Posts Tagged ‘Michael Keaton’

Who’da thunk it — apparently all it takes to get the “Marvel Zombie” crowd to like Spider-Man flicks again is to bring ’em under the banner of the MCU. Or is it?

To be sure, director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man : Homecoming theoretically should give the fans that were pissed off about Sony still holding the cinematic rights to their favorite web-slinger everything they want : it’s fairly light-hearted, reasonably fun, well-cast, and directed in the sort of unimaginative, risk-averse “house style” first laid down by talentless hack Jon Favreau (who’s on hand here as Peter Parker’s Stark Industries “handler,” Happy Hogan) in Iron Man and since followed to a proverbial “T” by all Marvel movie product. Sure, plenty of liberties are taken with Spidey’s origin story — no mention of Uncle Ben, no talk of great power going hand-in-hand with great responsibility, Tony Stark (the by-now-perpetually-annoying Robert Downey Jr.) is shoved into the proceedings for, let’s be honest, superfluous at best reasons — but hey, them’s the breaks when you’re trying to shoehorn Marvel’s most famous character into their interconnected universe this late in the game. And besides, none of those changes seem seem to really bother the die-hards, because at this point it’s all about brand loyalty for them more than it is a franchise staying true to its roots.

A funny thing happened on the way to this flick taking in its inevitable billion dollars at the worldwide box office, though : a not-inconsiderable percentage of the very troglodytes Marvel Studios and Sony hoped to win back with their new co-production deal turned on the so-called “House Of Ideas” in a big way.

The reasons for this are as simple as they are simple-minded, and so pathetic I don’t wish to go into them in great detail — suffice to say a quick Google search for “SJW Marvel” will turn up any number of mouth-foaming rants, either of the written, spoken, or streaming variety, featuring emotionally and intellectually stunted middle-aged white guys bitching about the fact that their once-favorite entertainment conglomerate has become “too political,” “too liberal,” “too preachy,” “too PC,” etc. Yes, apparently the company that has for decades produced — and continues to produce — mind-numbingly stupid comics and films featuring reactionary bloodthirsty vigilantes such as The Punisher, Wolverine, Bullseye, Foolkiller, etc. just isn’t right-wing enough for the “Make Marvel Great Again” crowd.

Then again, making Marvel “great” isn’t what they’re concerned about in the least — the post-Kirby Marvel comics they grew up reading and now speak of in reverent whispers were anything but. In fact, by and large, they sucked. But, Captain America sidekick The Falcon aside, they were essentially all-white stories, and these days, with characters like a Muslim-American Ms. Marvel, a female Thor, an equally female Wolverine, a black and female Iron “Man,” etc. running around, things are getting a bit too diverse for the “Trump troll” segment of fandom.

So what’s any of this got to do with Spider-Man : Homecoming, you ask? I mean, didn’t we already establish that no one’s really complaining about the “updated” take on the character? Hell, aren’t some of these 40-year-old virgins downright thrilled about Aunt May being a good three decades years younger than she’s ever been and played by Marisa Tomei?

Well, yeah, they are — and they generally seem to be in agreement that the new tech-savvy version of the villainous Vulture, as portrayed by Michael Keaton (who’s punching way below his weight class in a second-fiddle role) is an A+ baddie and that Tom Holland hits the nail on the head in his infectiously likable turn as Peter Parker/Spidey (although for my money Pete should always be a little bit of a self-absorbed, self-pitying jerk, and Andrew Garfield got that part of the character exactly right) — what they don’t like is that he’s got a crush on a black girl (Laura Harrier’s Liz) and that another black girl (Zendaya’s Michelle/ M.J.) has a crush on him. They seem far less than thrilled that Pete’s best buddy, Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) and arch-rival Flash (Tony Revolori) are “insufficiently” Caucasian, as well, but that’s nowhere near as large and affront to these knuckle-dragging cretins than even largely- unrequited interracial romance is. Kinda makes you wonder if they’ve got got some issues they don’t wanna deal with, doesn’t it?

In point of fact, these supposed ” old-school purists” (or maybe that should just be racial purists) — who, again, voice little to no objection to any of the other, much more significant, alterations made to the franchise they claim to revere — have even taking to calling this film “SJW Spider-Man,” even though, in the chickenshit tradition of the MCU, nothing like an even remotely political statement is made by anyone in the movie at any point. Hell, in the overall scheme of things Mary Jane’s name being changed is probably a “bigger deal” than her race being changed given that Peter Parker lives and goes to school, as is customary for the character, in Queens, and there just plain is no such thing as an all-white, or even a majority-white, high school in Queens anymore. If you don’t like that fact, then don’t venture outside of Kentucky, or Alabama, or wherever the hell you’re broadcasting your racist YouTube screeds from, but don’t blame either Sony or Marvel (a phrase you’ll never hear me say again, I promise) for providing an entirely realistic 21st-century supporting cast for their newest star-in-the-making.

