In the year of our Dark Lord 2002, director Sam Raimi delivered Spider-Man. Starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, Raimi leaned into the cornball wholesomeness inherent in the comic book character and a beloved series was born.
He actually improved things with 2004’s Spider-Man 2, which is arguably one of the best superhero movies ever made.
And then, in 2007, he kinda befouled the bed with a wildly uneven, unintentionally (?) hilarious and messy as hell Spider-Man 3. It launched a lot of memes but, let’s be real, it wasn’t great.
Things were quiet on the Spidey front until The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, which featured superb lead performances from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, but suffered from a perplexingly inconsistent script and a wonky villain.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 followed in 2014, with an even worse script, and while there were decent moments, the series went no further.
2016 saw the introduction of Tom Holland’s agreeable take on the web-slinger in Avengers: Civil War, and the next year in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Holland’s youthful exuberance, Zendaya’s calculated slacker charm and Michael Keaton’s excellent turn as Vulture all made the film a hit.
Spider-Man: Far from Home followed in 2019 to much acclaim and that brings us to the present day with Spider-Man: No Way Home.
If you’re wondering why we spent three paragraphs recapping the entire* Spider-Man series, it’s because No Way Home folds those other films into its multiverse narrative. See, the story this time around has Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) dismayed at having his identity outed by J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons), so he goes to Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to make the world forget this big reveal. Long story short: shit goes awry, and before you know it, classic Spider-Man villains like Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) are lobbing up in the Sony/Marvel universe in the ultimate crossover event.
Initially, at least, this rather dramatic use of franchise synergy feels a little messy. Don’t get us wrong, it’s an absolute thrill to see Molina and Dafoe in their iconic roles again, but it almost seems like No Way Home doesn’t quite know how to utilise them. Juggling five villains is a tall order, and the first half of the flick lacks the deft touch of the previous Holland entries.
Happily, in the second half of the film, No Way Home fully reveals what it is (which we won’t spoil, but you can probably work it out from the trailers and online gossip tbh), delivering a festival of fan service that somehow transcends its gimmick and delivers a surprisingly emotional journey.
Performances are solid as always, with Zendaya showing more range as MJ this time around, and while it’s expected that Molina and Dafoe are excellent (and they are), Jamie Foxx does a great job of rehabilitating Electro’s embarrassing turn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In fact, quite a lot of series rehabilitation occurs in the film, with heaps of zappy meta dialogue and in-jokes that will delight longtime true believers and probably baffle anyone who isn’t.
The best way to see Spider-Man: No Way Home would be without having seen a trailer, read a review or perused any predictions online. There are so many spoiler moments – many of them inexplicably exposed in the marketing – that such a state is almost impossible to achieve, which is a pity. Because even though it doesn’t quite capture the effortlessly fizzy tone of previous Holland Spideys, and even though it’s something of a pop cultural Ouroboros, No Way Home is a nimble, exciting and oddly poignant superhero flick whose surprises would have landed so much stronger if you didn’t already know them.
* not including Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) here because it’s an animated flick, but it’s also an absolute belter and you should watch it, hey.
The original Venom (2018) was a bit of a shocker. Although buoyed by a strong lead performance from Tom Hardy and a support cast that inexplicably included genuine talents like Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, it was a rather listless origin story with attempts at humour that felt jarring, and action that essentially boiled down to two near-identical CGI blobs battering the shit out of one another. Confounding all sense and reason, it made a bunch of money guaranteeing a sequel. Said sequel now appears in the form of Venom: Let There Be Carnage and the result is… about what you’d expect.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage once again has investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) learning to live with symbiotic alien and enthusiastic human brain-consumer Venom (also voiced by Hardy). It’s hard enough for the bloke to coexist with the toothy oil slick as it is, but when local serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) gets a symbiote of his own – in cherry flavour no less, going by the name Carnage – it’s on for young and old.
On the plus side, Venom: Let There Be Carnage seems to realise it’s a trashy B-grade affair and leans into the odd couple dynamic between Brock and Venom. It’s not champagne comedy or anything, but Hardy commits so wholeheartedly to his role(s) that you can’t help but admire his chutzpah and perhaps let loose a lazy chuckle or two. Sadly, other than a relatively humane running time, that’s about all the film has going for it.
Woody Harrelson plays Cletus so broadly it’s hard to take anything he does seriously, and while Naomie Harris has a good time as his girlfriend/partner-in-crime Shriek, the role’s just too thinly-written to make much of an impact. Michelle Williams and Stephen Graham do their best in mostly thankless parts, but ultimately this is about Venom fighting Carnage and those scenes are… okay.
Director Andy Serkis seems to have a better grasp on how to frame the action than the original’s Ruben Fleischer – and the fact that Carnage is red helps in terms of visual coherence – but, once again, you’re watching two similarly-shaped lumps of rage-phlegm punching on like a pair of gronks out the back of Rooty Hill RSL.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a leaner, slicker film than the first iteration but it’s still not particularly good. If you found yourself oddly entertained by Tom Hardy’s committed performance in the other, you’ll likely appreciate it here as well, but oddball leading man hijinks aside, there’s not a lot to recommend here.
