Six reasons ‘Homecoming’ is among the best Spider-Man movies 

Note: I hate spoilers. Hate them. I believe dunderheads who carelessly throw movie, television, and book spoilers around on social media are worse than the worst super villain. So, I believe I have been sufficiently vague enough here to avoid spider spoilers for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” But my advice? See the movie first before reading further, and then check back to see how right…or wrong…I really am.

Seriously. What are you waiting for? 

Last week in a fit of spider-geekdom I kicked off my viewing of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” with my official list of my favorite Spidey movies.  

The only question? Where would “Homecoming,” co-produced by Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures and distributed by Sony Pictures, end up in my rankings? 

The answer? Right at the top with the 2004 classic “Spider-Man 2.” Yes, it’s that good, for six reasons: 


A New Direction, but… 

No Peter Parker origin story here. Been there. Enjoyed that. Time for something new, and “Homecoming” delivers.  

A diverse-and-talented supporting cast, a focus on the technology of Tony Stark’s Spidey suit, and a real “high school feel” distinguish “Homecoming” from any other Spider-Man story to date. 

Are there changes? Yes, but the tweaks to the Spider-Man legend feel authentic and necessary, not forced. 

The story is fresh. It’s fun. And that’s a good thing. 


Homage to the Classics
 

Despite the new direction, though, there is a danger in superhero storytelling in senselessly straying too far from classic roots. Consider the 2015 “Fantastic Four” movie if you doubt me here. 

Fortunately, the brilliance in “Homecoming” lies in how well writers and producers weave classic Spider-Man elements into a script that’s so thoroughly new. 

Classic Spidey characters? Check. Classic Spidey villains? Check. Teenage drama (because Spider-Man is, after all, a kid)? Check.  

These elements are still here. In fact, they help “Homecoming” feel more like a true Spider-Man story than anything we’ve seen since “Spider-Man 2” – a true “homecoming” for the character in every sense of the word. 

True Spider-Man enthusiasts will appreciate the many nods to classic Spidey stories and characters throughout “Homecoming.” It’s filled with just enough sly winks and Easter eggs to pay homage to a classic character in a new world. 

That’s clever storytelling. 


A Stark Contrast
 

We get just enough of Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark and Iron Man. Not a mere cameo appearance. Not too much. Just right. 

Downey, Jr.’s “Captain America: Civil War” chemistry with Tom Holland is just as fun here, but even more compelling because Tony Stark’s mentorship of an eager Peter Parker gives us insight into Stark’s constantly evolving character within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The brashness remains, but there’s something more, too – a selflessness and a recognition that with great power comes great responsibility. 

The fact that Peter Parker is learning this life lesson from Tony Stark instead of his Uncle Ben is both a brilliant twist on a classic Spidey story and an indication of just how much Stark has evolved from his introduction in “Iron Man” in 2008. 

It’s a stark contrast from the Tony we met nine years ago. “Homecoming” is more than a Peter Parker story. It’s a Tony Stark story, too, one that will likely spin right into next year’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” 


Michael Keaton’s Villainy
 

It’s no secret I love movie villains. Trust me – Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (the Vulture) ranks right up there with Alfred Molina’s Dr. Otto Octavius in “Spider-Man 2” as one of the best Spidey villains ever. 

In fact, Keaton’s Vulture is both sinister and sympathetic, a complexity that makes him one of the best MCU villains, too, because despite the technology that defines his character, he’s so often so human in this story. We’ve missed this complexity in MCU villains, but Keaton delivers it here.

It’s Keaton’s ability to find the humanity within the sinister Vulture that makes him so scary, so perfect for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” 


Tom Holland IS Spider-Man
 

Tobey Maguire was great. Despite the scripts, Andrew Garfield was better. But, in “Homecoming,” Tom Holland delivers the best live-action performance of Spider-Man ever. 

Holland is everything Peter Parker must be: uncertain but eager, nerdy but fun, clumsy but heroic. And it’s Peter Parker’s heroism in spite of his Spidey-suit where Holland really shines.  

Spider-Man is supposed to be the most human of heroes in spite of his gifts. No actor has more exemplified this trait and better personified the character than Tom Holland does. And, it doesn’t hurt that Holland has brilliant chemistry with every other actor in the movie.  


Smaller Piece to a Larger Story
 

Finally, I suspect that the legacy of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” will only grow as we move closer to and even beyond “Avengers: Infinity War.” 

