens’ story. By having these lovable characters as important human characters while new pitch perfect puppets are used for the ghosts, we allow the audience to empathize far more. Kermit as Bob Cratchit is the prime example. Kermit as the public knew him was always a hard working fellow constrained by the situation he was in. Perfect casting for one of the archetypes of the underappreciated worker. Even if it is weird to see his and Mrs. “Piggy” Cratchit’s pig & frog children.

Muppet Kermit the Frog and his operator Steve Whitmire take questions from the audience at Barnes & Noble

From here, the uses of Kermit do vary, mostly due to an inability to fully grasp what The Muppets could be after Henson’s death. Between them adapting Robert Louis Stevenson and Gonzo revealing himself as an alien, the Henson company clearly were taking things in odd directions. Still, Whitmire’s turns as Kermit never felt underwhelming. The sword fighting scenes in Muppet Treasure Island are some of the best examples of Kermit’s physical comedy abilities. He even has a few funny moments of straight man style comedy in Muppets From Space. He even kept up the hosting duties that Henson had as Kermit for the original Muppet Show during Muppets Tonight for a brief point in the mid-90s.

As time continued, he grew even more accustomed to Kermit as a character. After years of obscurity, when The Muppets film from 2011 gave the characters a return to form, Whitmire gave the role of Kermit even more life than had ever been truly brewed into the character. His Kermit in that film is one that has seen much better days and acknowledges that the puppet characters we know and love have been undervalued by time, allowing Whitmire give Kermit a sense of regret and loss that weren’t available previously. Thus, when we get Whitmire’s rendition of “Rainbow Connection” to serve as part of the telethon climax, it means more for Kermit as a performer wanting to touch as many people as Jim did before. It helps that Whitmire served as an assistant operator for Henson during Kermit’s initial rendition of that song for 1979’s The Muppet Movie, giving life to the arms that plucked Kermit’s banjo strings.

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Of course, Kermit wasn’t the only character Whitmire ever played. Probably his most famous original role was Rizzo the Rat, a streetwise New Yorker rodent who often served as a wonderful comedic foil to Gonzo The Great. The chemistry between Whitmire and Gonzo performer Dave Goelz was quite palpable. In Muppet Christmas Carol, the two show a comedic duo styling that helped breathe life into the post-Jim years. Rizzo brought a genuine grounding to Gonzo’s usual insane antics. He had the perfect type of urban charm that may have been needed when he was introduced during Muppets Take Manhattan. Whitmire took what initially seemed like a parody of Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy and turned him into a hilarious full fledged comedic character of his own.

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Steve Whitmire has also brought to life many other lasting Muppet characters. Whitmire continued the roles of other Muppets characters like Statler, Beaker and Link Hogthrob. He created the role of Bean Bunny, who was introduced to audiences in 1986 and continues to delight them in Muppet Vision 3D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He also gave smaller yet notable characters life in Henson Company projects like The Dark CrystalLabyrinth and the TV series Dinosaurs. Whitmire also took over important roles on Sesame Street, mainly that of Ernie. He even had a technical plunge that put his mark on the creatures on a mechanical level, as he created the mechanism that allowed Rizzo the Rat the ability to move his mouth.

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It shows just how many technological and artistic achievements Steve Whitmire ultimately provided to The Muppets characters. While he wasn’t the most celebrated person within the company, Steve Whitmire deserves so much credit. And not just for being the man who took up the mantle of Kermit for nearly 30 years after someone who created the character passed on. No, Whitmire helped give so much new life to the character in the intervening years following Henson’s death. He allowed The Muppets to endure for children in the dawn of the new millennium, who sought comfort in the age of burgeoning technology. The Muppets can often seem like a relic of the past, trying to get through modern times with new gimmicks. Given there’s been moments like the recent 2015 sitcom or lesser webshows to prove weakened attempts to adapt to the times.

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Yet, Steve Whitmire always seemed to be willing to keep the characters alive. Even through obscurity and reality TV show appearances, Whitmire was instrumental in helping keep these characters from fading into the dust and deserves proper thanks for his actions. Though he wasn’t Jim Henson, Steve Whitmire was a puppeteer who knew that these characters transcended the hands that operated them. Without people like Whitmire or recent puppeteers like Eric Jacobson, Bill Barretta and Matt Vogel (who will be taking up the role of Kermit following Whitmire), The Muppets wouldn’t be around to inspire children to laugh, love and sing for nearly 30 years.

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Jim Henson got this ball to start rolling. And that’s incredibly vital. Yet, it takes a determined and devoted person to keep things alive. That’s something Steve Whitmire helped provide to these evergreen characters at a time when they were most needed. He wasn’t necessarily Jim Henson, but he was a dedicated performer who helped keep the role alive. Now that he’s gone, it’s important to note the legacy he helped keep alive still stands to this day. Without Mr. Whitmire’s work, it’s safe to say I myself wouldn’t appreciate the lasting legacy of these characters as much as I do. They may be felt and lacking in human flesh, but The Muppets are eternal pop culture creations. Ones that may outlast Steve Whitmire, but shouldn’t keep his accomplishments in mind when looking back on their history. No matter why he decided to leave, Whitmire’s accomplishments deserve to be noted in history for all time. And they will, along the great Rainbow Connection of life.

