Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

Welcome to an unusually timely review because again I managed to catch a movie in the theater. I know I promised a different review this time but I want to talk about Spider-Man while the impression is still fresh and you might still care. So,

er-spidermanhomecomingSpider-Man: Homecoming

Category: Movies

Find it in: theaters, for now

What it is:
The newest version of the Spider-Man franchise when Marvel has finally managed to regain its flag hero (or partly regain him because it was still branded with Sony; I don’t know, you don’t come here for insider gossip, do you). For the first time ever we don’t get an origin story – instead Peter Parker is getting his sea legs (spider legs, maybe?) as the masked hero and trying to be both a high school student and a wannabe Avenger.

How I found it:
How could I not. I obviously saw the proto-trailer in the third Captain America. Then I saw the really bad actual trailer, which made me think “No way, this is going to be stupid.” But then I listened to a podcast where they said this was more of a high school movie than a superhero movie and I suddenly got way more excited.

Summary judgment:
It’s really pretty good. Not my favorite superhero movie by far but it has many things I normally miss in those. Like actual character moments.

Best things about it:
The tone. It was just light enough, without the unbearable grandiosity of most superhero movies, which made Peter believable. And it did manage to incorporate pretty well the high school aspect of the story, which also gave the creators a chance to dig deeper into character development rather than just to escalate battle scenes (looking at you, Ultron).
And super extra points for the animation in the first part of the credits, it was pretty great: creative, edgy and imaginative. It looked almost like a student project, only a really good one. I salute Marvel for keeping the art of credits alive.

Worst things about it:
Just skip this part because I’m sure I’m irritating you by now with my predictability but, you guessed it, the part I liked the least was the fight on the plane. It took too long – but at least there were just two people fighting, not a whole army of copy-paste aliens/robots.

Other pluses:
Tom Holland is great as Peter Parker. Again, a fantastic casting choice for MCU, up there with Robert Downey Jr even.
Vulture was a decent villain for Marvel, with believable (if boring) motivation. At least he didn’t want to destroy the world, he was just selfish and careless.
MJ! If she is to be a new Mary Jane, I’m all for it because it’s such a good take on this traditionally irritating character. If not – why not?!
I liked that most women looked like real women (more or less), even aunt May, whose beauty everyone was praising. And that her glasses weren’t props (pet peeve).
The school was realistic and neither glorified nor too depressing, with very naturally introduced diversity.
Oh, it had possibly the most successful product placement (the Lego Star Wars set) I have ever seen in that it didn’t bother me at all. I only noticed that it was a product placement when I read it in the credits.
And, most of all, it was a pretty funny movie.

Other minuses:
I didn’t care for Liz. She was one of those too-perfect, boring love interests and I hope MJ will be so much better. I don’t see how she wouldn’t be.
And that’s all! Can’t come up with anything else.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed myself. And I really like seeing how superhero movies try new modes and, pretty much, genres.

Fun fact:
So I know everyone has their canonical Spider-Man but mine is probably unsual: it’s the 90s cartoon that I was watching as a kid and it was one of the most exciting cartoons on TV at that time (but only because they didn’t show X-Men here). That, and Captain Planet. They should totally reboot Captain Planet.

Next up Thor, of course.

Recommended for:
Fans of Spider-Man. Fans of MCU. People who want to see slightly differ superhero genres with actual characters.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: It will be Lizzie Bennet Diaries this time


Teenagers, Murders and Secret Societies: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

er-specialtopicsEven though I don’t specifically search for stories about high school girls, I find them in the strangest places, my latest one the once-controversial Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.

This début novel tells a story of 17-year-old Blue van Meer in an unapologetically postmodernist fashion, rife with literary allusions and metaphors. Blue travels the country with her father, a professor of political science, to finally settle for her senior year in a mountain town. She gets involved with a mysterious group of pretentious teenagers led by an even more mysterious, and probably insane, teacher. It’s then that life-changing events unravel (they include hanging; and it’s not a spoiler because the book tells you on the first page).

Like a precocious teen, the book can’t decide between its two preoccupations: does it want to be extravagantly fun (as a whodunnit) or seriously ponder life questions. Sometimes it manages to merge these two, but generally it’s better at the page-turning aspect because once the revelations start coming, you can’t put the book down – even though you rightly suspect in the end you’ll be treated to an open ending.

The open ending is interestingly solved, though. The whole novel is structured like a syllabus, each chapter titled with a famous book’s title. Sometimes this casts an important light on the events, sometimes it seems more like playing with the phrase from the title itself (“Things Fall Apart,” “The Trial”). At first I welcomed the game of allusions but after a while you realize that the very amount of books referenced requires a determination of a Bible scholar and you focus less, especially as the events speed up. At any rate, the syllabus ends with a “Final Exam” where all the possible answers to the story are gathered as multiple answers to test questions. This is an interesting and quite effective way to sum up the unanswered mysteries and at least give the reader a selection from which to pick out their favorite ending.

Just like literary allusions multiply beyond reason, metaphors crowd one another. Most of them are surprising and fresh, sometimes also awkward and confusing. I didn’t mind but I only occasionally interpreted them, again overwhelmed by their amount. But not a single one stood out to me as much as this one used by this reviewer: “she seems to think that if you fling enough metaphors at your readers’ heads, their ducking can be interpreted as bows of reverence.” Pessl doesn’t usually reach this level of accuracy in her metaphoric choices.

While the elaborate story leaves us wanting for final answers, another motif gets precedence: how growing up means emancipating from your parents. Blue’s father, professor van Meer, is definitely the most interesting character in the novel that you can’t decide whether to love or to hate. He’s charming, self-assured and intelligent, treats his women like doormats, thinks himself a wonder and refuses to apologize for anything. Obviously for Blue he’s the center of the world. The mysterious teacher, Hannah Schneider, serves as a mother figure and will also turn out a disappointment. In two poignant scenes, Pessl presents them in a similar way, their faces lit orange and monster-like. This emancipation from parents is a fairy-tale motif, very Bruno-Bettelheimian. In the end, in the world devoid of competent adults, Blue will learn to stand on her own and even, despite endless bad examples, form a romantic relationship. This is the true closed ending of the novel and I actually liked it.