They say a compelling story comes not from plot but from character. But Marvel Studios confounds this truism. As they demonstrate in the passable “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which I finally got around to seeing in August, the producers fully grasp the title character, probably better than any previous creative regime who have handled him. In Tom Holland they’ve cast the best of the actors to ever play Spider-Man, one who is a perfect fit with the motivations they’ve written, and one who delivers each line with total, infectious alacrity. And yet, this keen understanding of character fails to inspire a particularly compelling story. Instead what you get is a mostly forgettable joy ride of a plot—the highest tension the film ever achieves happens during a conversation in a car ride, while all of the other action set pieces wilt away almost as you watch them. In fact “Homecoming” is more transactional than it is narrative; the movie moves along from cinematic universe obligation to cinematic universe obligation, tirelessly invoking its tiresome franchise debts. The saddest thing is that there’s virtually no point in complaining about this, as this movie could never have existed outside of the confines of the corporate strategy PowerPoint deck that brought it to life. And its ninety-two percent Rotten Tomatoes rating shows that Marvel’s decade-long campaign to lower our standards as moviegoers has succeeded. They won, we lost.
On the bright side, I did get to see seventeen other films in August, many of which were wonderful. Of particular note was the special theatrical screening of “Three Days of the Condor” at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn. It was followed by an enormously entertaining Q&A with novelist James Grady, whose book was the basis for the movie. That’s a pretty good example of how a great understanding of character can power a legitimately great movie.
Here’s the full list…
- “The Rules of the Game” Still figuring this one out.
- “Dunkirk” Saw it again, this time in full 70mm IMAX, and it was stunning.
- “Three Days of the Condor”
- “Groundhog Day” There’s a whole other, parallel narrative here if you just watch Bill Murray’s priceless facial expressions.
- “The Phenix City Story” Half a movie.
- “Supersonic” Historically, a highly selective document, but entertaining for sure.
- “The Godfather” As close to perfect as you can get.
- “The Godfather: Part II” Okay, even closer to perfect.
- “Up in the Air” Just stupid.
- “The Caine Mutiny” Dated and preachy.
- “Nosferatu” Mesmerizing.
- “The Most Dangerous Game” Pulpy good fun.
- “Victim” A bracing experience even many decades later.
- “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
- “The League of Gentlemen” You can see the debt that countless other heist flicks owe to this, but it hasn’t aged very well.
- “The Kid with a Bike” Amazing, riveting, heartbreaking filmmaking.
- “Elevator to the Gallows” Jeanne Moreau sulking on the streets of Paris is all anyone needs.
- “Nocturnal Animals” I just hated this movie.
If you’re interested, here is what I watched in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February and in January, as well as my full list of everything I watched in 2016. You can also follow along with my film diary over at letterboxd.com.+