Rumors are going around that Disney is going to buy 21st Century Fox, at least, it’s entertainment side of things. I normally don’t care to write about such things and, besides the fact that it’s scary to imagine Disney owning even more properties and franchises, this isn’t my field of expertise. However, like anything worth talking about, the X-Men are involved.
I’ve written about the X-Men and their movies time and time again. This entry will not be the last. They hold a special place in my heart with their characters and stories. The movies, especially, have been an important part of my life, never rebooting and telling a constant, although convoluted, story as I’ve grown up. And Disney owning the rights to make those movies could ruin everything.
I don’t mean that I’d hate to see the series start over. I liked X-Men: Apocalypse for a number of controversial reasons, but one of them was that it had a crew of big name X-characters; Storm, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Psylocke, ect. If the movies rebooted, we could see a team of first class (pardon the pun) mutants headlining a film that hasn’t really happened since X2: X-Men United. Heck, that’s partly why I wish Gifted was a real X-Men show, giving us a Rogue that gets into the mix of things. And a reboot could even have a better prepared timeline, though, I might argue, there’s charm and artistic viability in not letting past films completely dictate new stories.
No, the reboot isn’t what I’m worried about. It’s the mixing of the Marvel Universe with the X-Men. Disney/Marvel’s Cinematic Universe would benefit from having a Wolverine, sure, but the X-Men, at their core concept, would be diluted. And this has been a problem since the very beginning.
Back in the 60s, when there were very few mutants on the scene, the idea of people hating and fearing the X-Men made sense. The few they knew about were some teens who wore funny costumes and a madman who could topple every city with magnetic powers. Of course they were scared. Even with Iron Man and Captain America, there was something different about mutants. Not everyone was going to survive a gamma bomb or get hit by cosmic rays, but anyone, even your neighbor or, worse, your own children, could be a mutant.
But, as the Marvel Universe grew, the differences became less important. There were so many non-mutant superheroes on the scene, how could you even tell who to hate anymore? Except, in the comics, as the general populace grew more tolerant of heroes, they still retained their bigotry towards mutants and the X-Men. And it made less and less sense. The core concept, of mutants being a minority and treated with fear, became less plausible, which watered down the X-Men. They still tried to tell X-Men stories like they always did, but, you had to start asking why Captain America wasn’t getting involved in protecting mutant teens from Sentinel attacks or why Doctor Strange let mutant massacres happen.
Another problem is that, in a shared universe, the X-Men could never attain their ultimate progression. Mutants are supposed to be the next stage in human evolution. Part of the fear humans have towards them is based in the fact that they will be replaced by this next step. Unfortunately, you can’t tell that story with Spider-Man around. Mutants can’t take over the world, or even come close.
Grant Morrison tried to tell that story in the early 2000s. He fast forwarded a bit but his X-Men stories were about mutants becoming a dominate force in the world. And Marvel retconned it as fast as they could and yelled, “No more mutants” and sent that number to under two hundred. They claimed they were bringing the X-Men back to their core concept, of being a minority, but, more simply, they couldn’t let the status quo get out of hand.
The X-Men movies are flawed, I get that. Even the second movie, as fantastic as it is, has issues. Fox has made great X-Men movies and bad ones too. And now, with Hugh Jackman gone and three separate trilogies wrapped up, the movies are in a weird state of flux and uncertainty. But, with Fox retaining the rights, they’ve kept the X-Men in their own separate universe and have been allowed to explore concepts that wouldn’t work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The idea of a cure wouldn’t matter if mutants could join the Avengers someday, the world building in Logan would never make sense with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner on hand and can you imagine Captain America letting X-Men: Days of Future Past happen? Like in the comics, the X-Men stories would be set to certain guidelines and limited in their scope.
Also, look at Inhumans and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. How in the world would a company that makes those types of shows make something like Legion? Aren’t we at least a little better off in this world with a show like Legion on TV right now?
If Disney does buy up the whole world and owns the rights to make X-Men movies, I hope they would keep them separate from the Marvel films. Bring the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom over, but leave the X-Men alone. At the end of the day, however, I have to remember I’m not in control of this stuff, that whatever will be, will be. I’ll learn to live and let go of the X-Men movies I grew up on and hold my breath as a new wave comes to pass. There would be some great benefits. Disney and Marvel would be more likely to put the X-Men in their comic book costumes and have a fan favorite team that doesn’t just focus on Wolverine. And they’d get the love in the comics that they’ve been missing over the years and maybe a new video game! Also, new films under the House of Mouse wouldn’t negate and erase the movies I’ve loved for so many years. Heck, if it happened today, I’d still have nine X-Men movies (and Deadpool) and that’s something fantastic. I just believe, as the animated series and movies and even games have proven, that the X-Men work when they don’t have to fit in a world of super heroes and can just be themselves.
