SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence, some Language and brief Suggestive Comments

Directed by: Jon Watts

Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers

(based on the SPIDER-MAN comics by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier & Tony Revolori

After years of battling for the rights and fans craving Spider-Man’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony and Marvel finally teamed up to deliver (at least) two SPIDER-MAN movies set within the MCU. The web-slinging superhero’s introduction was a highlight in last year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and I was hoping that Marvel might deliver a (second) SPIDER-MAN reboot that could actually work. While SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is a fun, light-hearted piece of superhero fluff and wisely doesn’t retread origin material that’s been done twice over, this sixteenth movie in the MCU isn’t quite up to the level of its competition.

After aiding Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in fighting Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is anxiously awaiting his next official mission with the Avengers. However, school comes first and Parker finds himself dealing with the angst that plagues most teenagers. Eager to prove himself to Iron Man, Spider-Man jumps at the chance to take down new high-tech supervillain Vulture. Things get complicated though as this adolescent Avenger seems to be out of his league against Vulture and is running on thin ice with Tony Stark…and there’s also the upcoming Homecoming dance. What’s a teenage superhero to do?

In its second phase and during its third phase, Marvel Studios seems more willing to take risks and mix different genres with the typical superhero formula. For example, WINTER SOLDIER was a fantastic conspiracy thriller with a superhero, both GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films were space operas with superheroes, DOCTOR STRANGE was a mind-bending fantasy with a superhero, and ANT-MAN was a heist-comedy with a superhero. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is very much a coming-of-age tale…with a superhero. Sometimes, this works, but other times it feels overly familiar and doesn’t nearly seem as exciting or fun as it should be.

This might be fatigue from seeing two other incarnations of SPIDER-MAN within the span of 10 years, but I blame most of this film’s problems on overused tropes (from both the superhero and coming-of-age genres). None of the fault falls on the shoulders of Tom Holland, who’s playing the youngest version of Peter Parker that we’ve seen yet and convincingly brings the ambitious do-gooder, smart-ass side of Spidey to the screen. Though I still hold a soft spot in my heart for Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and I thought that Andrew Garfield drastically improved his performance in his second outing as the crime-fighting wall-crawler, Holland just might give Maguire a run for his money in future films (as the character grows up and the stories evolve).

On the supporting side of things, Jacob Batalon earns a lot of laughs as Peter’s geeky best friend Ned. Zendaya is half-heartedly thrown aside as Peter’s bland love interest. Even worse than the unbelievably forced romantic angle is Tony Revolori being miscast as Flash. Instead of a jock bully who wants to beat Peter’s brains in, Flash has been made over into a pompous, rich kid, “king of the nerds” type of tormentor and it simply doesn’t work. Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr make appearances as Peter’s naïve teachers, while Marisa Tomei is fun as Aunt May. Also, it’s impossible not to enjoy watching Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, even though he only gets about fifteen minutes of screen time.

HOMECOMING’s best quality comes in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Instead of being your typical supervillain, Vulture’s motivation is sympathetic and his progression of evil has a moral compass. These character traits make Keaton’s baddie into one of the most interesting Marvel villains we’ve received thus far, even if his first action scene with Spider-Man is ruined by incoherent quick editing and shaky cam. The rest of the encounters are fun to watch, especially a conversation between the two of them in a car. Also, a mid-credits scene reveals yet another moment that make Keaton’s Vulture into a more complex villain…who deserved more than this by-the-numbers script. The same can be said of Shocker (played by Logan Marshall-Green and Bokeem Woodbine) who mostly stands around and only gets one solid fight scene that’s over far too quickly.

Every major problem with SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING comes from predictable writing and overused clichés. Coming-of-age stories have been done to death nearly as much as superhero movies, so combining those two genres doesn’t exactly give the filmmaker or (six!) writers a lot of originality to work with. This feels like a safe made-by-committee superhero movie, which could have been the direct result of Sony and Marvel working together. Still, there’s enough entertainment, good acting, and laughs to make SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING worth a tepid recommendation. HOMECOMING is your average fun superhero movie and your average fun teenage coming-of-age tale…and it’s the fourth best SPIDER-MAN film thus far (behind SPIDER-MAN 2, SPIDER-MAN, and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2).

