Film and drama

Screen Themes — Spider-Man: Homecoming vs Baby Driver

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Spider mutants vs car singing

Let’s all go to the movies with entertainment editor John Turnbull, as he checks out two of the best action films currently on the big screen — comic book blockbuster Spider-Man: Homecoming and stylish auto-musical Baby Driver.

Spider-Man Homecoming

Directed by Jon Watts (2017)

There is a lot that could have gone wrong with Spider-man: Homecoming.

The character has been played by a bunch of different actors over the years and young Brit Tom Holland is arguably the least experienced actor to have pulled on the mask.

Director Jon Watts is even more unknown, with the Kevin Bacon flick Cop Car the biggest film on his resume to date. Add to that the fact that this is a Sony rather than a Marvel production — Sony being the company that thought it would be a good idea to turn Spider-Man into a middle-aged emo kid who likes Jazz.

Fortunately, everything that could have gone wrong seems to have gone right and Spider-Man: Homecoming is a standout, even among the recent quality Marvel releases. Having made his debut in Captain America: Civil War, this movie finds Peter Parker returning to his "friendly neighborhood" roots, stopping bicycle thieves and helping old ladies cross the road.

While not particularly good at this basic superheroing, Spidey decides to step things up a notch and take on a gang of high-tech felons led by a maniac in a mechanical wing suit, bringing the attention of special guest star Iron Man.

Before we talk about RDJ’s scene-stealing performance as Peter’s armoured mentor, full credit must go to the villain of the piece: former city worker turned thief Adrian Tooms, played by Michael Keaton in the middle of a hell of a career renaissance. Never directly referred to as The Vulture, Keaton is spectacular in the role, bringing a combination of bruised nobility and rage to a character that looked frankly ridiculous in his original comic book form. In an age when the villain is almost always the weakest point in a superhero movie, Michael Keaton bucks the trend and delivers a villain for the ages.

In terms of supporting cast, Marisa Tomei returns as the surprisingly sexy Aunt May, while Jon Favreau and Gwyneth Paltrow reprise their roles from the Iron Man series.

New additions to the team are Jacob Batalon as Spider-Man’s best friend and "guy in the chair" and former Disney kid Zendaya, as the cool kid who will eventually become the love interest, Michelle (known to her friends as MJ). The sharp-eyed viewer may also spot Donald Glover playing a random concerned citizen, notable for the fact that the actor was rumoured to be in the running for the lead role until Sony decided that they wanted their Spider-Man to be a little less... diverse.

By abandoning the familiar Marvel 3-act structure, where the last 30 minutes is a near-incomprehensible fight scene, Spider-Man becomes far more engaging and lets you really care about the man behind the mask.

Tom Holland is wonderful as both Peter and Spider-Man, capturing the combination of eagerness and trepidation far better than either Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield were able to do. Oh, and RDJ is pretty good as Iron Man as well.  

Baby Driver

Directed by Edgar Wright (2017)

Sometimes a movie comes along that creates a whole new genre.

Jaws did it back in 1975 with the first Summer blockbuster. In 1999 The Blair Witch Project spawned a thousand "found footage" clones, while Deadpool proved successful enough to greenlight a host of R-rated superhero movies. While many critics would argue that there is no such thing as a new idea in Hollywood, clearly none of them had ever thought of crossing a car movie with a musical.

Logically, the auto-musical makes little sense. Flicks like Fast & Furious and La La Land attract almost entirely different audiences, and musicals that have attempted to appeal to blokes (with the exception of the South Park movie) have tended to fall flat. Fortunately, director Edgar Wright has some experience in mashing genres, creating the excellent RomZomCom Shaun of the Dead along with a bunch of other iconic cult films.

Baby Driver tells the story of professional getaway driver nicknamed Baby (Ansel Elgort), who works for a mob boss called Doc (Kevin Spacey), along with a crew of borderline psychopaths, including Bats (Jamie Foxx), Griff (Jon Bernthal) and Buddy (Jon Hamm).

Baby has worked for Doc since he was a kid, following the death of his mother in a car accident that left Baby with permanent tinnitus. This medical condition (constant ringing in the ears) means that Baby listens to music almost constantly, providing the soundtrack to the movie and some truly spectacular car chases.

From the opening scene, the importance of music to Baby Driver becomes evident, as lyrics are scattered about the background environment from neon signs to graffiti, creating a feeling of slight disconnection from reality. Indeed, the world of Baby Driver is hyper-stylised — from the broadly sketched character archetypes of Baby’s fellow criminals, to the casual way that Doc threatens to break Baby’s legs and disfigure his girlfriend if Baby tries to walk away.

If you’re looking for a movie with a traditional plot and character arcs, Baby Driver may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you’re one of those people who finds themselves walking in time with the music or singing along in the car, then there’s a good chance that Baby Driver might make you happy.

The Verdict

In terms of box office success, there is no doubt that Spider-Man will leave Baby Driver in the dust. Much-maligned critic aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes gives the films 92% and 94% respectively — a sign that they’re probably not terrible.

In a cinematic age of remakes and sequels, credit must go to Edgar Wright for creating a truly unique film in Baby Driver. Of course, unique doesn’t necessarily mean entertaining, as anyone who has seen the Human Centipede trilogy will attest. With its broadly sketched characters, under-utilised female cast and enigmatic lead actor, there is a chance that some people won’t like Baby Driver.

Apart from being a little long at 133 minutes, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a near-perfect superhero movie and anyone who doesn’t hate the genre should check it out if they have the chance. Both movies are worth checking out on the big screen, where you can check out the trailer for the laugh-riot that should be Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk

Spider-Man: Homecoming — 9/10

Baby Driver — 8/10

Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)

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