Spider-Man: Far From Home

June 28, 2019 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Jon Watts (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”)
Written by: Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”)

Here we are, in the first visit back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” namely the return of everyone disappeared in “the snap” and death of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), and we’re spending that time with his protégé (and heir apparent?) Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” With Iron Man gone and Captain America now a nonagenarian, who’s left to lead the Avengers?

Eight months after the reversal of “the blip” where half of all life in the universe disappeared, the public seems to think the answer is Spider-Man. Though after being re-blipped into existence, all Peter wants to do is take his school trip to Europe and, hopefully, profess his love to his snarky crush MJ (Zendaya) atop the Eiffel Tower. But Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has other ideas for the web slinger, with the arrival of monstrous creatures known as Elementals, who are wreaking havoc across the globe.

Fury hijacks Peter’s trip, pressing him into service with Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a hero from another version of Earth who lost his family in a battle with the Elementals. Dubbed Mysterio by Peter and the media, the noble Beck is seemingly the perfect person to step into the vacant Avengers leadership role, and to take the pressure off the unsure Spider-Man. But things aren’t always what they seem.

Less of a standard superhero adventure and more of a Marvel spin on “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” or “Eurotrip,” “Far From Home” leans heavily into comedy more so than perhaps any other movie in the MCU so far. The film, tasked with rebuilding a sort of normal after “Endgame,” plays most everything for laughs, from the logistics of what happened when “the blip” was reversed to the technological legacy Stark leaves behind for Peter. Holland’s Parker holds it altogether as the awkward teenage straight man, though the film’s somewhat lumpy narrative and too-long runtime suck a little fun out of the whole thing. And as the MCU looks to pivot to focus on the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man for phase four, “Far From Home” can’t help but do a little table setting in its two post-credits sequences. The first one, featuring a delightfully perfect cameo, makes for an interesting cliffhanger that will leave you tingling for what’s coming next.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: Jon Watts (“Cop Car”)
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein (“Horrbile Bosses”) & John Francis Daley (“Vacation”) and Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) & Christopher Ford (“Cop Car”) and Chris McKenna (“The LEGO Batman Movie”) & Erik Sommers (“The LEGO Batman Movie”)

No one wanted this, the third different Spider-Man film franchise from Sony in 15 years. Most of us liked the first two films starring Tobey Maguire from director Sam Raimi. I guess someone liked enough of Marc Webb’s first film in the 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield and a pre-Oscar Emma Stone to warrant the sequel that killed that franchise.

Spider-Man’s origin story, like Batman’s, should be etched in stone somewhere on a list called “Things We Never Need to See Depicted On Screen Again.”

But of course, in this golden age of comic book films, the most popular, kid-friendly hero can’t stay benched. Marvel came a-calling, offering Sony a deal they couldn’t refuse: let Spider-Man (which the studio has the film rights to) join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and we’ll let you borrow elements for the MCU for stand-alone Spider-Man films, which sputtered out after “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” just as Marvel was kicking things into overdrive. This marriage begat the latest film featuring the wise-cracking web slinger, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Picking up just after the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which is recounted by Peter Parker (Tom Holland) via social media videos, “Homecoming” focuses on Peter’s high school life while he awaits another call from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to join up once again with the Avengers. Meanwhile, Peter dons his Stark-made Spidey suit—filled with tech, natch—to stop petty crime around New York. When Peter runs across some criminals using salvaged Chitauri tech, he inadvertently stumbles into the path of arms dealer Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a once-honest man driven to the underworld when the government and Stark muscle him out of the salvage business. All this while he’s trying to win the affection of cute older girl Liz (Laura Harrier).

I don’t know  that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the best Spider-Man movie—a distinction that still belongs to Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2”—but it’s certainly the most fun. The movie is a genuine laugh riot at times, shamelessly aping the ‘80s output of John Hughes to mine hilarity from teenage awkwardness. Holland’s Peter feels like the first real “teenaged” Spider-Man we’ve ever gotten, and his clumsy pining over Liz and his nerdy goings on with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are fun enough even without the web swinging. Alas, this is Marvel movie, though, and previous viewing of damn near everything that came before it, though not absolutely required, is highly advised. Though not as hefty a presence as marketing may have implied, Tony Stark hangs heavy over the film, especially in the suit, which at times makes Spider-Man seem more like a kid version of Iron Man that swings from webs instead of flying than the webhead everyone loves (also, where’s the spider sense, or the super strength?)

Still, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” almost improbably, delivers an essential, delightful version of a movie no one wanted in the first place.

The LEGO Batman Movie

February 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson
Directed by: Chris McKay (TV’s “Robot Chicken”)
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), Chris McKenna (“Igor”), Erik Sommers (“Spider-man: Homecoming”), Jared Stern (“The Watch”), John Whittington (debut)

Learning, post-screening, that “The LEGO Batman Movie” director Chris McKay cut his stop-motion, pop culture incisors on three-seasons-and-a-movie of “Robot Chicken” feels something like — if you’ll be a peach and pardon the simile — the final piece clicking into place in that pixel-y, scale-model-ish helicopter/racecar/pontoon boat/Millennium Falcon you’ve been coaxing into being from a puddle of disparate, primary-colored, plastic Danish peg-bricks.

