As we count down to the long-awaited uber-team-up Avengers: Infinity War (out April 27), EW’s Marvel Movie Club is preparing by revisiting the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in the weeks leading up to the mega-sized movie. EW will look back at one Marvel movie a week, every week, to reassess its powers and hopefully answer important questions along the way like “What was The Incredible Hulk?” “Does Nick Fury wash his eye-patch?” and “Is there a point to Hawkeye?” In the penultimate MMC, Chancellor and EW’s Devan Coggan will discuss some of Marvel’s best movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok.
Marvel had an interesting 2017. It saw the release of three films that were unlike anything Marvel Studios had given us before: the candy-colored and empathetic music video Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; the charmingly old-school Spider-Man: Homecoming; and Taika Waititi’s hilarious Thor: Ragnarok, which ended with the destruction of Asgard (the planet, not the people). All three movies present multiple possibilities for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond the untitled fourth Avengers movie. Last week, I focused on Guardians Vol. 2, and for this week’s penultimate Marvel Movie Club entry, I’m joined by my colleague Devan Coggan to chat about those last two and briefly touch on Black Panther. (Full disclosure: We had to combine the Marvel Movie Club entries on Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok because Disney moved up the Infinity War release date by a week after we’d already started this series. But we think they make an interesting thematic pair.) Read on below for our thoughts on both films …
CHANCELLOR AGARD: Welcome back to the MMC, which is slowly (and possibly thankfully) reaching its conclusion. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok are some of Marvel’s most interesting films because they seem to, at least partially, reject what we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studio’s brand of superhero tales. Ragnarok is definitely my favorite of the two, but before we get to it, I think we should start with Homecoming, which came out first.
When I re-watched Homecoming this week, I found that I still couldn’t believe Peter Parker was actually part of the MCU, something I didn’t think would happen before it did in 2015. Did you feel the same excitement watching the web-slinger in his first MCU movie? What do you love most about Homecoming?
DEVAN COGGAN: Rewatching Homecoming made me remember how much I love it. It is strange to have Peter Parker in an MCU movie, isn’t it? Before the MCU made superheroes like Black Widow and Hawkeye — Hawkeye! — into household names, Spidey was easily Marvel’s most well-known property. Pre-MCU, Spider-Man was like Justin Timberlake, the X-Men were JC Chasez, and the Avengers were essentially Chris Kirkpatrick. A decade later, and Peter Parker isn’t even the biggest superhero in his own movie! Just look at how big Robert Downey Jr.’s face was on the Homecoming poster!
But I think Homecoming does an excellent job of fitting Spider-Man into the sprawling Marvel universe, and it does that by lowering the stakes. There are no giant portals swirling above the Manhattan skyline or evil aliens hellbent on world domination. Instead, it’s a movie about one high school student with superpowers trying to figure out how he fits into this crazy world of heroes and villains — which is a pretty apt metaphor for the very existence of Homecoming. Uncle Ben is nowhere to be seen in this movie, but his oft-quoted mantra about great power and great responsibility looms large over the entire film. Yes, the Peter Parker of Homecoming has a responsibility to protect those in need and go above and beyond whenever possible, but he also learns that he has a responsibility to himself. It’s a lovely character arc, and it’s emphasized by Tom Holland’s completely charming and believable teenage performance. (Tom Holland is my favorite on-screen Spider-Man because to me, he best captures the wide-eyed, wisecracking optimism of the character — way more so than Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield. YEAH, I SAID IT.)
There are a lot of details I love in this movie — the bodega cat, the high school morning announcements, the churro — but the main reason I think Homecoming works so well is that it breaks the MCU’s longstanding villain curse. We’ve had more than a dozen movies of evil sorcerers and invading aliens, and Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is the first one to feel so sympathetic and believable. The Vulture proves that you don’t have to have an evil villain hellbent on destroying/blowing up/devastating the world; in fact, having smaller, more personal stakes makes for a way more engaging movie. All he wants to do is make some money and protect his family, and he’s tired of the Tony Starks of the world pushing guys like him around. It’s the same reason Killmonger works so well in Black Panther: He’s sympathetic and he behaves like a real human being. Things are always more interesting when they’re personal.
