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Spidey Sense Tingling 

Homecoming gets it right, Bad Batch not so much

Spider-Man: Homecoming A chorus, sweetened by the voices of multitudes, echoes brightly through the halls of mediadom; even the nerds have lent their breath. And they are not wrong: new Spider-Man's pretty good, guys. Having weathered now three — relatively — recent iterations of Spidey as cinematic tent-pole, and admittedly having enjoyed them all to varying degrees, it seems that Homecoming finally nails the essential comic book balance that made this character so evergreen in the first place.

The usual disclaimer here: I really don't have any skin in the comics game, much less a particularly loyalty to Spider-Man or any specific story arc. I've been a long-time, casual fan but he only really popped up in my scant boyhood comics collection when he crossed over with the Punisher for a few issues. So, come at me if you must; I probably won't put up much fight.

It occurred to me in the very early going that Homecoming seems to come from an understanding that the source material for all of these movies was born of the frustration and sorrow and joy of a small group of people (predominantly men) who articulated those feelings by making little drawings of brightly colored people with extraordinary abilities. They created art and synthesized the issues of the day, of course, and continue to do so. At bottom, though, they made something fun and funny that spoke to their ever-present, if fearful, inner child. Obviously, the form evolves and there is more room than ever for the exploration of tougher and more sophisticated material, but the oft-neglected legacy really springs from the emotional stuff of adolescence. This should be Spider-Man's sweet spot; in acknowledging that, the makers of Homecoming really get it right.

Flashback: Following the devastation of New York City by the Avengers (see: The Avengers, 2012. And to be fair, they did save the world), Victor Toomes (Michael Keaton) secures a contract for clean-up and salvage at ground zero. Having invested everything in the project to ensure some security and comfort for his family and his crew, he becomes understandably indignant when a bloodless government functionary (Tyne Daly) informs him that his contract is null and void.

Fast-forward: Almost a decade later, a breathless Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns from Berlin, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) enlisted him as a secret weapon in his dust-up with Captain America (Chris Evans) (see: Captain America: Civil War, 2016). Peter has a hard time coming down from the high of squabbling with superheroes, and the fact that Stark has him on probation, playing neighborhood crossing guard, doesn't help. Neither does the day-to-day torment of a nerdy adolescence, nor the unrequited love of seemingly unapproachable senior Liz (Laura Harrier). Distraction arrives in the form of Toomes' crew, recast as dealers of armaments engineered from illegally scavenged alien technology. Peter becomes perhaps too-embroiled in the intrigue, creating as much chaos as he curbs amid his flailing, good-hearted efforts to do the right thing, in a global and personal sense.

Co-writer/director Jon Watts (Clown, 2014; Cop Car, 2015) makes good on a tremendous opportunity here, utilizing a talented cast to great effect. He sticks close to the humor and pathos that are so vital to the character and to the medium, finding room for a slew of visual jokes and some not-too-assertive movie references and thematic threads. Homecoming gets serious when it needs to but leaves a pleasant afterglow of fun and engagement. PG13. 133M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

— John J. Bennett

The Bad Batch Ana Lily Amirpour's first feature, A Girl Walks Home at Night, was a captivating, attentive, fresh take on vampiranalia. I suspect expectations were universally high for The Bad Batch, her second full-length writing/directing effort, and boy, did those go unfulfilled.

The Bad Batch promised to be arty, avant garde, trashy fun. It didn't succeed at any of those aspirations and reeked of trying too hard.

We are introduced to Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) as she's tattooed and dropped on the desert side of a tall, razor-wire topped fence. She wanders into the flats in cutoff, watermelon-colored denim shorts. She stops to apply lipstick in the rearview mirror of a long-abandoned car, when she's caught by a band of cannibalistic weightlifters, who pump iron to Ace of Base tunes between lopping limbs off of their prisoners.

If this all sounds great to you, I 100 PERCENT AGREE. On paper, this should have worked, but Amirpour and Waterhouse can't pull it off. After Arlen's partial amputation and stomach-churning escape, the movie turns into a rudderless mess.

Arlen's motivations are never clear or consistent, for one thing. At one moment she's a devil-may-care badass, in the next she's a panicked, uncertain wreck. She's determined then wounded, impeccably cool and then strangely driven. Her actions contradict her apparent desire for vengeance.

Amirpour also seems unsure whether to make a point. If it's post-apocalyptic-girls-just-wanna-have-fun flick, where's the fun? The Stockholm syndrome, Holocaust and border wall parallels all seem to be set dressing. In one lingering scene, Arlen experiences a phenomenal acid trip, in another, it feels like the movie is lecturing us on drugs.