Grade: B-

DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Horror Violence and Gore throughout, and Language including some Sexual References

(English/Norwegian with English subtitles)

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Directed by: Tommy Wirkola

Written by: Tommy Wirkola, Stig Frode Henriksen & Vegar Hoel

Starring: Vegar Hoel, Orjan Gamst, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas, Stig Frode Henriksen & Hallvard Holmen

Confession time. I didn’t like DEAD SNOW. I felt it had a couple of solid scenes (mainly the climactic fight and the intestines being used to hang over a cliff), but suffered from horrible pacing and Tommy Wirkola forcing a faux cult classic vibe simply on the premise of Nazi Zombies. The fact is that a lot of people did like DEAD SNOW and they liked enough that it was successful enough to spawn a sequel. I really was hesitant about watching this second installment to a film I didn’t care that much for to begin with, but I watched it nonetheless. I’m so happy to say that Tommy Wirkola has joined the welcomed new trend of horror filmmakers who give a shit about what they make. He seems to have listened to every complaint about the flaws of the original and tried his best to fix them in this sequel. Is it perfect? Not even close. Is it a blast of gory fun? Hell yes! DEAD SNOW 2 kicks a lot of ass!

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The story begins right from the last shot of the original movie. Following a quick recap (which also contains most of the first film’s highlight scenes), Martin is attacked by Nazi Zombies for one last stolen gold coin in his vehicle. After making a quick getaway and crashing his car, Martin awakes in the hospital to discover that he lost his arm and had it reattached. The kicker is that this is actually a zombie arm and it’s going out of control (murdering anybody who comes close to the decaying appendage). Meanwhile, the Nazi Zombies have been inspired to attack a town. In order to save the day, Martin (and his zombie arm) must enlist the help of the American self-named “Zombie Squad” to kill this undead menace….but they’ll need to raise an army of their own to win the war.

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DEAD SNOW 2 shows superior humor in an opening that has Martin trying to fight undead Nazis while the radio keeps playing a distracting techno-dance beat. It only lasts for a minute or so, but the film already had me grinning like an idiot. The cinematography also looks a hell of a lot better than the first film. You can tell they had way more of budget this time around and Wirkola utilizes it like a blood-crazed madman. It’s a wonder this flick made it past the MPAA with an R rating. It’s violent as shit! Intestines litter the place, tons of pitch-black comedy is frequently used, and nobody is safe. Not women, not children, not the elderly, not even cripples. The body count is massive to say the least and each kill is given its quick creative style. This is the kind of film you’d want to see in either a packed midnight screening or with a group of slightly drunk friends. One of the highlights is a frequently abused zombie sidekick who made me laugh even harder every time he showed up. Wirkola (with the help of two other screenwriters) has finely tuned his comedic timing and it shows in nearly every frame.

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DEAD SNOW 2 is a blast, but it’s not without its share of problems. These mainly come in the form of Martin’s living sidekicks. The “Zombie Squad” has a few decent moments (namely in their introduction), but these people can come off as really annoying in areas. One female member obsessed with STAR WARS didn’t get a single chuckle out of me and seemed to be carrying pretty much every issue I had with the movie-quoting character in the first DEAD SNOW. Simply referencing a film does not give your character an identifiable personality. Harping on this actually makes them frustrating to watch. Equally as annoying is a gay stereotype who uses being gay for pretty much all of his punch lines. He’s not used too often, but it’s borderline offensive when he is. These flaws don’t put a huge damper on what’s clearly meant to be bona-fide midnight movie material though. There is a long, appropriately epic battle in the second half of the film that never once gets boring or drags. The final shot of this film won’t soon be forgotten for a variety of reasons.