Also, Homecoming is just a hell of a lot of fun. I love the John Hughes high school vibe! I love the distinct Queens-iness of it all! It feels so different from other Marvel movies, and I think for most of us, it’s the best illustration yet of what our lives would be like if we lived in this crazy MCU world. We probably wouldn’t be hanging out on helicarriers with Captain America, but we would be watching Captain America PSAs in our high school gym classes.
What do you think, Chance? Do you think Spidey’s first MCU solo movie works?
CHANCELLOR: Oh, Devan, I agree with most of that! While watching Homecoming this week, I was also struck by how old school it feels. Like there’s a scene where Peter is run-tripping through an alley as he tries to put his costume on. That one moment doesn’t feel like a Marvel Cinematic Universe moment, it feels like something out of like a Superman movie or something. Along the same lines, the bodega scene is also amazing because MCU movies never give us anything as mundane as a hero going to a bodega; I mean, everyone loves the shawarma scene from the Avengers because of how much it contrasts with that film’s bombastic action. But here, the down-to-earth-ness is part of the movie’s charm.
Not only does Homecoming break the MCU villain curse with Keaton’s Vulture, but it also rejects many parts of the Marvel Studios’ formula. Several years ago, our colleague Darren Franich assembled of list of the 17 signs it’s a Marvel movie, and looking at it now really drives home just how different Homecoming is: Peter Parker has a secret identity; his superpowers are very specific and haven’t been watered down (Spidey-sense is coming in Avengers: Infinity War); there isn’t a rebirth cycle. I could go on, but I don’t want this paragraph to just become one long list.
If I had one complaint about Homecoming (apart from Spidey and Vulture’s terribly lit final airborne fight), it’s that Tony Stark and Happy Hogan’s appearances are my least favorite things about the movie (God, I sound like the Vulture). Every time they show up, I’m reminded that this is first and foremost a product, which is disappointing because this movie is really sweet and makes me forget that for most of its runtime. However, I can even forgive this issue because there’s something meaningful about having the two men who launched this universe appear in Homecoming (God, I’ve been sipping the Marvel kool-aid for too long). It feels like they’re passing on the torch to the MCU’s next generation of heroes.
Now that we’ve gushed a lot about Homecoming, I think it’s time we move on to Thor: Ragnarok. One of the things I think connects these two movies is how they take on some of the things we take for granted in the MCU. As you mentioned, Adrian Toomes hates the Tony Starks of the world. Adrian reminds us that Tony built most of his wealth from arms dealing. That’s kind of similar to Hela (Cate Blanchette), Odin’s daughter and the Goddess of Death who returns after Odin dies and reminds everyone that Asgard didn’t achieve its great status in the cosmos through Odin’s knack for diplomacy, but through war and bloodshed. In the same way Vulture kind of asks us to wonder what it’s like to not love superheroes, Hela, and the impending Ragnarok, asks whether Asgard is worth saving given its imperialistic past. Devan, do you agree that there are some similarities between the two villains? Also, how do you feel about Hela as a Big Bad in general?
DEVAN: I love Thor: Ragnarok. I love it so much. Just like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ragnarok pulls off the high-wire trick of feeling like a Marvel movie, while also completely demolishing the established formula. Every bit of this movie is insane, from “get help” to everything Jeff Goldblum does/says. Thor: Ragnarok feels distinctly comic book-y, thanks to all the wisecracking rock aliens and candy-colored space shenanigans, but it also has a distinctly indie sensibility. Most Marvel movies feel so polished and studio-approved; Thor: Ragnarok is imbued with director Taika Waititi’s off-the-cuff sense of humor, where a climactic space battle leads to a daring escape sequence through a wormhole called the Devil’s Anus. It’s pure anarchy, and it’s also a total delight.
I think your comparison between the two villains in Homecoming and Ragnarok is spot-on. I actually think Vulture is the more successful of the two because he’s got actual goals and motivations, unlike Hela, whose only goal is death and destruction. I mean, been there, seen that.
But underneath the zombie army and all of Cate Blanchett’s scenery-chewing, you’re right: Hela does actually raise some interesting questions about responsibility and heroism. This is a movie about oppressive colonialism and its bloody results, as well as how we choose to whitewash past atrocities. Ragnarok is easily the most fun Marvel movie to date, but it’s also pretty heavy.