I suspect Waterhouse wasn't given enough character notes to carry the long, stark, wordless desert scenes, and the film's attempts to redefine post-apocalypse style only land a handful of times, and even those are mostly derivative of better, more interesting movies, like Mad Max and Tank Girl. The only time the movie catches any wind is when it leans on Keanu Reeves, the desert town's eerie cult leader.

Perhaps worst of all, the whole movie stinks of Vice, whose film division produced both of Amirpour's features. From the poor-gawking to the vaguely racist/misogynistic overtones, from the tone-setting skateboard shots to the Die Antwoord song, it feels like a gumbo of advertorial hipness, like Arlen was an Instagram influencer sent into the wasteland to gather "experiences." It has the skeezy vibe of being made by people who have driven through Trona and Skid Row with their windows rolled all the way up.

The Bad Batch's strongest point is its soundtrack, but even that gets a bit tired as it becomes clear Amirpour is relying on music cues for otherwise absent style. I'm still listening to the soundtrack for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night with some regularity and this will surely join the rotation. I wish I could say it wasn't the only accomplishment of note in Amirpour's second endeavor. R. 118M. Available for streaming on Netflix.

— Grant Scott-Goforth

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

THE BIG SICK. The latest from Judd Apatow pairs a Pakistani Uber driver and aspiring comedian (Kumail Naniani) and a heckler (Zoe Kazan) in an unlikely romance in a film about culture, illness and love. R. 120M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE HERO. Sam Elliot does his best to carry the film with a standout performance as a Hollywood Western icon who is decades removed from his best performances and looking for a legacy role while confronting his mortality. R. 93M. BROADWAY.

MAMMA MIA! (2008). The ABBAtastic tale of a bride-to-be's quest to find her real father. Starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth. PG13. 108M. BROADWAY.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Caser (Andy Serkis) sets out on a quest of vengeance after the apes are pulled into war with a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). PG13. 150M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

WISH UPON. Joey King and Ryan Phillippe star in this teen thriller about a girl who finds a magic, wish-granting box that seems to be an uninspired mashup of Heathers, Mean Girls and The Monkey's Paw. PG13. 90M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Continuing

BABY DRIVER. What's not to love about Edgar Wright's love letter to 1970s American car chase movies and its wall-to-wall pop soundtrack? With Ansel Elgort as a driving savant/reluctant wheelman and Kevin Spacey as an organized criminal. R. 113m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

BEATRIZ AT DINNER. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow have an uncomfortable evening as an immigrant holistic healer and a blowhard one percenter. R. 142m. MINOR.

THE BEGUILED. Sophia Coppola's beautifully photographed and impeccably acted remake about a Union soldier in the care of the ladies of a Southern girls' school is rich and disturbing. Starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell. R. 94m. BROADWAY, MINOR.

CARS 3. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) goes up against younger, faster cars in the race for the Piston Cup in this Pixar sequel. With Larry the Cable Guy and Cristela Alonzo. G. 109m. BROADWAY.

DESPICABLE ME 3. An out of work Gru (Steve Carell) returns to a life of crime, meets his long-lost twin and battles a villain stuck in the '80s (Trey Parker). With Kristen Wiig. PG. 156m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. This buoyant, funny follow-up to Marvel's trip to space with a motley crew of outlaws and misfits is surprisingly heartfelt — like a love-letter from writer-director James Gunn to the material and its fans. PG13. 136m. BROADWAY.

LETTERS FROM BAGHDAD. Documentary about Gertrude Bell, a powerful British woman in post-World War I Iraq. Starring Ammar Haj Ahmad, Adam Astill and Tom Chadbon. NR. 95m. MINIPLEX.

THE LITTLE HOURS. Quiet life in a medieval covenant turns decidedly lustful when a young male servant fleeing his master takes refuge. The raunchy comedy boasts an all star cast that includes Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Aubrey Plaza and Nick Offerman. R. 90M. MINIPLEX.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT. I don't know, man. Maybe we should just let the robots take over and see how that goes. Give it a chance or whatever. PG13. 150m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

WONDER WOMAN. Director Patty Jenkins and company handle the seriousness of justice and love overcoming prejudice and hate without turning pompous, and still entertain with outsized battle sequences in this fine DC adaptation. Starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill and Thadeus Greenson

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About The Authors

John J. Bennett

Grant Scott-Goforth

Bio:
Grant Scott-Goforth has been an assistant editor and staff writer for The Journal since 2013.

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