There’s a general rule of thumb among comics fans when it comes to the differences in ethos between Marvel and DC. Marvel tends to be (comparatively) more grounded and focus on ordinary people put into extraordinary circumstances that shows their inner hero, whereas DC is more grandiose and highlights characters that are intended as paragons for humanity. The flaw to relate to vs. the ideal to aspire to.
Not that either company has a monopoly on either approach, but as a broad overview, it can help explain how each company approaches the idea of the superhero. It could also help explain why Eternals, the latest MCU release, feels so different from pretty much every other Marvel film or TV show.
The film itself seems to be conscious of the different pool it’s tapping from, right down to openly comparing one of its main characters to one of DC’s biggest names (and for the more geek-out inclined, there’s other analogues to be found among the main cast). But rather than feeling like Marvel is trying to take from the competitor’s plate, it makes sense as far as how the original Eternals came into being, with writer/artist Jack Kirby using a lot of the same building blocks that went into his New-Gods-starring Fourth World epic.
It helps that Chloé Zhao et al. are able to match up to Kirby’s brand of cosmic-scale mythos-building, along with being able to humanise and contemporise the ethereal a la the works of Neil Gaiman, his own run on Eternals included. There’s also the same multicultural approach to real-world mythology as in Gaiman’s oeuvre, pulling from Greek, Norse, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian pantheons to bolster its own take on the superhero as divine.
As the audience follows the titular oddball family of superpowered beings (whose on-screen chemistry certainly sells that they’ve known each other for millennia), the story shows the Eternals and the Deviants as part of a mythic cycle of destruction and creation; interstellar cogs in a much larger machination. The way it delves into the notion of the superhero as shepherd of mankind, as the force pushing forward its evolution, occasionally reaches Marvelman levels of poignancy in their questioning of how far they should take their role. And whether humanity is worth helping persevere in the first place…
In terms of using comic book lore as modern mythmaking, it may lack the euphoric rush of Zack Snyder’s own epic Watchmen or Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard (even if the queer representation here is on-par with the latter), but for the kind of superhero storytelling being attempted, it works remarkably well and shows enough emotional muscle to back up the uncharacteristically ambitious scope of the production. Endgame looks mundane compared to what’s attempted here.
To put things more simply, if any of the above sounds like the pretentious ramblings of an olfactory excretion junkie, chances are this film won’t do much for you (ditto for those already bored of superhero yarns). But for those who appreciate these stories as more than just power fantasies, Eternals serves as an uncommonly grand and poignant take on superheroes.
Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of hype for The Guardians of the Galaxy game. This was due to a couple of factors. First up, the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It’s great. Hell, it’s probably one of the best – if not the best – Marvel cinematic offering. So, when you pitch an alternate version of the team, sans Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana and Vin Diesel? You’re going to run into some resistance. Secondly, Square Enix are publishing this bad boy, and after the disastrous post-launch activity of their previous superhero jam Marvel’s Avengers… Folks were a little gun shy.
It’s gratifying, then, to bring you the good news that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a really good time. And while it’s not perfect, it’s precisely the rollicking interstellar adventure you’d want from that band of affable nitwits and misfits.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy puts you in the jet boots of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord. Ol’ mate Pete and his crew are just trying to make a dishonest living in the aftermath of an epic interstellar war, but they invariably find themselves in trouble with the local constabulary. A massive fine is incurred, and the gang have a scant few days to raise the dosh. So begins the meat of the story, with initial stakes low and relatable, but you’d better believe by the time the whole thing’s over, you’ll have fought monsters, tangled with doomsday cults and maybe even saved the flarkin’ universe!
Guardians of the Galaxy is really two games smushed together. One game is a story-driven adventure where Peter and the crew lob around various locations, discover more info about the main narrative and do some light puzzle solving. This game? Bloody solid. The other game is a combat-focused affair where you use various powers and abilities to fight off hordes of (usually) pretty forgettable foes. This game is just okay.
While the combat in GOTG is never bad, it’s a bit been there, done that. And it was done better before. It feels like a synthesis of previous superhero games like Batman: Arkham City, Marvel’s Spider-Man and even a bit of the old Marvel Ultimate Alliance titles – not to mention a sprinkling of Mass Effect squad management – but it never matches those titles for slickness and enjoyment. It’s not bad, mind you, but you may find yourself sighing during combat encounters and waiting for the next meaty story beat or genuinely funny bit of comedy.
The thing is, if you’re a fan of these kind of light, brisk interstellar romps, the adequate combat probably won’t phase you overly, because the central story here is solid. Genuine pathos, zappy dialogue, moments of actual awe and satisfying arcs combine for a really compelling time brimming with colourful characters and twists aplenty.
The best thing we can say about Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, is that during its 12-15 hour playtime, you’ll probably forget all about its cinematic counterpart. Which is, it has to be said, pretty flarkin’ impressive.
Not sure what the film's director Chloé Zhao would think of this, but the extended TVC titled "Parking Spot" has been launched ahead of The Eternals release on November 4. How many Marvel Easter Eggs can you spot?
This looks like a fun addition to the MCU, with Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld as Hawkeyes, and Florence Pugh's Yelena set to appear in the series (but not this trailer). Vera Farmiga as Steinfeld's character's mum features in the trailer, and the hot tip is that she will be the villain. We're old enough to hope that Alan Alda makes a cameo as a retired surgeon - now that would be fun.