It remains somewhat ridiculous that three actors have played Spider-Man in the last decade, making the Marvel teen superhero the most unstable character in the ever-expanding superhero genre. The latest incarnation, played by Tom Holland and folded into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, differentiates himself by committing to the adolescent aspect of the character. Previous Spider-Men like Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were never believable as teenagers, probably because they hadn’t been ones in six or seven years when they were cast. Holland is barely into his 20’s and has retained a boyish enthusiasm that neither earlier incarnation contained. The difference is a surprising freshness that merges well with the lower stakes of Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming. As far as superhero films go, this is the fluffiest and lightest yet, though not so impermanent as to be disposable.
The second prequel trilogy to start in 2011 after X-Men, Planet of the Apes seemed like the more desperate choice of the two. Tim Burton’s failed attempt at restarting the dystopian franchise had failed a decade earlier, and Rupert Wyatt, director of first installment Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was an untested quantity. However, Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance has proved to be one of the best things in the last six years of big-budget filmmaking, and the scripts from the team of Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver told a coherent story of a conflict with an obvious end but one that the losing party would fight tooth and nail to prevent. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes finds that losing party clinging to hope while the apes, led by Serkis’ Caesar, continue their ascent up the food chain. With Matt Reeves replacing Wyatt in the director’s chair, Dawn improves on the prior film by deepening the conflict and the protagonist.
Edgar Wright made his reputation with lovable misfits happy in their average station. Shaun of Shaun of the Dead isn’t asking for much more than nightly video game sessions with his best friend, Scott Pilgrim wants to date a woman too cool for him, and the nerds of Spaced want to maintain the low-key status quo for as long as possible. Overweight, slovenly, and unpretentious, Wright’s characters are awkward and unambitious, and his films give them ways to be satisfied with who they are while also allowing for some level of self-improvement. Wright’s Baby Driver is a new frontier for him, stocked with characters who believe they’re cool, but this time, the film doesn’t take pains to prove them wrong. From protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort) on down, this is unquestionably Wright’s best-looking cast, made to look like suave bandits operating outside of the law and given the scenes to solidify the impression. It contains Wright’s flair and style and love for his protagonists, but Baby Driver provides the furthest distance between Wright’s love and the character’s entitlement to it. It’s harder to tolerate affectation in perfect human specimens.
In the creation of an extended superhero universe, DC was always going to have to play catch-up with Marvel. The five-year head-start gave Marvel the luxury of patience in building their line-up, and with fluffier creative minds like Joss Whedon and Jon Favreau in their quiver, Marvel put yet more distance between itself and DC, especially when DC entrusted their hopes to the cartoonishly self-serious Zack Snyder. The one area where DC has managed to get a leg up on the competition is with the first lead female superhero of the post-2008 superhero glut. Wonder Woman, out-grossing Marvel’s 2017 entries thus far, opens up the genre beyond Marvel’s assorted Chris’s, offering a new perspective and setting on mythic derring-do. Director Patty Jenkins is on firm ground for much of her welcome return to cinema after a long and baffling absence, but Snyder, who co-wrote, is all over this film at key moments, diluting its message and ultimately turning it into a standard superhero confection.
Hugh Jackman's portrayed Logan, otherwise known as Wolverine, in nine films dating back seventeen years. Over that period, the X-Men films featuring Jackman have been all over the map, spanning from the execrable to the entertaining. However, he's never been at the center of a film like Logan, his final bravura outing in the role. While the X-Men films keep getting bigger, with larger casts and greater destruction, the stand-alone Wolverine films keep getting smaller as the casts constrict and there's a turn toward the internal. That focus bears substantial fruit in Logan, by far the best X-Men film in the extended franchise, and one of the best superhero films in the present era that Wolverine and the X-Men arguably kicked off.
The follow-up to the Wolverine solo series did not have to try too hard to surpass Wolverine: Origins. Burdened with ineffective CGI and crowded with characters that were bungled or unnecessary or both, Origins remains the worst film in the entire X-Men franchise despite some serious competition. In James Mangold's The Wolverine, the series washes its hands of its predecessor and moves Hugh Jackman's feral, adamantium-infused super-healer from North America, with its large and distracting cast of intertwining characters, to Japan and its low mutant population. This first step avoids one of the many traps that Origins fell into, namely a temptation to stuff too many characters, with their respective mutant powers, into a rickety narrative. The setting also affords Jackman's Logan the chance to work in a culture that has long mirrored and inspired Western films. Cowboys and ronin have a lot in common, and lone heroes sauntering into unjust situations fit just as well in Japan as they do in the American frontier. In adapting comics that correctly saw Logan as a claw-fisted Man With No Name, and in having the good sense to not have Logan screaming 'NO!' to the heavens, Mangold helps Jackman expunge the memory of Origins.
Cinematic extended universes have been all the rage in Hollywood for several years, and Legendary Entertainment attempts to add a second chapter to their Monster-verse in Kong: Skull Island. Taking place decades before 2014's Godzilla remake, Jordan Vogt-Roberts sets his giant monster film at the end of the Vietnam War, paying homage to the movie staples about that conflict (Apocalypse Now plus some Rambo) while also poking fun at the muscle-bound action flicks of the 80's. More fun and dynamic than the cinematically-impressive but dramatically-bland Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island is a step in the right direction for Legendary.
Far more than the toyetic corporate mess that was expected, 2014's The LEGO Movie surprised with its high rate of humor and emotion in its storyline. Did the iconic Danish company sell a lot of LEGO sets derived from the movie? Of course they did, but based on the original and inventive work of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, The LEGO Movie managed to be about story first and commerce second, or at least fool the viewer into believing that. Of the many strong components of The LEGO Movie, few were as memorable as Will Arnett's voicing of Batman. Playing the superhero as a self-satisfied bro dining out on his past trauma, Arnett, Lord, and Miller punctured the overly-serious tone of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy while still clearly admiring the character as a bad-ass cool guy. With the LEGO Batman Movie, Lord and Miller switch over to producing, but those who stepped into writing and directing share the same sense of the character, ably balancing his pathos with his inherent silliness.
One thing I’ve come to respect about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is their willingness to gamble by straying away from the standard superhero genre. Whether it be creating a ragtag underdog team like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or going full-on heist movie with “Ant-Man,” The MCU has never feared a little genre bending. So, what does it opt to do once it finally gets its hands on the coveted “Spider-Man” franchise again? Of course, make a teen comedy out of it! “Spider-Man: Homecoming” successfully manages to be a teen comedy with superhero trappings thanks to a strong cast of characters and the proper grounding of a universe often lacking exactly that.
In a disappointing development, the controversy surrounding the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters is far more interesting than the film itself. The trolls of the Internet commentariat came out for this one, savaging the marketing campaign and getting personal with the stars on Twitter. None of this level of anger was evinced by the remakes of Total Recall or Robocop, two other beloved properties of Gen X childhoods repackaged by cannibalistic studios, leaving the gender-flipping of the cast as the obvious reason for the rage. Much to the disappointment of those for whom Pepe is only known as an off-brand tequila, Paul Feig, a director with Bridesmaids and Spy in his win column, spits out a dud here. 2016 was a great year for frustrated misogynists and their feelings of marginalization for several reasons, and one of them was that they got to tell everyone 'I told ya so' about Ghostbusters, a film whose problems are too deep for any foursome of actors, male or female, to solve.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.