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.

‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ is the Horrible Mess That May Have Saved Hollywood

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the follow-up to the 2018 hit film Venom, which was based on the famous Spider-Man villain. The first Venom wasn’t very good, and the sequel has many of the same problems and more. Like its predecessor, the movie hasn’t been received well by critics, but it made a ton of money in its opening weekend. This is a good thing. Theaters have needed a hit like Venom and as much as I hated it, I’m so glad it was a hit because frankly, cinema in general, needed it.

The past year has been rough on movie-going fans like me. Many cinemas were shut down for months last year and, unfortunately, many closed for good. I myself crossed state lines to be able to see Tenet. The idea of a darkened theater, surrounded by people, all having a shared experience is one of the things COVID destroyed. Since movie theaters have generally re-opened and studios have begun releasing movies again, it’s been slow at the box office. Many of the movies that had a planned theatrical release went straight to streaming last year, with more on the way. However, Venom’s $90 million opening shows that people still want to see movies in a theater and will go to a theater despite a pandemic. So, how did we get here? The idea of people not wanting to go to movies seems like that would never happen but, unfortunately, it’s been heading this way for a while. The pandemic just accelerated it.

Since the dawn of home media, movie watchers have enjoyed viewing movies in the comfort of their own homes. Along came HBO, and high-quality TV movies started to get produced. However, Hollywood was doing itself no favors. As home video, and later DVDs, were becoming popular, movie tickets were getting more expensive, so the cost of a family of four going to the movies (plus popcorn, candy, and soda) became astronomical. Audiences weren’t going to see Sinatra live. They were seeing the newest Adam Sandler movie in a sticky and butter scented theater.

After becoming prominent, streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon began producing their own content. This came at a time when Hollywood was making less risky content to ensure big box-office and really bank on those rising ticket prices. In doing so, mid-budget movies were not being produced, and nowadays studios make very few original mid-budget films. Many movies today are based on familiar properties like books, comic books, and true stories, with budgets ranging from very low to very high.

However, streaming sites make the kinds of movies that studios used to for theatrical release, and people watch them there because audiences would rather pay one price for a swath of risky content rather than pay one price for one. Because of this, we see more sequels and superhero movies released to theaters instead of original and potentially risky material. I don’t think any movie known as a classic was ever considered a “sure thing.” Prior to the pandemic, movie theaters were seeing record highs but the truth is that the average person only goes to the movies twice a year. If movie theaters are only banking on these big event movies, they’re in trouble. 

But back to Venom.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a 90-minute cash grab that barely has a plot. It’s too bad because Tom Hardy is a great actor, but his performance as Venom sounds like a drunk Bane and the relationship between him and Eddie Brock is cutesy and annoying when it should actually be kind of scary.

The film doesn’t contain any stakes at all (I reread the plot synopsis when I got home – nope – none), and it really feels like it was made because they knew by having fan favorites Venom and Carnage in one movie, it would make money, and despite a pandemic – it did. What’s sad is there are many truly people behind the film. Andy Serkis directed it, and one of the world’s greatest cinematographers, Robert Richardson, shot it (though it’s clearly his worst photographed film).

Not a scene of this film has any artistic value, and it feels like it was only made to showcase live-action Venom and Carnage, with a weak plot shoehorned in. Is this where we’ve gotten with film – these are the movies that need to be made to get people to come to movie theaters? In 2021, Venom is what you have to see if you want to go to the cathedral of world’s greatest artform. But honestly, why would anyone love two ugly CGI characters who look basically the same fighting? It’s mind-boggling. But you can’t argue with a $90 million weekend.

As mentioned, as much as I hated Venom, I’m glad it was a hit. We need to keep movie theaters open. Despite what people may feel (too expensive, have to drive there, have to get a babysitter, have to sit with other people) there is nothing like seeing a movie in a theater and experiencing a filmmaker beam their art into you, instead of watching it at home where distractions galore can take you away from the experience.

If movies like Venom keep movie theaters open — so be it, because if they’re open, that means there is a chance a great original movie will slip through the cracks and make its way to the big screen — where it’s meant to be seen.

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