Review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has experienced a great deal in his 15 years: He lost his parents and lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him super strength and the ability to climb up walls, and he briefly joined the Avengers at the request of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) during the battle in Berlin. Stark is letting Peter keep the high-tech Spider-Man suit Stark gave him for that battle. Peter wants to be an Avenger but Stark thinks its best if Peter is just your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man and deal with mundane street crime in New York City. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is not your average street criminal. He was once a salvager working to clean up the mess left after the Battle of New York between the Avengers and Chitauri but he was shut down by a government agency taking over the clean-up, ruining him financially. Toomes kept some of the salvaged alien tech and began making very powerful weapons he sells on the black market. Peter, patrolling as Spider-Man, comes across a gang breaking into an ATM using some of Toomes tech and in the fight a corner store across the street from the bank is destroyed. Peter makes it his mission to find out where these weapons are coming from and follows a van containing some of the weapons when he is attacked by a man wearing jet-powered wings and with hydraulic claws on his feet. Toomes has made a flying suit with the alien tech and attacks Peter, nearly killing him. Peter is persistent and tries to capture Toomes and his gang during a weapons deal on the Staten Island Ferry that nearly leads to mass casualties. Stark, angry Peter is taking on missions that are above his experience, takes back the high tech spider suit leaving Peter feeling like a failure and unworthy of being an Avenger.

The cynical among us would look at “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as a blatant cash grab in the third version in 15 years of the character on the big screen. The hopeful among us would look at it, as the title suggests, as a homecoming of sorts for the character as Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) was directly involved in the creation of the story and allowed Tony Stark/Iron Man and Captain America to be used in this film made by Sony/Columbia Pictures. Everyone that enjoys superhero films was just hoping it would at least be an improvement over the Andrew Garfield version of the web-slinging teenager or the third Sam Raimi film. I am happy to report all is looking good in the Spider-verse.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” feels like a more hopeful and positive version of Spider-Man. Perhaps not completely rebooting the character back to the death of Uncle Ben (again) allows this version of Peter Parker to be more positive and less mired in the guilt of that character’s death. That’s not to say Peter doesn’t take the role of being a superhero seriously: If anything he takes it too seriously and devotes all his free time to waiting for a call from Stark to go on another Avengers adventure. This Peter Parker is shown living a dual existence between being a high school student with the responsibilities that entails and being a superhero looking for trouble in his neighborhood. Several times he decides he has to don his suit and face the dangers of his job while letting down his friends and classmates. He leaves a party, leaves an academic decathlon and leaves his date at the homecoming dance and most of the time despite the sacrifice of his personal life; he fails at being a hero. Even when he loses his Stark-tech-enhanced suit, he still feels the obligation to wear his amateurish homemade version and fight the bad guys. It’s his willingness to fail and not give up that makes this Spider-Man especially appealing.

Tom Holland makes a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is obviously enthusiastic about the part, being quoted in interviews saying he’d like to be the web-slinger for the next 30 years. While that’s unlikely he is contracted for a total of six films and it should be fun seeing Holland and the character grow up over time as long as the scripts and stories are good.

Michael Keaton plays perhaps the best villain in any Marvel movie. Adrian Toomes is a menacing figure with a hair-trigger temper but Keaton has the talent and intelligence to play him with a quiet menace and makes his volatility that much more frightening. A scene late in the film could be used as a convincing argument for a best supporting actor Oscar for Keaton. There’s a chance we’ll see him again in future Spider-Man films and I fear Peter Parker is in for a rough time should the Vulture be freed to fly again.

The rest of the cast is strong and provides terrific supporting performances for the leads. Zendaya is especially good as Michelle, a bookish, oddly turned classmate of Peter’s. She is always close by to provide an ego deflating comment or dose of reality for Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Marisa Tomei’s version of Aunt May is the most modern and certainly the youngest in the character’s movie history. This Aunt May is a force to be reckoned with for Peter as she isn’t easily put off or deceived. It’s also a source of humor as more than Tony Stark is shown flirting with her or expressing interest in her. There is a great deal of potential in this version of Peter’s guardian including future scenes where she is able to extract herself from trouble without the assistance of her super powered nephew.

While the film is a good mix of humor, character development and action, there are times when the action looks muddy. The CGI battles frequently occur at night, making the fast movements nearly impossible to see. While the special effects are very good during the daylight scenes the nighttime set pieces tend to get lost in the darkness.

There’s also another little thing that bothered me about “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Peter’s friend Ned discovers his secret identity (not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer) but then he can’t stop talking to Peter about it in school, constantly asking him questions even when they are surrounded by other students. If I had a secret of that size I certainly wouldn’t want my friend chatting about it out loud around other people. There are numerous situations where Ned is asking question but he isn’t being subtle and there are always people standing or sitting nearby. It is a recipe for having your secret spread all over school in no time and inevitably discovered by the super villains you fight. That really stuck out to me.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief suggestive comments and some language. There are numerous fights but no gore. One person is turned into a pile of ash by an alien weapon. Spider-Man is shown being dragged behind a van and thrown into trash cans and mailboxes. There is a plane crash and other mayhem caused by the weapons. I do not remember anything that could be considered suggestive other than some very mild comments about Aunt May. Foul language is mild and scattered.

