CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the big movies of the moment
The webslinger is back, war has come for the planet of the apes, and things get spooky at night in this week’s FilmSpace
Spider-Man: Homecoming – ★★★☆☆
The world doesn’t need another Spider-Man movie, but Homecoming does its best to avoid familiarity fatigue. Peter Parker is already Spider-Man, so it isn’t an origin story. Uncle Ben is already dead, so we don’t need to go through that grief again.
Both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were in their mid-20s when portraying Peter Parker, a high school student. Tom Holland actually fits the part – his fresh-faced looks and youthful spirit make Parker believable not only as a web-slinging hero, but also as a teenager, gawky and useless around girls.
He’s just as inadequate at doing what the Avengers make look easy. He lacks their grace when tackling baddies, and the only thing his suit equips him with is an anonymity that sharpens his wit. He’s in no shape to rid the city of crime, and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of the more motivated villains the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen in a while.
It’s at its best when Parker is struggling to do what we’ve seen Captain America, Iron Man and co do with ease.
Like the best MCU films (particularly The Winter Soldier), Homecoming embraces genre. Guardians of the Galaxy draws fun from 1980s pop culture references, but here we have a film that’s indebted to the way John Hughes films make you feel. It’s the same feeling that led to the success of Stranger Things. The best bits of Homecoming embrace Parker’s adolescence, and there’s a simple pleasure derived from youngsters reacting to things. Imagine finding out your best friend is a superhero!
Keaton has a history with superhero films having played Batman in the 1990s, satirising that role in Birdman, and here he’s a working class labourer who builds a suit out of the debris caused by the events of The Avengers. If Birdman was meta, this is taking it one step further. I thought Kurt Russell solved Marvel’s lacklustre villain problem in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but Keaton is better yet, driven by a human purpose and given a moral compass.
For all its successes, Homecoming offers few surprises. It’s as fun as any other recent MCU entry, doing little to win anyone over, but keeping the converted happy. It’s at its best when Parker is struggling to do what we’ve seen Captain America, Iron Man and co do with ease. This inadequacy and Homecoming’s ode to high school films of the 1980s gives it a real heart.
War for the Planet of the Apes – ★★★★★
Franchises and sequels are failing at the box office. The latest Transformers film, 5th in its series, has woefully underperformed. Somehow, the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, beginning with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, has consistently delivered nuanced storytelling, morally complex conflicts, and groundbreaking visual effects.
War for the Planet of the Apes goes above and beyond anything seen so far. After Koba’s actions in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, war has broken out between apes and humans, with some apes siding with the latter either out of fear or to oppose Andy Serkis’s Caesar. The apes want to be left alone in the forest, but Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is closing in on them, and he rejects each olive branch they offer.
In every way this is an anti-Hollywood blockbuster. It’s a cold, patient, and pensive film. Action sequences are saved for late into its two-and-a-half-hour run time, only once the tension has nowhere else to go but to explode all over the war-torn earth.
As a concluding part of a trilogy, this is on an ideological scale with Return of the King.
As a concluding part of a trilogy, this is on an ideological scale with Return of the King. Preceding films had an air of safety, but this is an all-out war about perseverance, injustice and murder. It’s harrowing, cruel, and upsetting. It’s the feeling of heightened breathing while trying to stay calm when witnessing horror.
Caesar is a work of technological wonder. What Andy Serkis is doing underneath the motion-capture effects is clear and emotive. It’s a Shakespearian story centred around this conflicted figure, unable to rectify what he started, and struggling to come to terms with what the world has become.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a risky but rewarding move. It’s an uncompromising war film anchored by truly awesome performances and effects. It’s that special thing when a series goes above and beyond, delivering something special.
It Comes at Night – ★★★☆☆
How do you like your horror? That’s becoming an increasingly common question as the gap widens between psychological torment and jumpscare marathons. It Comes at Night is predominantly the former, finding fear in the dark, the unknown, and in paranoia.
Something has happened to the outside world, and Joel Edgerton’s Paul has holed his family up in a secluded house in the woods. His wife’s dad contracts the illness that has plagued the land. Left with no alternative, they kill him and burn the body. Everyone is on edge. Their house is a secure fortress with a single red door leading to the outdoors. Someone breaks in, and tensions flare.
When the camera looks off into the woods, human instinct says there’s danger just out of sight, but the desire to lean in closer is there all the same.
Director Trey Edward Shults does everything he can to put you on edge. The trees surrounding the house are impossibly large and imposing; the ritualistic-sounding string score makes everything feel slightly off. Natural lighting, or a lack of, taps into childhood fears of shadows creeping in the corner. When the camera looks off into the woods, human instinct says there’s danger just out of sight, but the desire to lean in closer is there all the same.
It invites aesthetic comparisons to The Witch, but what was left unsaid in that film added to the horror, whereas It Comes at Night’s ambiguity is its downfall. At times it’s a psychological drama as the family comes to grips with meeting other people in a world where everyone is suspicious of one another. It also has terrifying body horror imagery and an attraction to whatever is in the darkness. Both sides vie for attention while diluting the other. Should we be so worried about how the families co-exist if there is something else out there?
It’s a tense watch, so it’s only afterwards that it unravels. It’s beautiful to look at, it’s well-acted, and it is scary – but for having so many ideas, it’s debatable whether or not they all add up to much.
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