Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) is the second reboot of the first superstar of the 21st century superhero boom since Sam Raimi’s hit trilogy and this time Sony (who still owns the movie rights) has handed the creative reins over to Marvel Studios and allowed them to integrate the webslinger into the Marvel Comics Movie Universe.
Tom Holland actually made his big screen debut as Spider-Man, once again a hapless high school kid just like in the original comics, in Captain American: Civil War, recruited by Tony Stark to be his secret weapon against Captain America’s rebel heroes. After holding his own in his big league try-out, Holland carries Spider-Man: Homecoming with the youthful spirit of a high school brainiac nerd with the fresh charge of superpowers he’s still mastering, the unseasoned hero eager to impress reluctant mentor Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and make the leap from the streets of Queens to the big leagues of The Avengers.
This film wisely dispenses with the whole origin story and reintroduces us to the rookie wall crawler by revisiting his Civil War coming out party from the excited kid’s point-of-view via Parker’s camera-phone. It’s a perfect entry into this variation on the Marvel house style, capturing not just the charge but the culture of social engagement of a high school kid, a YouTube take on superhero spectacle in the first person.
Funny without being tongue-in-cheek and epic without being ponderous, Spider-Man: Homecoming is what a summer movie should be. This latest installment in the Marvel comics blockbuster-verse is as bouncy as its web-spinning hero. Instead of numbly moving the plot forward for the sake of the Marvel corporate plan (I mean “storytelling initiative”), it seamlessly tucks itself into the ongoing Marvel thing without feeling obligatory. This is the way you do it.
We’ve seen a lot of Spider-Man in recent years, including Sam Raimi’s trilogy with Tobey Maguire and two installments with Andrew Garfield. Our current incarnation, played by Tom Holland, debuted last year in Captain America: Civil War, of which teenager Peter Parker’s mentorship under Tony Stark, aka Iron Man’s superhero-mentoring program, was the most engaging part. Teen angst loomed large in previous tellings of Peter’s story, but Homecoming makes the radical suggestion that high-school years might also be fun—even if you’re struggling with the newfound powers of being Spider-Man.
Spotlight (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is the kind of film that takes on the Big Subject with modesty and self-reflection, drawing the viewer into the world of the reporters and culture of Boston in 2001 to better understand the scope of everything that’s at stake.
Spotlight is the story of the Boston Globe reporters who investigated history of abuse perpetrated on children by Catholic priests, a history that had spotty coverage in the paper over the years but was each time quickly forgotten, chalked up as another isolated case. It takes new editor Marty Barron (Liev Schreiber), someone from out of town who hasn’t grown up believing The Church an untouchable institution, to spur a serious look into what turns out to be a systemic issue. He assigns the paper’s investigative “Spotlight” unit—reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), and editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton)—not all of whom are convinced there’s a story here. Until they see a startling pattern.
It’s got a big ensemble cast, but if you want a measure of what Spotlight does very, very well, keep an eye on the new guy. In the film’s opening minutes, new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives at The Boston Globe. In Schreiber’s canny performance, Baron is woefully free of warm ’n’ fuzzies; he’s a blunt outsider in a clubby town—he came from Miami, for crying out loud. We spot him as a corporate stooge who will surely act as antagonist to the Globe’s band of reporter heroes, those hard-talking pros with their sleeves rolled up. In a story full of hard-won disclosures, Baron’s gradual emergence as a beacon of journalistic integrity and moral conviction is perhaps the movie’s subtlest revelation.
That’s not me talking. That’s what the great editor (great friend) Dov Hoenig said about Birdman the other day, as his wife Zoe and I were trying to shorten the distance between London and Seattle over the phone.
My enthusiasms you can take with a giant grain of salt. Dov’s you should take very very seriously. The secret in the IMDb listing of his 40+ films, abroad and crucially with Michael Mann, is that it spans movies shot on film (Thief, Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans) and digitally (Heat, Collateral Damage) and he knows the virtues and frailties of both. Never heard Dov — impassioned but also measured and serious — be this swept away before and this seems the time to share his fervor.
What particularly revved me up was seeing Birdman a second time last week. I’d forgotten just what a deckle-edge comedy it is, with all its soulfulness. I think it’s a reflection of my inner Olive Kitteridge that I’ve held fast (for 3 months!) to not just popping in the screener so that my husband could see what I’ve been hyperventilating about, but insisting on a dark quiet theatre, so he could see it as it should be seen, in its full wonder. Worked, too; he has come back to moments from it, again and again.
Even if it doesn’t live up to its festival reviews or its crazy possibilities, Birdmanserves so many heady moments it qualifies as a bona fide happening. The movie begins quietly enough—an actor meditates in his dressing room before a stage rehearsal—but there’s a curveball. The actor is floating in mid-air.
No mention is made of this, nor of the other apparently telekinetic powers that belong to Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). A movie star in a career skid since he stopped playing a masked superhero named Birdman back in the ’90s, Thomson is preparing his big comeback. Unless it kills him first.
RoboCop (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) – We gripe about remakes all the time, but when you approach something with the status of the original 1987 RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven’s perversely violent, savagely smart, and wickedly funny science fiction action blast laced with political and social satire, it gets personal for a lot of folks. And for good reason. Twenty five years later, it seems more prescient than ever, which puts the onus on the new film to justify itself: just what does it have to say about a world where unmanned military drones are being drafted into stateside police work?
Brazilian director José Padilha, who delivered both gritty, high-tension action and a savvy social drama in Elite Squad, takes on this remake, and Swedish-born / Texas-tutored Joel Kinnaman is Detroit cop and family man Alex Murphy, rebuilt with military robotics as an urban assault weapon after he’s mortally wounded in an ambush.
This is certainly much slicker than the original, with military robots that look like the Cylons of the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot and mayhem galore, but it’s also much tamer in terms of both violence and satire. Where the original found an insidious handshake between corporate profits and planned obsolescence and design flaws designed to keep contracts full and a cut of the drug and flesh trade around construction projects, this is just about greed on small and large scales, with OmniCorp, the insidious contractor hoping to sell the dubious American public on a mechanical police force, as the big-time crooks. Michael Keaton is despicably good as the instinctively disingenuous CEO and Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, and Samuel L. Jackson co-star.
The battle between the human spirit and an operating system offering “the illusion of free will,” a metaphor rife with possibility but lacking conviction, for a film that turns on the struggle between man and machine, this film has less personality than Verhoeven’s. The film ultimately favors soggy sentiment over the cleverness of the original: emotion overrides the system here, rather than taking on the fatal logic of the system itself in the darkly witty twist of the original. The human factor is the wild card. I just wish it was actually more wild and less predictable.
One question that really bothers me in all these future films: how have they managed to create entirely self-contained robot soldiers yet never found a way to make silent servo motors? Every movement comes with the whir and buzz of working parts just to remind us that it’s not just a suit, it’s technology, baby!
The Blu-ray offers the three-part featurette ” Robocop: Engineered for the 21st Century,” an OmniCorp product announcement and deleted scenes, plus a bonus DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD copy. No supplements on the DVD.