Thursday, July 13, 2017

A return to Spider-Man

Of all the major superhero movies, I've seen the smallest percentage of ones featuring Spider-Man. Until last night, it was just half of the movies that fit that description, and only that many because the character makes an appearance in Captain America: Civil War. If you include only movies with Spider-Man's name in the title, it was only two of the existing five. The number of years since I'd seen a movie devoted to Spider-Man is an even more astonishing figure: 13. That's right, 2004's Spider-Man 2 was the last I'd deigned to see.

To give you some idea how unusual this is, I'm missing no more than one of any other movie featuring any other superhero of any note. In fact, the only significant examples I can really think of are the second Thor movie and the third Iron Man movie, and ten years ago neither of these guys had even one movie to their respective names.

What's more, of the superheroes I have designated as "the big five," I've not missed a single of their movies -- no, not even the Incredible Hulk. The other four being Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman (only very recently a cinematic entity) and, yes, Spider-Man.

So why the Spider-Man drought?

It didn't feel intentional. I'd always expected to see Spider-Man 3, despite liking the first two movies only about 75% as much as most people did. But I heard it was bad and, well, perhaps that was a particularly busy summer for me. Then when The Amazing Spider-Man came around, I'm sure I intended to see that as well. But I passively participated in an unspoken boycott of it, probably because I thought it was too soon to reboot the character (and, well, I heard that one wasn't great either, and maybe I had a busy summer that summer too.) The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Well, if I hadn't seen the first one, why start now?

What finally brought me back was when Spider-Man was brought back home to Marvel -- and not until I was sitting in the theater did it occur to me the secondary meaning of the word "Homecoming" in the title.

Even the generally good taste of Marvel might not have been enough if I hadn't seen him in Civil War, where he combined with another character that I'd come to consider sort of a dubious property (Ant-Man) to comprise possibly the two most fun things about that movie. Civil War showed me Spider-Man could be done right -- even if I hadn't personally witnessed any of the examples of him being done wrong.

And it was a pretty happy homecoming for me, as it turns out. I didn't love Homecoming, but it's got some funny moments and some exciting moments, and it rests comfortably in the upper half of Marvel movies I've seen.

Interestingly, though, the reasons it worked for me were more or less the reasons Ant-Man didn't totally work for me, and that has everything to do with timing.

If you remember this Ant-Man rant, my biggest gripe about that movie was the awkward way it introduced the MCU. If memory serves, little to no mention is made of any other superheroes until about halfway through the movie, when Scott Lang says something along the lines of "The first thing we should do is contact the Avengers."

The who? Suddenly the spell of being in a world where Ant-Man was the center of the superhero universe had been shattered. I wanted that universe to last a bit longer before he was just another face in the MCU crowd. It left a sour taste in my mouth and started spoiling a movie that was only really all that interesting in the parts that Edgar Wright obviously contributed before he left the movie.

Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn't suffer from the same problem. The Avengers are in this movie from the very first moments on screen, when a child's drawing of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Cap et al is rescued from the debris of the battle that mostly leveled New York at the end of The Avengers. Not only do we get a visual reminder of those characters (only some of whom we will actually see in the ensuing movie), but we're immediately reminded of a major plot point from their first movie. This is an Avenger world, and Spider-Man is only part of it.

And that's okay, if you do it right. In fact, it's probably inevitable, and again it's a function of that timing. Timing not only in terms of getting to other parts of the MCU straight away, but timing also because we've already seen Spider-Man in the context of the Avengers. We hadn't seen Ant-Man that way until after his solo movie, and that seems to have made all the difference.

I also dug Michael Keaton as the villain, who gives a fairly direct shout-out to his character in Birdman in terms of wearing a winged creature suit. (In fact, at first I wondered if he was supposed to be Anthony Mackie's Falcon ... until I saw him doing, you know, bad things. Especially since Falcon was the main link to the Avengers in Ant-Man.)

I don't know if I'll need a lot more solo Spider-Man movies, though if they're making a third Thor movie, I'm sure we'll get at least a couple more. I also don't know if I'll be inclined to circle back and catch up with the Spider-Man movies I missed the first time around.

But I'm glad to have Spider-Man back in my life -- back as a presence I'll be making excuses to see, rather than not to see.

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