At the end of the film we are promised Spider-Man will return. We know he’s in “Avengers: Infinity War” as well as its sequel and two more scheduled solo movies. That, along with his appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” would total Tom Holland’s six contracted films as the web slinger. While it is difficult for any series of films to maintain the quality of the original, Marvel seems to be more successful at it than most. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have this Spider-Man for a while and not need to reboot the franchise for quite some time. As long as the future films are as good as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” I’m perfectly happy with that.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” gets five stars.

Three new movies open in wide release this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Big Sick—

War for the Planet of the Apes—

Wish Upon—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Reviews of “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys”

Summer is the season of school being out, vacations, spending time at the pool or lake or ocean or whatever body of water you might be near and braindead movies meant to pass a few hours between warm weather activities. Few films this season will probably be as braindead as “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys.” I saw them both and could feel the death of grey matter as they both progressed. One was responsible for more synapse-cide than the other.

Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) has left the male stripper life behind and is now building and selling custom furniture. He gets a call from former fellow stripper Tarzan (Kevin Nash) telling him their old boss and MC Dallas (played in the first film by Matthew McConaughey but only mentioned in this film) has died. Mike travels to a motel where a wake is supposed to be held but finds Tarzan and the rest of his old crew of Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) partying around the pool. Tarzan admits he lied and Dallas isn’t dead but left them on their own to go start another club overseas. The gang is headed up the coast to Myrtle Beach for the annual stripper convention for one last ride before they all hang up their G-strings and try for some kind of normal lives. They ask Mike if he wants to go but he says no as he has a life, business and responsibilities there. That night, he hears a song he used to dance to and does an impromptu routine in his work space. The next day, he meets with the guys and agrees to go on one last ride. An accident disables their ride and puts Tobias in the hospital with a head injury, standing them until their converted food truck van is repaired. Mike decides to approach his old boss Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) who runs a private club for women in a house where male strippers are scattered around performing shows. While unable to convince Rome to be their fill-in MC, she does give them access to a car and has Andre (Donald Glover), one of her performers, give them a ride. Things are looking bleak as the troop heads to their last convention with no MC and not much of a plan.

“Magic Mike XXL” looks like a movie that didn’t have a completed script when it went into production. The story is very fragmented and jumps around like a child playing hopscotch. The only cohesive section of the film is the road trip until Tobias gets hurt; then, the section with every fortuitous turn imaginable begins. People who won’t help suddenly appear to do exactly what the boys need. There’s no slot during the convention for them to perform but that suddenly opens up. All their plans, thrown together in what appears to be a matter of hours story-wise, work out perfectly leading to a triumphant conclusion. It appears the only thing you need to live a charmed life is washboard abs and bulging pecs. Anything resembling everyday life is left behind once Mike decides to rejoin his buddies in Stipper-ville. “Magic Mike XXL” is a silly fantasy about shallow people living lives filled with as much instant gratification and recreational drugs as they can find. Of course, we discover they are all much deeper than we suspect and all they really want is just an average life with someone to love…except the New Age healer/actor/singer who realizes his dreams of stardom are likely never to be fulfilled but tells Mike, “I’m still pretty.” There were times in this film that I wanted to smack ever character on screen for being so petty.

About the only saving grace of the film is a scene involving Andie MacDowell as a divorced, modern southern belle hosting some friends at her home when Mike and the guys show up. It turns into a session of discovery and revelation that, while ridiculous, was interesting to watch. It seems like the only scene in the film that actually had a little thought applied to it. It also is one of those aforementioned fortuitous turns helping the boys get to Myrtle Beach. The film is also saved (somewhat) by the charisma of Channing Tatum. Tatum plays characters in most of his films that seem like decent people. Tatum comes off in interviews like an average guy that just happens to make movies. It’s his appeal as an everyman that keeps “Magic Mike XXL” from being an insufferable experience.

“Magic Mike XXL” is rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. Most of the dance scenes involve simulated sex acts. The only nudity I remember is Joe Manganiello’s bare backside early in the film. There are also some exposed cheeks when the boys are wearing their stripper gear. The guys are shown smoking weed and taking capsules that are referred to as Molly. Foul language is common.

While this film certainly isn’t aimed at me, “Magic Mike XXL” still manages a few laughs with the antics of the male strippers and a cameo by Michael Strahan as one of Rome’s dancers. While the humor and the charisma of Channing Tatum provide some bright spots, “Magic Mike XXL” feels like it was made from an unfinished script that left me feeling at times confused and then finally uninterested.

