Spider-Man: Homecoming – The Postmodern Conflict

Thoughts On: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Peter Parker idles away time, waiting to be called by the Avengers again.

Ultimately, this is a pretty good movie, but it has quite a few faults. Starting with the good, this has shades of an expressive tale within. In short, Spider-Man: Homecoming is about confronting and reconciling with father figures. We see this not just with Peter and Tony Stark, but also with Peter and his love interest’s father, too – who, spoilers, is the villain of the movie. As much of a cliche as this is, the use of this trope is understandable considering the clear intentions to tell this ‘good father-bad father’ tale that we see in movies such as The Lion King. However, there is more to this dichotomy in this narrative as the societal father, what you could refer to as capitalism, big business or the economy is also confronted and, in a way, reconciled with in this narrative through through villain, Vulture. Here we get commentary on the conflicts between classes; the average worker and “The Man”. This bounces off of the other incarnations of the father theme quite well, leaving this with enough of an archetypal underpinning to qualify as a somewhat affecting superhero movie.

Added to this, the other major positive of this movie is the character of Spider-Man. I’m still all for Tobey Maguire, but Holland’s Spider-Man is certainly a very different character. And, for what Spider-Man is in this story, the character is successfully put to screen – especially in the context of this specific narrative. However, the best character of this film was certainly Karen, Spider-Man’s suit assistant thing as voiced wonderfully by Jennifer Connelly. Though she’s only in the film momentarily, she was by far my favourite part. But, beyond this, this movie is fairly amusing, the action is ok and the music works.

Let us now delve into the negatives. Starting light, this isn’t an incredible looking movie. The suit looks awful. The CGI felt very obvious throughout, and it wasn’t integrated well with the practical effects. And, as an extension of this, the direction isn’t noteworthy – in fact, none of the aesthetic choices are. This is just another competent, sometimes bland looking, Marvel movie. In regards to the action scenes, whilst they are ok, they are far from astounding. This is somewhat disappointing as there isn’t enough meat on this story for you not to be waiting for a cool action sequence. And nor is this funny enough either. Some jokes hit quite well – though, in a way that has me questioning why I’m laughing at such nonsense – the “I’m watching porn” bit is a perfect example of this. That kind of humour has its charm and I certainly don’t resent it, but, many jokes don’t work at all. Coming back to the “I’m watching porn” bit, this is the one moment in which… I can’t remember his name… is of any worth. All of the sub-characters of this movie were either mediocre or substandard. For instance, Vulture: he works, he’s sometimes menacing, but ultimately forgettable. The love interest: passable. The dopey friend: sometimes annoying, often badly written, generally ignorable. Bad guy henchmen: dumb, throw away caricatures. Flash: terrible – plain terrible. Other people in and around the school: more sloppy, cliched caricatures. I ultimately think this movie has a few too many characters, but those who are given focus just aren’t up to par.

Much of the negatives discussed so far point us straight towards the script, and, whilst it is not the only thing to blame, this is probably the poorest part of this movie. The plotting, especially in the first act, is horrific. Why on earth would average Joes get to work on clearing away alien technology? They weren’t at all regulated and didn’t even have safety equipment. It is understandable that there’d be a lot of mess to clean up after whatever Avenger movie this follows, but these places would certainly have been restricted and highly regulated if the government had any sense at all – and let’s hope they at least have some. Added to plotting issues that reoccur throughout, the dialogue is not very strong. This isn’t helped, however, by the incredibly choppy editing. In such, there are consistent moments in which continuity is broken and you can tell that multiple takes have been forced together. And this is especially obvious in dialogue heavy scenes that involve jokes and, probably, some ad-libbing.

The worst characteristic of Spider-Man’s script is, however, its general tone and approach to narrative. Whilst the approach is playful – and for obvious reasons – it undeniably pales in comparison to the original Spider-Man movies. Raimi, director of Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell, manages to generate far more emotional resonance in his Spider-Man films than Jon Watts, director of… Cop Car(?) does. Having seen Cop Car, I can’t say that Watts is a bad director; the movie wasn’t particularly good, but he’s competent. However, why Marvel choose to go for directors who are young, inexperienced, but apparently good with “character journeys” is a bit lost on me. I understand the ‘good with character journeys’ bit, and it’s a bit difficult to imagine a director coming close to working on a film anywhere near the scale of a Marvel movie, but, why the inexperience? Is there a shortage of long-time directors out there? I have no insider’s information on this, but this doesn’t make sense to me conceptually, and it doesn’t seem to be creating particularly brilliant movies; there is a quality that is expected, but these expectations are rarely exceeded.