And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that Liz’s race goes some way toward helping the more-clever-than-these-things-usually-are script keep its massive third-act plot twist a secret. I’ll say no more for fear of offending the “spoiler police,” but for those of you who’ve seen this flick already, well — you know what I’m talking about. It’s a genuinely surprising twist that I sure as hell didn’t see coming, and neither did you.

Add in the aforementioned very-good-too-terrific acting, solid CGI work, some flawlessly-timed laughs (many coming our way courtesy of Chris Evans), and numerous well-shot-and-choreographed action scenes, and what you’ve got here — and I risk my “Marvel-hater” reputation by saying this, I know, but — is an enjoyable, if flawed, summertime popcorn flick. Sure, quality veteran performers like Tyne Daly and Bokeem Woodbine are utterly wasted in go-nowhere roles, and sure, there’s nothing happening here that breaks the MCU mold, and sure, the rank hypocrisy of those who praise this film to high heavens after bad-mouthing, and in some cases even boycotting, the frankly superior The Amazing Spider-Man (I’m only talking about the first one, mind you) is annoying as all get-out, but hey, who are we kidding? These things are what they are. And for what it is, Spider-Man : Homecoming isn’t too shabby at all.

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In the end (so why am I bringing it up at the beginning?),  maybe all you really need to know about the profound differences between RoboCop a la Paul Verhoeven and RoboCop a la Jose Padilha is that the 1987 original was only a few scant seconds (a few scant seconds showing officer Alex Murphy’s blown-off arm twitching and writhing on the ground, to be precise) removed from an “X” rating, while 2014’s remake has both feet firmly planted in “PG-13” territory.

I honestly think there’s a lot more  more to it than that,, though(about 1500 words more, give or take, to be precise),   because the new RoboCop is far from a complete failure and/or disaster — in some (limited) respects, truth be told, it’s really not that bad at all, in fact. But it’s not all that great, either, especially in comparison to its progenitor.

Let’s dispense with the tired old “take this remake on its own merits” argument first, because I’m sick and tired of Hollywood wanting to have it both ways on this issue. On the one hand, they’re clearly and obviously out of new ideas in Tinseltown, but on the other, they trot out that tired line of “reasoning” for every single remake that comes out these days, and that’s blatantly hypocritical on its face. You can’t expect to cash in on the name and reputation of an earlier flick, not to mention take its fucking title, and then cry “foul” when your new movie is held up for comparison to its “source material.” Sorry, life just doesn’t work that way. Nor should it. If you’re making a movie called RoboCop, it’s going to be judged according to the standards set by the original RoboCop. Deal with it. Because that’s exactly what we’re going to do here.

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Despite numerous “tinkering at the edges” differences, the basic plot trajectory of the new RoboCop remains essentially unchanged from is earlier iteration — Detroit police officer Alex Murphy, a hard-working family man who’s dedicated to upholding the integrity of his badge, is nearly killed in the line of duty and “saved” by being turned into a cyborg by a large industrial conglomerate (OCP in RoboCop ’87, OmniCorp here). He then single-handedly goes on a tear and nearly rids the city of crime, even managing to violently “solve” his own murder case,  before his bosses in the corporate boardroom decide he’s worth more to them dead than alive, at which point the shit hits the fan and Robo-Murphy goes to war against the very people who created him.

What could possibly go so wrong, then? Well, it’s those “tinkering at the edges” differences I just alluded to where the new RoboCop comes up short —

At the top of the list, Padilha’s new film gets the whole thing wrong tonally. Verhoeven’s RoboCop was, as its critics charge, an ultra-violent piece of 1980s excess, but it was also, crucially, a deeply ironic, darkly sardonic “piss-take,” as the Brits would say, on those excesses, and had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek from word “go” to word “stop.” RoboCop 2014 has no time or patience for such self-examination and plays it disarmingly straight throughout. Sure, there are moments of levity — in fact, the movie starts out with a laugh — but they’re only that : moments of levity within the context of the story itself. There’s no larger commentary on the inherent ridiculousness of its genre, much less its own premise, going on here. In short, unlike its predecessor, which gave us the 6000 SUX and “I’d buy that for a dollar!,” this flick just takes itself too goddamn seriously.