All previous Spider-Man movies built the Spidey-verse, but “Homecoming” is a part of something larger – an entire universe of superheroes. Without being specific (spoilers, after all), there’s more going on beyond just a really fun, creative Spider-Man story.  

How this story – this piece — fits into the larger MCU puzzle remains to be seen, but the Spider-Man we meet here will continue to evolve in and beyond upcoming movies. For that reason “Spider-Man: Homecoming” will eventually be seen as a homecoming for a classic character poised to be an essential part of a constantly expanding Marvel universe.  

That alone makes it’s among the most significant Spider-Man movies ever.  

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Spider-Nerd ranks Spidey movies with ‘Homecoming’ only moments away

I’m moments away from a highlight of my summer – my viewing of “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Yes, I am posting this from the theater. Opening previews be damned. 

There’s something incredible about losing yourself in the world of a story, and movies are, at their core, stories. The comic book nerd and storyteller in me hopes that Spidey’s latest adventure will be among his best.  

In the meantime, to prepare for “Homecoming,” I spent the last week re-watching the five previous Spider-Man movies. Essential research, after all.  I didn’t include the incredibly entertaining “Captain America: Civil War” in that batch, since it is primarily a Cap/Avengers movie, but let’s face it – Tom Holland’s Spider-Man debut and his scenes with Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark were highlights of the movie.

Where will Holland’s Spider-Man and “Homecoming” rank in the Spidey-verse of movies? I’m guessing among the best, but before finding out, here’s my unofficial comic nerd rating of the last five Spider-Man movies, in reverse order, of course: 

5. “Spider-Man 3” (2007) 

An unsympathetic Peter Parker controlled by a symbiote, a Topher Grace miscast as Venom, and a plot that barely brings all the pieces together make this my least favorite. Great Spider-Man/Sandman action sequences and an interesting-if-overshadowed villain performance by Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman are highlights, though. 

4. “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012) 

Spot-on chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Ben and May Parker, and an interesting mystery twist on Peter’s Spider-Man origin story all work well here, but where is the lighthearted Spider-Man we all know and love?  

3. “Spider-Man” (2002) 

How can you not love one of the best superhero origin stories of all time? Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson deliver here, and so does Willem Defoe’s Norman Osborn, one of the best super villain portrayals ever. This movie sets up the Spider-Man trilogy perfectly. I’ve watched this movie so many times. It’s cliché to say, but the story and the movie withstand the test of time. 

2. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) 

Many won’t agree with placing this above “Spider-Man,” but I love it slightly more in my heart because Andrew Garfield IS Peter Parker/Spider-Man in this movie. Despite the film’s flaws, Garfield delivers the best Spidey performance to date in this movie (we’ll see if that’s still the case after “Homecoming”). True Spider-Man historians know how this story plays out before the movie even begins, but the Garfield/Emma Stone chemistry and strong writing deliver an homage to the Peter Parker-Gwen Stacy romance, and the movie’s final battle scene and conclusion are powerful.  

1. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) 

The best. My favorite. This is, above all else, a Peter Parker story. The second movie both honors the 2002 original and brilliantly sets up the third installment. It not only features the most satisfying conclusion in all of the movies, but includes brilliant emotional and action scenes (look for Spider-Man saving the city from a runaway train) and the best Spidey villain portrayal of all – Alfred Molina’s Dr. Otto Octavius, a bad guy we both sympathize with and fear (those mechanical arms are just creepy). This is, in my opinion, the best Spider-Man story. 

So, where will “Spider-Man: Homecoming” rank on my list?  

I’m about to find out. 

My summertime battle with the blinking cursor and the blank screen

There’s nothing that taunts as viciously as a blinking cursor.

There’s nothing that intimidates quite like a blank screen. 

This will be the summer I conquer both. 

Summer affords teachers a fresh start. New opportunities beyond our classrooms. Most often we pursue these adventures to strengthen our skills as educators. Sometimes, though, these pursuits must be more personal. 

This summer, mine is.  

This summer, my goal is simply to write. From 9 to noon most days I will be here – staring down this blinking cursor and filling this blank screen with my thoughts, memories, ideas, and questions.  

This will be the summer that I welcome the challenge of writing instead of fearing it. I will embrace the endless possibilities, unlimited choices, constant scrutiny of words and phrases, and even the twinge of self doubt. 

I will use that cursor to construct my thoughts and fill that blank screen with the observations and ideas that mean the most to me. 