That aside, getting back to tone, fighting within this script is something that fights in many blockbusters these days: modernism and postmodernism. These are ambiguous, abstract terms, and I don’t think they’re particularly helpful, but traditional storytelling that is somewhat modified and new is certainly at odds with a post-tradition, above-expectation-and-formula approach. Deadpool is a perfect example of a postmodern movie in respect to its approach to narrative. (It’s somewhat conventional aesthetically and formally; it certainly isn’t radical in these respects). Deadpool’s mouth and the fact that he can’t stop telling you about what you expect breaks the fourth wall and expectation over and over and over – though, you couldn’t get a more obvious observation. Whilst this works quite well in Deadpool – I think this is even one of the best superhero movies to come out recently – it now seems that Deadpool is the expression of a somewhat tired genre.

Revitalising the superhero genre took the X-Men movies and then Nolan’s Batman films. These movies took themselves seriously, but this suited the likes of Wolverine and Batman quite well; these are lost, powerful characters that often wander on the fringes of nihilism whilst confronting some very dark villains. When we turn to Superman, Captain America and Iron Man, filmmakers in the modern day of course were confronted with an issue of tone; they couldn’t go camp and over-the-top, but these characters don’t suit the complete dark, grittiness that a Batman or Wolverine could adapt to. With Iron Man, Marvel found a good balance. Instead of injecting a lot of darkness into Stark’s life, they turned him crass and quite the dick. He has remained this was ever since, and has developed a postmodern tongue not too different from Deadpool’s. I don’t care to think about what DC are doing right now with Superman, but it is somewhat confounding to see every character right down to Captain America and Thor adopt the postmodern grin. It’s this that says that those at Marvel don’t really know what to do with these characters apart from point at what we expect them to be and snicker. Moreover, it’s this that suggests that the superhero genre is getting a little bit tired.

In all honesty, however, this trend of postmodern neglect pervades a lot of blockbusters. This doesn’t bother me so much as you can look to many other places beyond Hollywood for different movies and we’ve got some astounding films such as It, Arrival and those in the Planet of the Apes Trilogy recently. Nevertheless, looking at Spider-Man, this postmodern trope becomes ever more obvious as this movie does try to fight for genuine moments that actually embrace and take its archetypal themes seriously. However, when this does happen, with a moment like the puddle, mask, Mulan’s face spilt in half shot…

… this really doesn’t work. It may have just been me, but you could feel Downey Jr’s disdain for the line he was given in the V.O here. This failed attempt at a moment that we’ve all seen many times before signifies not just this movie’s contrivance, but its inability to be truly genuine and embrace classical modes and approaches to story. For Marvel to lose this ability to some degree is quite concerning. Whilst they’ve never made particularly brilliant movies (outside of the original Spider-Man films), being unable to step away from postmodern obnoxiousness and still work says a lot about the value of the stories being told. The character journeys aren’t there, the subtext isn’t strong enough, these movies don’t look particularly good, they’re not very funny, the spectacle isn’t all too impressive and the various peripheral elements of the story (sub-characters, political hints, references, Stan Lee, etc.) are just annoying. This is nothing new, but it’s almost been a decade since Iron Man, and these movies aren’t going in a particularly interesting, nor better, direction.

With all of that said, Spider-Man is not a terrible movie, but, taking a step back, it gets worse and comes to a rest on the shores of mediocrity. There’s no use pondering where the Marvel movies will go next, if they will change, get better or go away; they just seem to be what they are. However, what are your thoughts on this newest Spider-Man film?

A note I’ll tag on the end here is that I have a gap in my schedule for the Every Year In Film Series that I can’t find a topic to fill (I loaded a bit too much into one or two previous posts and used up key topics too quickly). I may take a break from the series for this week considering we hit 25 last, and will strive to choose a worthwhile topic to cover as soon as possible.

 

 

Thanks.

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