The first Spider-Man movie came out in a day and age that has long past, one that you might not be able to recall. Spider-Man was a big deal, a massive event in theaters that got me to buy my tickets in advance for the first time. All the showings of it’s opening night were sold out. It was the post-9/11 movie we needed at the time. It was also fun and exciting and the first time the character had ever been on the big screen. It’s hard to put into words the energy that film created.
Now, that movie almost feels archaic. It’s a single, self-contained character story that takes place during the most important time in the hero’s life. Yes, it has plot-threads for a sequel, but when you look at the mess that is Amazing Spider-Man or it’s sequel, the first Sam Raimi film almost looks shy about presenting a sequel. It was a different world, one where a film had to actually be released and do well at the box office for it to get a sequel.
But we’re in a brave new world now! And while we’ve had many Spider-Man films since that first, landmark entry, we’ve never had a fifteen year old Peter Parker in a world of superheroes. So, now we have a Spider-Man who gets to interact with Iron Man and potentially join the Avengers. If he looks bad doing super heroics, it’s because other, better heroes have set the standard. And while Spider-Man: Homecoming tackles this, it’s not the area where the movie shines. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. are fun and quippy. But it’s where the movie feels less exciting.
Peter was in high school for all of ten minutes in the first Tobey Maguire film and the Amazing Spider-Man failed to deliver on that front (as well as many others) even though it was greenlit for that very reason. So while it might seem like a repeat to put the kid in school, it’s not something we’ve actually seen in full effect before. And besides, it’s the story Spider-Man: Homecoming wants to tell anyway. The supporting cast in Peter’s life are memorable and funny and, if the series wanted to go that route, Marvel could set a whole film around just a week of Peter in school, no super heroics, and it would still be entertaining. I mean, I still turn out whenever a kid is bemoaning popularity status or attending parties, but that’s because I hate high school. But, I think that says something to the charm of the movie that I actually cared about Peter’s sophomore life, at least, most of the time.
It helps that Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker. He captures the youth, the enthusiasm, the awkwardness and the strength of the character. He does a great job being over his head and enjoying this new life at the same time. He likes being Spider-Man, which is an important part of the character that can be forgotten when responsibilities abound.
Jacob Batalon’s Ned is hilarious and a great teammate for Peter. Zendaya’s Michelle has a promising future, made brighter by how many laughs she gets in a layered performance. Marisa Tomei doesn’t get the most screen time, nor does her Aunt May really shine, but she’s a pleasant addition.
Really, the only character who the movie fails is Liz, Peter’s crush. I wish I could tell her more about her, but the movie didn’t so I’m at a loss. I think the shadow of Mary Jane looms over all the films that have come since and Marvel hasn’t entirely solved the issue just yet. Liz is nice, she’s smart, but she’s only there to be crushed upon. While the end of the movie does promise a solution to that, it doesn’t change the fact that we spent two hours with a character that doesn’t seem to matter to the writers.
Michael Keaton’s Vulture is… well, he’s fine. It’s hard to beat the scenery chewing of Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin or the visual splendor of Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. Keaton’s fairly actuate to the comics, visually frightening at times and physically up to the task of being the villain of the movie. But he’s not very interesting as a character and I was never waiting for his next scene. To be fair, in the comics, the Vulture is the second super villain Spider-Man ever dealt with and since we don’t want to see him go against the Chameleon or try to replicate the previous movies’ villains, he does make a certain amount of sense to include. If we have to stick to villains that haven’t appeared in films, I’d prefer Mysterio or Kraven the Hunter.
The action is never incredible, nothing in this film comes close to the train battle from Spider-Man 2 or even the crane rescue from the Spider-Man 3. But, there’s a kinetic energy to the scenes here and they move well. The idea in Spider-Man: Homecoming is that Peter is still new to all of this and not very good at the job. He’s got heart, but little coordination. What might normally be a car chase becomes a run through the suburbs. What normally would be a battle over a crowded ferry becomes an attempt to just do as little damage as possible. So, no, the action isn’t spectacular, but it works because Peter isn’t spectacular at being Spider-Man just yet.
My only other major gripe might not bother many other people. And it might be a minor spoiler, but I doubt it. The movie replicates a fairly iconic moment from Spider-Man comic history, one that Stan Lee wrote himself. In the comic, Peter triumphs because he thinks of all the people counting on him and everyone he loves. He can’t fail them. He overcomes a great challenge because his responsibility is great. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the scene is replicated from panel to screen, but the motivation is lost. Peter overcomes because he wants to be a superhero. He needs to prove it to himself. Normally, that would be fine as motivation, but for those of us who read Lee’s early comics, we know the scene has been done better. There’s a power to that moment that was lost in translation.
Other than that, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun time. It’s colorful, it’s zippy and it makes me excited to see this version of Peter Parker again. I know I’ve referenced the original trilogy multiple times in this review, but I do think this new entry is the first film to differentiate itself from what’s come before. It successfully stands on it’s own. It has personality, a vision and it makes for a pretty good Spider-Man movie.