Spider-Man: No Way Home should be called Fan Service: The Movie.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is not only the latest installment in the Spider-Man movie series but also the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Marvel has done a very interesting thing in that they’ve created one big franchise using many different characters to tell one big story. Essentially, these movies don’t serve themselves, but instead Marvel’s grand plan. 

Before the cinematic universe began, it was always interesting to see what a certain director did with a superhero character like Tim Burton and Batman, Sam Raimi and Spider-Man and Ang Lee and The Hulk (which is kind of an underrated movie). However, these days are gone because the director isn’t really in charge of these superhero movies anymore. In Marvel’s case, the movies have to fit the vision of producer Kevin Feige, who has a grand scheme of how each movie fits into his universe. This has made MCU films boilerplate, devoid of any artistic flourishes, and pretty much all looking and feeling the same. And also, with a cinematic universe of superheroes, each movie loses stakes because the hero isn’t the only one that can save the day. What made the previous films great is that the hero was the only one but now being a superhero is no longer special.

Spider-Man has had two live-action franchises with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and the worst kept secret in Hollywood is that they would be appearing in the new multiverse bending chapter of the latest MCU Spider-Man with Tom Holland. The story features Doctor Strange opening up the multiverse which causes the villains from other Spider-Man universes to enter MCU-Peter’s world. These villains also happen to be the villains from the previous Spider-Man movies. Now, this has happened in the comics but it doesn’t quite work for a feature film. The inclusion of these villains and later Spider-Men (more on that in a second) feels like fan service at its worst. For years, a new genre has quickly become popular: the nostalgia genre. This genre includes sequels to some of our favorite films that we didn’t need. Next year, the original cast of Jurassic Park will meet the cast of Jurassic World. Studios love banking on people’s nostalgia, knowing that if they’ve seen and liked something before, they’ll see and like it again.

While many fans have been excited to see Doc Ock and Green Goblin on screen again, it feels like unnecessary fan service more than what is actually needed for the story. Why couldn’t the MCU do their own takes on these classic characters rather than dredge up favorites from older – and let’s face it – better films. It seems Marvel decided to take what previously worked and apply that instead of doing something new. What’s missing from Spider-Man: No Way Home is the emotional weight these characters bring. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker has no connection to any of these characters. He did so in the comics which is what made them great villains and the stories filmmakers previously crafted for their initial big-screen appearances carried this history over. Without the history, they’re just bad guys for Peter to fight and the connection between hero and villain successfully depicted in the films they come from are non-existent. Green Goblin comes with baggage from Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man it took a whole movie to depict. Here it’s just an excuse to have Willem Dafoe’s classic villain reappear and torment Tom Holland even though they’ve never met. Marvel has always been criticized for weak villains so they literally just stole good ones from other movies. Having said that, the movie does correct a missed opportunity the first time around they used Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. In this outing, he quickly ditches the helmet many viewers hated and stays unmasked the entire movie. Willem Dafoe already has a great goblin face and it was wasted under the 2002 film’s mask. In this film, he fights Spider-Man with many maniacal faces that are scarier than any mask could do justice.

And that brings me to Spider-Man. It must be said that seeing the former Spider-Men on the big screen again was very moving, but the audience is moved because of nostalgia and the memory of seeing Spider-Man on the big screen for the first time as in Tobey’s case or the first time he got that millennial reboot like in Garfield’s case. It’s impossible to say that Spider-Man: No Way Home is not fun, but it’s possible that it’s enjoyable for the wrong reasons. It felt like a great gift that I didn’t really need and that’s not what true cinema should be. It shouldn’t be catered to the audience in order to make money. It should be about the story above all. Because if you don’t have anything new to say: why go on? Don’t try to improve your movie by leaning on what other filmmakers did successfully in the past. Ultimately, the most successful things about this movie are what was carried over from the non-MCU films.

After bringing Spider-Man to life the first time and putting his mark on the character, Sam Raimi is next at the helm of the Doctor Strange sequel – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Of Madness. While it’s exciting he’s helming another superhero property, it won’t be like the first time because instead of Raimi giving us his version of Doctor Strange, this time he’s a hired gun doing producer Kevin Feige’s bidding. It won’t be Raimi’s vision, but Feige’s and everything he does will have to be tethered to the way Feige wants the MCU to unfold and who he wants to include to set up other movies. This feels like a step down for the man who directed one of the most beloved superhero franchises. But this is how it is now and there is truly no way home.

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is a Masterpiece. But No One Cares.

Rating: 4 out of 4.

When one thinks of Steven Spielberg, the word “flop” doesn’t usually come to mind. Believe it or not, he’s actually had several films underperform like Hook and even all-out bombs like The BFG. However, perhaps his biggest bomb is the new West Side Story remake, and unfortunately, it’s one of his best films.

Since it was announced years ago that Steven Spielberg was going to direct an adaptation of West Side Story, many asked: why? What could the cinematic master bring to a musical that everyone already knows and that’s already based on the most classic story of all time, Romeo & Juliet? What many moviegoers didn’t see this past weekend at the theater is that Spielberg is known as a master for a reason. While the story wasn’t new, he created a film that fires on all cylinders, with every element succeeding to the point where the movie surpasses the original 1961 version. Most people don’t realize that a movie doesn’t have to be new or original to be superb, it just has to succeed on every level that makes a movie great. West Side Story does this.

Everyone knows the story. Jets gang member Tony (Ansel Elgort) falls in love with Maria (Rachel Zegler) who’s brother is the leader of the rival gang The Sharks. Their different cultures make their love forbidden and Spielberg especially seems interested in showing how hate can ultimately destroy the purest of loves. Ditching the original’s glossiness, Spielberg’s West Side Story is gritty yet also beautiful when it wants to be. Recently, period-set films feel like fake Hollywood productions (this has something to do with the sheen of digital photography) but shot-on-film West Side Story feels like a lived-in, raw, and real world. Even though the characters sing and dance. Some of the best things about West Side Story even have nothing to do with the fact the musical already is perhaps the best written musical of all time and he doesn’t rely it’s already perfect score and songbook to carry the film.

There are many reasons why West Side Story has bombed: a pandemic still keeping people away from theaters, sexual allegations leveled at the film’s star, and the fact that it’s not only a musical but a period piece. Whatever the reason it is, it’s a shame more people won’t see this masterpiece on the big screen. From the way the dances are choreographed to the way the camera moves to capture these great performances, every element of this film sings. With recent movie musicals featuring sub-par or autotuned actors, every performance in WSS is goosebumps-inducing. Most musicals record the tracks before production and the actors are dubbed over during filming, however many songs were recorded live for WSS, which is clear from the way the actor’s throat moves when performing. 

We have so few movies left from Steven Spielberg, and audiences may not have many chances left to see the greatest living director’s work on the big screen. This makes West Side Story’s box-office failure a tragedy. Despite film’s small screen-only trajectory getting nearer and nearer, Spielberg still makes movies for the big screen. Years from now when he’s passed on, many viewers will surely discover West Side Story and recognize it as one of his best films and regret they didn’t see it when it was released in theaters. Going to the movies isn’t just about watching a movie on a large screen, it’s about the experience, and West Side Story is that experience millions of moviegoers are sorely missing.