Going side by side with getting the tone wrong is the fact that RoboCop 2014 makes some less-than-great casting choices. Joel Kinnaman isn’t bad, per se, as Murphy, but he’s essentially playing the same role that he does on AMC’s The Killing, and Peter Weller’s “king of deadpan” approach is sorely missed. Likewise, Michael Keaton’s decision to portray OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellers as some sort of “new age”/Steve Jobs-type asshole CEO is a good one, but having made that call, he then seems to trudge through the proceedings rather listlessly. Samuel L. Jackson does a serviceable enough take as a right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly-type TV host, but he’s downright  bit toned down in comparison to the rabid xenophobic fear-mongering numbskulls who populate Fox “news” every night already in this day and age, never mind how much more intolerable these types of dickheads will be in the near-future world this film is set in. Gary Oldman’s performance is likewise of a “good enough, I suppose” variety as the cybernetics specialist who “creates” the new Murphy and then develops a conscience a little too late in the game, but again, it’s far from being anything like standout work. All in all, it seems the performers are content with doing a “good enough” job rather than an actively good one.

Not helping things much is the fact that Murphy’s personal “character arc” is a bit all over the map. Weller’s quest to regain some semblance of his lost humanity in the 1987 film may have been a bit straight-forward, but it unquestionably worked, and the new flick’s curious (to put it kindly) decision to give him full awareness of his past from the outset, then take some of it away, then take all of it away, then give a little bit back, then have him fight to regain the rest of it diminishes, rather than enhances, the nature of his struggle. A straight line is usually the shortest way to get from point “A” to point “B,” and in the case of RoboCop, it turns out that it’s also the most interesting.

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Last on our laundry list of problems is that RoboCop 2014 gets its political message all wrong. The ’87 original was noteworthy for being one of the few big Hollywood productions of its time to openly take aim at the risible self-indulgences of the “Reagan Years” by pointing out their inevitable outcomes — a two-tiered society of “haves” and “have-nots” kept in line by a police force that functions as a de facto privately-owned occupying army. All the coporate “suits” in the movie were douchebags with no redeeming qualities whatsoever — the cops were on the verge of striking after being privatized — the middle class seemed, for all intents and purposes, to no longer exist — fuck if the whole movie wasn’t damn prescient, since in the years between then and now we’ve seen the rich/poor gap exacerbated to the level of the “robber baron” days and privatization unquestionably fail time and time again, from the San Francisco Zoo to Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac to Bechdel literally buying the entire water supply of the nation of Bolivia. It’s been an unprecedented disaster every single fucking time without exception, yet it’s still held out as the “solution” to almost every problem by unflinching, frankly unthinking, doctrinaire conservatives.

The new RoboCop takes a more nuanced — and gutless — view of the situation : he’s the creation of a “public/private partnership, ” and the working-class, non-privatized, cops in the film are shown to be every bit as sleazy and corrupt as their counterparts in corporate America. Heck, the chief of the Detroit police department (who, curiously, maintains an office in a precinct station) is almost as bad as CEO Sellers himself in this one, and Murphy’s very survival is ultimately engineered by the private-sector Doctor who made him what he is. Some may say that this represents a more “realistic” storyline, that there are good and bad apples in all walks of life, and while that’s true to a certain extent, it’s also deeply ignorant of recent history — last I checked, for instance, it was the much-vaunted private sector that came to the government for a bailout when they ran the economy into the ditch, not the other way around. Sure, RoboCop 2014 is more overtly political than similar blockbuster fare like, say, your average Marvel film, but its focus on issues like domestic drones, the robotization of the military (not nearly as far-fetched as you might think given the Pentagon’s long-term plans) and  expansionist, imperialist US foreign policy (we’ve invaded, and are consequently occupying, Iran in this one) are pretty “safe bets,” so to speak, given that all but the most dim-witted GOP hard-liners know that every single one of those ideas is a seriously lousy one. Again, Padilha and his veritable army of screenwriters are playing it much safer than Verhoeven did back in the day.

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The news isn’t all bad, though — the Murphy family gets a bit more to do in this one, and that’s a nice touch;  (Abbie Cornish is thoroughly believable as his wife and it’s good to see both her and their son play more critical roles in the story);  Padilha directs the action sequences with a kind of enthusiastic zest that seems genuinely heartfelt; the ED-209s fulfill a somewhat more believable (but admittedly less fun) role in the story;  and it’s nice to see Jackie Earle Haley (who plays a stereotypical military hard-ass with aplomb) and Michael K. Williams (on board as the new male iteration of Murphy’s partner, Lewis) in pretty much anything.

By and large, though, this armchair critic has to chalk up the new RoboCop as being a failure — sure, it’s got lot less blood and viscera than the original (hence the “PG-13” classification), but because it hasn’t got anywhere near  its guts.