I’m also interested to know how you feel about Thor in Ragnarok after rewatching all of his earlier appearances. Because the Thor we see on Sakaar is very different from the Thor who crash-landed in New Mexico all those years ago. For one, Marvel finally stopped forcing Chris Hemsworth to bleach his eyebrows (thank God), but I also feel like they finally figured out how to write Thor. The Thor of earlier appearances is a privileged prince, a Shakespearean frat boy. Here, he’s like the big dumb golden retriever of the Marvel universe — handsome, kind, a little dopey — but he also goes through hell and comes out as a stronger, more interesting character. His dad dies, his brother betrays him, he’s grappling with the very nature of what it means to lead, and it’s actually a fascinating, sympathetic character arc. If seven years ago you would’ve told me one of my all-time favorite MCU movies would be about Thor, I would’ve thought you were crazy.
What do you think of Thor’s evolution, and how Thor: Ragnarok sets up the next phase of the MCU?
CHANCELLOR: I think what makes Hemsworth’s appearance in Ragnarok so revelatory is that it’s the first movie that doesn’t focus on Thor the Soldier. In Thor, he’s this impulsive, fisticuffs-loving jock who made an unjustified pre-emptive strike on the Frost Giant’s realm. Although he goes through his own rebirth cycle, he never exactly shows any kind of guilt for the act that got banished from Asgard. Then, Thor: The Dark World opens with Thor waging war in order to bring order to the Nine Realms. Here, however, Thor isn’t Asgard’s enforcer. He’s just someone who is worried about his home, which is definitely way more relatable and endearing than simply watching him lay waste to armies of others.
Furthermore, Thor: Ragnarok just gives him more human moments. I know we’ve spoken about this before, but Thor explaining how Loki transformed into a snake and tried to kill him when they were younger may be one of the characters best moments. It’s not only funny, but also way more revealing about Thor and Loki’s childhood than almost anything we’d seen before because it’s so specific.
It’s a shame that I’m just starting to fall for Hemsworth’s Thor because he’s probably done with the MCU after Avengers 4. However, Ragnarok‘s greatest achievement is that it introduces Tessa Thompson’s battle-scarred and alcoholic Valkyrie, who could easily carry her own solo movie once Marvel moves past Phase Four. While I love almost everything about Ragnarok, Thompson’s cheeky performance is what stayed with me the most. Even though she’s one of the supporting characters, Thompson has the swagger of a lead; from when she steps (read: drunkenly trips) out of her spaceship after Thor arrives on Sakaar, to the moment she gets her swagger back and struts down the Bifrost as fireworks explode around her. If Hemsworth takes his curtain call in Avengers 4, I’m more than willing to follow Valkyrie wherever she goes next in the MCU, whether that’s her own solo movie, an A-Force film, or if she joins the Avengers full time.
Ragnarok and Homecoming are very similar movies in that they both provide hints for where the MCU can go from here. The same can be said of Black Panther, which came out after those two films in 2018. Taken together, do these three films give you hope for the future of the MCU after Avengers 4? If so, why or why not?
DEVAN: Valkyrie forever. Give Valkyrie her own movie, her own franchise, anything she wants. Make the title of the next Avengers movie Avengers 4: Valkyrie, Featuring Taika Waititi as Korg.
But as far as what’s next? The MCU has its ups and downs, but the three-film run leading up to Infinity War — Homecoming, Ragnarok, and Black Panther — is the strongest three-film run in the entire slate. The first few phases focused on establishing a world where superheroes could exist, and now the MCU is warping and twisting those boundaries, experimenting with genre, form, and tone. It’s never been so clear as to what a Marvel movie is — and Marvel has never been so willing to torpedo that and try new things.
Plus, Marvel has now assembled a new generation of heroes who are just a blast to be around. If the original Avengers lineup hand over the keys to the franchise after Infinity War and its sequel, it sure doesn’t feel like we’re moving on to the second-stringers. Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Okoye, Falcon… These are all headlining heroes who audiences want to spend more time with. After 10 years, Marvel is still a long way off from running out of steam.
Avengers: Infinity War is now in theaters.