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DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD is far more entertaining, original, well-made, and fun than the first DEAD SNOW. It’s nice to watch horror filmmakers listen to fans and try to better themselves with each new project. DEAD SNOW 2 is not high art or terrifying, but it wasn’t meant to be either. It does its job just fine. It’s a gory blast of fun that’s loaded with laughs. A few characters can get on the viewer’s nerves, but the climactic battle will sweep most unpleasant memories of them aside. If you liked DEAD SNOW, you’ll love DEAD SNOW 2. If you didn’t like DEAD SNOW, then you should still give DEAD SNOW 2 a chance.

Grade: B

THIS IS THE END (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content throughout, brief Graphic Nudity, Pervasive Language, Drug Use and some Violence

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Directed by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Written by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari & Jason Segel

For the nearly a decade, some of the best comedies have starred a recurring group of faces. THIS IS THE END gathers all of these actors, who have seen gone on to have sprawling careers, together for a satirical apocalyptic comedy in which they play exaggerated versions of themselves. Chock full of references to these actors’ past films, but never resorting to pop culture gags that would have made the film age horribly, THIS IS THE END is a hilarious star-studded comedy that revels in the R-rated material. The humor is full of bad taste and the crass sensibilities make it a delightfully irreverent time. This is a comedy unlike anything else done within the genre and (if it were even attempted another time) it’s unlikely that lightning could strike twice with the success of this formula.

Seth Rogen;James Franco;Danny McBride;Craig Robinson

Jay Baruchel has flown into Los Angeles to reunite with Seth Rogen. Rogen knows that Jay is uncomfortable in the setting of LA and convinces him to go to a house-warming party at James Franco’s newly constructed home. The party is packed full of stars, sex, and drugs. It also happens to be the night that literally all hell breaks loose. Beams of light shoot down from the sky, riots begin, sinkholes form, and monsters roam the outside world. In order to stay alive, the six remaining surviving actors (Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride) barricade themselves in Franco’s pad, but soon find that the horror outside is nothing compared to tolerating each other in close quarters.

Seth Rogen;Jay Baruchel;Jonah Hill

Script-wise, THIS IS THE END feels like it isn’t so much a story, but is an elaborate feature-length skit. The characters are all stereotypes of how one might joke about how all celebrities act when they’re off the screen. The opening party sequence is where plenty of other familiar faces pop up. The funniest of which is most certainly Michael Cera, who plays himself in a way that skewers any preconceived notions of being a wimpy awkward nerd. Cera is only on-screen for a limited amount of time (much like a majority of faces in the first act), but he had me laughing the hardest. The chemistry between our six leads feels convincing enough to make things entertaining. Out of the leads, Danny McBride was my favorite and also leads to one of the best cameos I’ve ever seen.

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The fast and loose style of the plot leaves a lot of room for imaginative scenarios playing out. Some scenes are better than others. One scene involving Jonah Hill felt forced and wasn’t funny in the slightest. When things began to lose my interest, someone or something else captured it again. At nearly two hours, the film feels a little stretched, but it doesn’t detract from the fun being had. The effects are fantastic too. This is a comedy (of all things) that manages to nail the scope of spectacle better than a ton of other movies that were released in the summer movie season 2013. My biggest problem came in the final moments of the film. This is where some of the jokes in the entire film appear (e.g. the aforementioned cameo or the return of a certain character). How things actually concluded felt a little tired though. It was as if directors/writers Rogen & Goldberg were so busy going all-out on the humor overload they had worn themselves out when bringing everything to a close.

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THIS IS THE END isn’t going to be for everybody. It’s essentially one big long in-joke. The script is a loose narrative (to say the least) that allows for the cast members to go crazy in their exaggerated roles of themselves. It’s loaded with a lot of bad taste humor, foul language, over-the-top gore, and amazing effects. Despite the problems I had with the ending and some of the worn-out jokes, everything else is so well executed and hysterical that this warrants a recommendation. It might not be for those who haven’t seen any of the other films these actors have starred in. For fans of their previous work, THIS IS THE END is a blast!

Grade: B

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