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“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017): Solid Swinging

Spider-Man Homecoming is the culmination of a lot of cinematic drama. No, not with the current Peter Parker as played by Tom Holland facing baddies. We’ve only previously seen him as one of many supporting characters in Captain America: Civil War. The true drama is that around Sony Pictures and the Disney owned Marvel Entertainment’s battle of character rights! Sony helped usher in the modern superhero film landscape with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. However, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe developed for Disney, Sony struggled to get their own off the ground with the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Now, the two have cooperated to bring Peter Parker into the fold and he’s got his own solo movie. Of course, that’s a lot of Spider-Man. To the point where this could easily confuse and disinterest folks. So, does this Spider-Man stand out?

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Definitely. The fact alone that Spider-Man Homecoming is in the MCU makes it stand out. Yet, it isn’t just tied by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) making a few appearances. He certainly does, with Downey giving a decent 3/4 level of the typical smug arrogance. The more intriguing MCU connections really lie within the smaller nuanced examples of world building. We see the impact of these superheroes on a cultural level more than a disaster level, changing the dynamics of how people interact. This includes how a low level contractor like Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) deals with the struggles of government contractors swooping in and stealing his livelihood. It honestly feels more interesting on a street level view of this universe than any of the limited connecting threads within the MCU Netflix shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones… though the opening set doesn’t feel too far off from that budget when compared the usual MCU film.

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It’s an intriguing motivation that sets Adrian apart from most of the dull villains of this universe, making him one of the better ones.  Yet… that’s not saying a lot. Aside from that amazing start of a motivation, Toomes just feels like a standard Marvel villain that’s only shaped a bit more rounded thanks to Michael Keaton’s traditional penchant for relatable evil in general. His motivation is left to the side for the sake of a twist that works in the moment, but ultimately falls victim to much of the problems of the typical Marvel villain. It doesn’t help that he spends most of his screentime in a grey design for his costume, which often gets lost in the shuffle of the lesser action sequences. He’s a far better villain for Spider-Man Homecoming in overview than execution.

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Really, the shining aspect of Spider-Man in the MCU is how average folks see this world of superheroes. That it’s a daily part of life, especially given they’re in New York where the attacks from the first Avengers film occurred. Yet, someone like Peter or his best pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) can still feel giddy about being a superhero. Peter and Ned’s relationship really holds the film together, giving us the lower perspective on the food chain both within high school and the MCU in general. They’re scrappy, awkward and in over their heads, but they are just so enthusiastic. Even if Ned is just “the guy in the chair”, he feels like he’s a part of something bigger. Much like Peter wants to be part of The Avengers. Being a superhero is the equivalent of joining a rag tag group of misfits for this teen movie, which is where Spider-Man Homecoming honestly shines the most.

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There’s a bit of inspiration from the likes of John Hughes in how this high school operates, but there’s also a decent dose of relatable groundedness that co-writer/director Jon Watts shines at. Watts’ previous film Cop Car had very naturalistic child performances that kept its intense thriller a bit lighter when needed. With Spider-Man Homecoming, the teenagers have an authentic awkwardness and blind drive that’s realistic, yet not so much as to make them annoying. Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) has the right amount of douchebag ego that makes up for his lack in traditional size for the character. Michelle Jones (Zendaya) is such a hilarious intelligent character that you’re thrown off by the connection she has to the traditional Spider-Man universe. Even the smaller adult faculty member roles show off an authentic familiarity with their roles, whether it be the uncomfortable science teacher Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) or the aloof gym teacher Coach Wilson (Hannibal Buress).

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Of course, Holland is the main spark that keeps this youthful energy alive. The way he oozes gumption and enthusiasm at every turn makes Spider-Man Homecoming such an endearing exercise. One can’t help but smile during the opening montage as he attempts to keep New York safe… even if he ends up screwing it all up. That consistent character trait of Peter Parker being a self sabotager, either by lesser attempts at saving the day or going to save the day instead of be an average teenager. The way Peter looks longingly at others having fun as he dresses in his superhero suit says everything about his struggles. This all is present in both the meek regular Peter Parker form and the potentially amazing yet clearly still molding attempt at Spider-Man. This makes Holland the best version of the character, given Tobey Maguire had a great grasp of Peter Parker yet not his heroic alter ego and Andrew Garfield… was honestly just giving a crappy opportunity. Holland exemplifies everything that makes a young version of this character work, making him the best of both worlds. He honestly brings out the best in Robert Downey Jr, who intermittently shows a strangely genuine paternal care for Peter that’s packaged between Tony Stark B-material he sleepwalks through.

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Tom Holland really manages to do so much that distracts from the clunkiness here. But the clunkiness isn’t a sign of doom. If anything, Spider-Man: Homecoming is less a great individual tale and more a solid foundation for a series of films centered around the webslinger to follow. One from which an entire series could spring from. Hopefully they take more from the film’s best sequence involving the Washington Monument elevator. It’s small scale, features characters we’ve been decently endeared to and shows Peter up against the ropes thinking on his feet. None of the action before or after this moment really crystallizes this, not being helped by some clunky story contrivances that really make a solid thirty minutes or so of this feel very long winded. There’s a consistent charm to Spider-Man: Homecoming, but hopefully it can eventually lead to the type of powerful character work that still makes Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 one of the best examples of the superhero genre.

Rating: 3.5 Vats of Web Liquid Out of 5

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