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Spider-ManFirst, this post contains massive, I repeat, MASSIVE SPOILERS of Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 (GotG2), Wonder Woman (WW), and Spider-Man: Homecoming (SMH). If you haven’t seen all three of those movies and don’t want to know specific plot points, stop reading now. Go read something else, like my novel A Fine Basket of Fish.

You have been warned.

Second, I am sharing my thoughts on the three most recent superhero movies released in 2017. I am excluding Logan because it is essentially not a superhero movie. It is a dystopian sci-fi story that features some super-powered people. It’s a different type of comic book movie (CBM) and, while I appreciate some people like that type of film, I do not. Logan is dark, depressing, excessively violent, and I don’t even want to think about it.

SPOILERS begin here…

Guardians of the GalaxyI enjoyed GotG2. It was big, dumb fun. Not exactly what I want from a CBM, but close enough. There was a nice family-oriented basis to the story, but the story wasn’t much more than an excuse to throw the Guardians from one impossible situation to the next. It was an action film, emphasis on the action.

I also enjoyed WW. It was an OK CBM. Compared to what WB/DC has put out recently, that is a BIG step up. Even though WW had already been introduced in Batman v Superman, this film had to serve as an origin story and it suffered somewhat from doing so. There was forced comedy (there was absolutely no reason for either character to pursue the  “come sleep with me” interaction on the boat) and at least one huge plot hole (where was Wonder Woman during World War 2?)

The biggest mistake of both GotG2 and WW was the way in which the villain was handled. Both hid the real villain until the climactic battle. While this does give the writers an easy “twist,” it doesn’t work for any story outside of a murder mystery or thriller. A story in which the true villain is deliberately hidden creates suspense. GotG2 and WW both gave us misdirection, showing us minor villains until the big reveal at the end of the film. There’s no suspense there, just a general sense of confusion.

GotG2 sets up a beautiful reunion between Peter Quill (Star Lord) and his estranged father. While they’re getting to know each other, the film distracts us with encounters with the Sovereigns and Ravagers. Then, suddenly, Quill’s father reveals he’s trying to essentially destroy the universe by making every planet a part of himself. There’s a big fight, the evil being is destroyed, and the galaxy is saved. (A second time, mind you, so the Guardians can raise their rates!)

There are plenty of jokes, and it’s all in good fun, but, in a way, it’s just another mad super being bent on destroying the universe is stopped by lovable goofballs. The Guardians aren’t even particularly “super,” they’re just lucky.

Wonder WomanWW messed up in an even bigger way. There’s a powerful scene just after Wonder Woman has killed General Ludendorf, whom she thinks is Ares, the evil god of war. She thinks the Great War will immediately cease as Ares’s influence over humanity is ended. The war does not end, soldiers do not suddenly become friends. Nothing changes.

Diana is distraught. Steve tries to explain war is humanity’s failure, not the result of control of a mythical god. Diana refuses to accept this and turns her back on the fight. Very powerful and could have led to an interesting ending. Instead, Ares, who is disguised as a British politician, shows up, gets killed by Diana and the world is suddenly at peace!

Yay. What a letdown.

I loved SMH. There are several reasons why it is the best CBM in quite a while, but I want to focus on the villain. SMH did several things with Michael Keaton’s Vulture (never called that in the film…by my recollection, the word is never uttered in any context) that made him at once the most sinister villain as well as the most sympathetic we’ve seen in the MCU in quite some time.

First, Toomes (the villain’s last name) is never presented as a mad super being trying to destroy the universe, or the world, or even a city block. He’s just a guy trying to earn a dishonest dollar. He’s a junkyard kingpin who steals advanced technology from the sites of superhero dustups, reconfigures it into weapons, and sells them to the highest bidder. He’s the first blue-collar criminal we’ve seen in any CBM.

Second, Toomes’s fight with Spider-Man is initiated by Spider-Man who’s doing nothing more than poking his nose where it doesn’t belong so he can prove himself to Tony Stark. Toomes has no interest in killing anyone, but, Spidey is interfering in his business, so he has to go.

Third, Toomes isn’t evil in the “I’m going to kill everyone to show my power!” kind of way. He’s just an amoral hard worker who doesn’t want to lose his business, because business is good. He’s a little blasé when he accidentally turns the first Shocker to ash. (“I thought this was the anti-gravity gun? No? Oh, well, I guess you’re the new Shocker.”) That makes him exceedingly sinister and a little sympathetic. You absolutely believe him when he tells Peter he’ll kill him if Peter gets in his way again. You also kind of want Peter to just leave the guy alone. Let him do his job!

SMH is a “small” CBM. It’s almost entirely about Spidey’s fight against Vulture. There’s nothing at stake other than Peter’s pride and Vulture’s business dealings. They turn that minor scuffle into an appropriately epic final fight, but what sets SMH apart from GotG2 and WW is the fight is entirely personal. Revealing Toomes is the father of Peter’s wannabe girlfriend makes it even more personal.

There were lots of other things SMH got right: Peter’s high school angst (my high school age boys said it was overdone, which really just means it’s condensed for a two hour movie); Stark’s limited screen time (he’s a plot device, but the movie advances his story a little bit anyway); the Iron Spider suit reveal (can’t believe Peter turned it down, it was AMAZING); a younger, prettier Aunt May (movie plays up Tomei’s sexiness, which makes May a true character in the story rather than just an anchor for Peter); and the casting of all Peter’s friends and frenemies at school (fantastic job all around, folks).

And, yes, Zendaya IS MJ.

Dang. I can’t wait for the sequel.