“Magic Mike XXL” gets a fully clothed three stars out of five.

John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) along with the rest of their troops are on the verge of destroying Skynet and ending the extinction of the human race. One team is hitting a facility where Skynet is based by Connor and Reese lead a team against a facility that contains the time machine used to send Terminators to the past. Skynet is disabled and all the robots shut down; but the time machine has been used to send a T-800 model back to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Kyle Reese volunteers to go back and protect Sarah. John knows if he doesn’t he’ll never be born. Kyle begins the process of time travel but sees John being attacked by someone in the crowd. Kyle shows up in 1984 and is almost instantly attacked by a liquid metal T-1000 model (Lee Byung-hun). Hiding in a clothing store, Kyle is saved by Sarah Connor driving an armored truck. In the back is an aged looking T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Kyle tries to shoot him but the old T-800 knocks him unconscious. When he wakes, Sarah tells Kyle that the Terminator she calls “Pops” has raised her since she was nine. He’s there to protect her. Kyle is suspicious and doesn’t trust Pops. Things have changed from the history Kyle was told by John. Kyle also has memories of being a child and telling himself that Genisys is Skynet. Nothing is making sense.

I don’t want to give away any more than that brief synopsis as I often get yelled at for telling too much. Besides, the whole story of “Terminator: Genisys” is far more complicated as time is twisted into knots and histories and futures are as fluid as water. Nothing you know about the “Terminator” universe stays completely unchanged from film to film so this shouldn’t be a big surprise. That the timeline can be manipulated and changed was one of the most appealing aspects of the film. It also means there can be endless sequels since the past can be manipulated like soft clay and molded into whatever the next writer wants.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of the film even though his is more of a supporting character. Pops is given the job of putting the science of the film into words. It seems like a risky idea considering Schwarzenegger’s thick accent. Still, he manages to deliver explanations for the various timelines that at least sound like they have a scientific basis. Schwarzenegger also provides much of the film’s humor. His scary dead-eyed smile is usually delivered at the perfectly inappropriate time and his lack of emotion and understanding of emotional expressions means lines that aren’t funny take on a humorous context.

Most of the film’s action is created through CGI. While many scenes look pretty good, including the film’s climax, some look bland, particularly a helicopter chase amongst the skyscrapers of San Francisco. There are shots that look flat and unfinished like the nighttime setting would hide the flaws. It doesn’t. This is a brief scene compared to others but it stuck out. One highlight of the CGI is the fight between old and young Schwarzenegger. An Australian bodybuilder with matching physical measurements to 1984 Arnold was used as a body double then had Schwarzenegger’s young face digitally stitched to his head. It works surprisingly well and looks almost completely natural. Oddly enough, the digital Arnold face actually has a brief flash of too much emotion.

I believe the studio made a tactical error in releasing a major plot twist in one of the film’s trailers. It caused a bit of a stink on the Internet but I didn’t think that much of it at the time. Having now seen the film it was a much larger mistake than I originally thought. This kind of surprise (which I won’t tell if you don’t already know) is the kind of major story event that can raise the audience excitement for a film and give it enormous word-of-mouth buzz. Since it was revealed in the trailer, the reveal is ho hum. According to press reports, director Alan Taylor didn’t know about the spoiler being in the trailer and is quoted as saying he wouldn’t have revealed it before the film came out. Since the film is underperforming at the box office in its opening days, this may actually be costing the studio some money. It also doesn’t help that “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World” are still performing strongly this late in their runs; but people talking about that surprise might have driven a few more patrons the film’s way. The trailer reveal seems at best short sighted and at worst incompetent.

“Terminator: Genisys” is rated PG-13 for gunplay throughout, brief strong language, intense sci-fi violence and partial nudity. Guns of various types are fired throughout the film, most frequently at non-human characters. Those humans that are shot show very little blood. The fights between the various types of Terminators involve lots of bodies getting thrown around and through walls and ceilings. The flesh gets beaten, burned and ripped off the T-800 models in various ways. The nudity consists of those people who travel in time as they must do so naked. The most we see is bare male backsides. Foul language is intermittent.

If you don’t think too hard about the twisty timelines (or know anything about actual physics and the improbability of time travel), “Terminator: Genisys” is a fun action flick with plenty of nostalgia for those of us old enough to have seen the first film in the series. Seeing Arnold in his various forms saying his most famous “Terminator” lines in completely different contexts brings a smile to those of us who have aged along with the T-800. Resetting the timeline also opens the door for more films with two already planned and getting 2017 and 2018 release dates. It would appear Arnold is telling us, “I’ll be back.”

“Terminator: Genisys” gets five stars.

Horror, sci-fi, a sex romp and little yellow helpers are all on tap at theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following.

The Gallows—

Minions—

The Overnight—

Self/Less—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.