That is: It fits. It makes sense. It was always there, formless yet undeniable until it was made explicit and you uttered a sotto-voce “of course!” It’s what Lego Oprah (surely that exists) might call an “Everything is Ahawesome” moment. (Good gravy. No more Lego puns for me.)

It explains, in other words, the palpable kinship in sensibility between the incumbent Bat-comedy and the wryly frenetic Seth Green brainchild, which strobe-lights references both broad and arcane at its adoring viewers with the stamina and breakneck pace of a Gatling gun manned by a circa-’90s Dennis Miller.

In case this sounds like a complaint: It isn’t. For one thing, if “Lego Batman” feels something like kissing cousins with “Chicken,” it feels even more unmistakably and specifically at home (by purposeful design, certainly) with its record-breaking, Chris Pratt fronted forebear, “The Lego Movie” (on which McKay served as editor and animation co-director, among other credits). Fans of the latter, thus, should find much to enjoy here. For another thing, it’s replete with more than enough fond-and-loving nods to Batman’s greatest hits (Burton/Keaton, Nolan/Bale, et al.) and deep cuts (Killer Moth? Gentleman Ghost? CONDIMENT KING?) — as well as to pop culture at large — to satisfy Batman casuals, diehards, and don’t-cares alike.

As the film opens, we’re re(re-re)introduced to our iconic, mildly bell-shaped, adorably Byronic antihero (Arnett): He broods, raps cavalierly at the fourth wall, raps (and beatboxes) and thrashes on electric guitar, and saves the city in a stunning pyrotechnic display of superheroic prowess without so much as breaking a shiny yellow sweat. And: He never takes off the cowl. Figuratively, at least, but pretty much literally, too. At home, he absently microwaves lobster thermidor, pads through cavernous, echo-chamber hallways, gazes wistfully at pictures of his parents when he thinks no one’s looking, and otherwise generally worries manservant/father figure Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes, in apparent and much-appreciated observance of my deeply held personal belief that Ralph Fiennes should be in everything, please), who wants nothing more, in keeping with canon, than for his ward to lighten up and let people into his hermetic, kevlar-insulated world. Enter Richard “Dick” Grayson: uncommonly spry orphan, megawatt-candlepower Pollyanna, recent adoptive-son-via misunderstanding to billionaire Bat-beard Bruce Wayne, and soon-to-be alter ego of pantsless ur-sidekick Robin — limned, in a stroke of mad casting genius, by Michael Cera.

“The Lego Batman Movie” is at its best and most brilliant in these moments of winking, hyperbolic-yet spiritually-reverent adaptation. The characters we know like family, the tentpole relationships that have been hewn in granite for decades, are giddily skewed and exaggerated here, but are also yoked to the thrust and load-bearing theme of the tale: No Batman is a Bat-island. (Or, if you like, a Batcave beneath the surface of a Bat-island.) As did “The Lego Movie,” “Lego Batman” creates fruitful comedic juxtaposition by imagining The World’s Greatest Detective as a whiny, moody, braggy, dim, nigh-pathologically self-absorbed virtual adolescent who happens to be a superhuman athlete and crime-fighting savant.

Wisely, though, the film digs deeper to suggest the roots of this Big-style emotional stunting: Bruce is, in many ways, just a well-muscled kid who misses his parents. Alfred, ever of sage word and furrowed brow, a sea of tough love restrained by propriety and diction, struggles to shepherd his Herculean middle-schooler: In one of the cleverer bits divulged in trailers, he places a parental lock on the Batcomputer. Robin, traditionally conceived as a youthful, bright counterpoint to the “Dark Knight,” is here pushed to 11-and-then-some: He communicates in giddy squeals and effervescent ’80s pop songs and takes the world in guilelessly via Coke-bottle lenses that turn his eyes into saucers.

The most inspired mutation, though, is in Batman’s relationship with Zach Galifianakis’s Joker. Under Lego’s watch, the well-documented “you hate me but you need me,” intertwined-fate, two-sides-of-the-same-coin trope is writ flatly and unapologetically as an “An Officer and a Gentleman”-style “why won’t he let me in” movie romance, to the point that, when it resolves, you almost want Bats carting the Clown Prince off in his arms to the silky-gravelly strains of Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker. It’s one of those moves, an idea so simple and immediately, obviously right that you can’t believe you haven’t seen it before, or that you didn’t think of it yourself. Well played.

There were brief moments in which I found myself drifting. The story progresses logically and well, and even drew tears from me at certain points (it gets sweet, and I’m a crier), but “Lego Batman” is so engaging when it’s poking practical, affectionate, self-aware fun at the monolithically established Bat-Universe that I found myself wishing for a companion version of the film that eschewed plot and emotional resonance and cohesion and character growth and just let its writers loose to “Robot Chicken” jokes at me for 106 minutes. Still, McKay and company do an impressive job of weaving the thing into a working, breathing, family-friendly cautionary tale about overcoming pain and fear and letting oneself love and be loved again. (Again: I cried. At “Lego Batman.”)

And again, the writing, concepts, and casting are so smack-your-face fantastic at times (Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn!) and so warmly considerate of its fan base (Billy Dee as Two-Face!) that I’m eager for a second viewing. My viewing partner, an enormous “Lego Movie” fan, didn’t dig this outing as much, and I don’t know that I’d necessarily call it a perfect movie, but there are lots of things about it, particularly as a Bat-fan, that I love and appreciate to an extent that, frankly, I want to hug them and never Lego.

(Last one.)