‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and the Problem With Marvel’s Movie Formula – Daily Beast

 In Entertainment
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the breezy tween-oriented Marvel movie promised by its numerous trailers, commercials, posters and other assorted PR campaign spots. Its star, Tom Holland—who took over official web-slinging duties last year, when he cameoed in Captain America: Civil War—is as good a Peter Parker as his predecessors, Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield, bringing an aw-shucks adolescent excitement to the part that helps energize its coming-of-age drama. It’s boasts the usual CGI set pieces, sprinkled amidst its Disney Channel-grade high-school hijinks (replete with Shake It Up’s Zendaya as an Ally Sheedy-esque classmate). It has a villain (Michael Keaton’s Vulture) who acts menacing and winds up posing little genuine threat to our hero. It’s colorful and snappy, moves along at a reasonable clip, and features appearances by a few other comic-book luminaries, including Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America.

It is, almost to a tee, the definition of “fine.”

So it goes for Marvel, which has pioneered a nontoxic house style that’s now mandatory for each entry in its ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)—the designation for the countless franchises existing under the studio’s world-building umbrella (overseen by head honcho Kevin Feige). Spider-Man: Homecoming is merely the latest example of Marvel’s adherence to its formula: bright primary hues; brisk banter; rise-fall-rise narrative arcs; predictable dramatic and comedic beats; and special-effects sequences that substitute coherence for zippiness and flash. The result is that, whether it’s Spidey, Iron Man, Thor, Star-Lord or another wisecracking comic-book icon at the center of the action, a Marvel movie looks and sounds more or less the same.

For better and worse, Marvel has now become the leading proponent of what we might call Risk Aversion Cinema—an approach to 21st century blockbusterdom that’s lucrative precisely because of its unadventurousness.

To be fair, some personality does occasionally sneak into the mix—be it Joss Whedon’s conversational volleys in The Avengers, Shane Black’s Christmastime fixation in Iron Man 3, or James Gunn’s smartass, soundtrack-centric humor in Guardians of the Galaxy. Even then, though, such distinctive touches are relatively minor, and often confined to the jokey writing side of things (a state of affairs probably also true of November’s Taika Waititi-helmed Thor: Ragnarok). As with Jon Watts and Spider-Man: Homecoming (and Jon Favreau and Iron Man, and Kenneth Branagh and Thor, and Peyton Reed and Ant-Man, and also Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and 2019’s Captain Marvel), Marvel hires directors who boast scant auteurist signatures so that all MCU installments will fit together neatly in its larger patchwork quilt. Stylistic anonymity is preferred; assembly-line competence is prized above all else.

This is undoubtedly why the idiosyncratic Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) departed Ant-Man, and why the studio’s biggest tentpoles—the upcoming two Avengers: Infinity War movies, set to feature more than 60 superheroes—are being entrusted to Captain America: Civil War craftsmen Joe and Anthony Russo. As Watts told us last year, Marvel has industry leading technicians and artists manning every available aspect of production. Consequently, the studio not only sees no benefit in enlisting a highly eccentric artist to adapt a beloved character—which could lead to creative conflicts, as well as potential audience backlash—but it also has no need to hire a director with action-blockbuster experience. In fact, it’s probably better if they don’t; that way, they save money on filmmakers who are happy to toe the company line in return for a career-making opportunity, and everyone else involved makes sure the finished product is cookie-cutter uniform.

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