In her wonderful book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott observes that writers must care, that “a writer always tries, I think, to be a part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.” This summer is a personal journey for me for many reasons. But as I write, I hope to show that I care, too.

I hope to learn to use my cursor and blank screen to understand a little more about life and to be a part of the solution. 

Yes, I’m Making Resolutions for 2017

But, let’s call them goals.

Why? I have no idea. There just seems to be something more permanent — more meaningful — when I make a list of goals. 

When I write my thoughts down. 

And as 2016 ended and 2017 began, I realized I want to make some personal commitments. 

So, in 2017, I will…

1. Write more.

I’ve found recently that I have a lot more to say, especially as it pertains to education issues. 

In November voters took us down a dangerous path in regards to the future of our public schools in “electing” Donald Trump and a supermajority in Indiana. Never in my lifetime have we been closer to abandoning our public schools than we are right now, both in Indiana and nationwide.

Make no mistake about it — if we fail to stop the corporate education “reform” train supported by those we have just elected, our democracy will suffer. And make no mistake about it, that is the intent of these corporate education reformers and their lackeys — to damage our democracy. They control our state and federal government, and their interest is anything but what’s best for children, or the future of our country.

So, I’m going to write about that. And speak out about that. A lot. And while I’m sure I’ll write about other issues, too –politics, reflections of a teacher, literacy, books, comic books (of course!), and just the weird thoughts that float through my mind — the corporate education “reform” con and the necessity of strong public schools to our community, state, and nation will be what I write about the most. 

My goal — write and post at least two entries here each week.

I hope you’ll join me, follow my blog, and read and comment, even if you do not agree with all of my views. I seek discourse. I value all opinions.

But, I believe strongly in the coming months and years that we must speak out to protect the values and institutions that are so essential to our democracy. I plan to do that here. 

2. Read more.

Let’s be honest – this is on my list every year. 

My goals — read at least 50 books and 50 comic book trades this year. 

3. Travel more.

I need to venture outside of Southern Indiana and beyond the comfort of my own couch.

So, my goal: Take three trips to states I haven’t traveled to in 2017, including a long trip in June or July. 

And yes, I am open to suggestions.

4. Practice my faith more.

When faith becomes passive, we stop growing in our faith. God has blessed me beyond description, but I desire a steadier, more consistent relationship, too.

My goal: Develop and participate in a regular study of scripture in 2017. 

So, that’s my 2017 summed up in four (somewhat) concise goals. 

I’m excited to see what this year has in store. As always, I am blessed with the world’s best family and friends, so my true goal is to experience all that 2017 has to offer with them.

What I Learned in 2016

Everyone seems to be counting down the final minutes of 2016, desperate to escape the clutches of this year before it’s too late.

I agree, I guess. I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to embrace the fresh hope and possibilities of a new year.

But even in a year when so many seemingly lost so much, there are lessons. And despite the disappointments of 2016, for me, these lessons made this a special year.

This year on Election Day,  I learned that reason and facts sometimes aren’t always enough to overcome ignorance, and that in a democracy, fear can be used by artful politicians to manipulate voters to abandon American values like truth, empathy, charity, and hope that we cherish the most.

I learned too, though, that sometimes the most patriotic stance we can take if we truly love our nation is one of peaceful, persistent resistance.

I learned that despite the best efforts of educators and teachers, many Hoosier voters either do not understand education policy, or simply do not value teachers or believe in our community schools. If they did, they never would have voted so overwhelmingly for state and national leaders whose policies for our schools and our children are so misguided and so consistently wrong.

I learned, too, that in 2017, teachers, educators, and our advocates must find new ways to reach out to and talk with these voters about our schools, our jobs, and our children.

We must engage with these voters because we truly are at a turning point; if we fail to convince voters to stop the corporate education “reform” train destroying our schools, removing local control from our communities, overtesting our children, and driving our best teachers out of the classrooms, then one of the bedrocks of democracy, our public schools, will disappear.

I learned that technology in the classroom changes the learning dynamic but does not improve student learning or engagement. Technology is just a tool — nothing more, nothing less.

I learned, despite the disappointments and frustrations of 2016, that when our family, friends, and faith are at the center of our lives, life’s challenges don’t seem so overwhelming, and life’s special moments become that much more special.

I learned to work less and goof off and laugh more.

I learned to shoot more selfies and photos, to preserve the special moments and memories.

I learned I want to write more.

I learned that former students can be my greatest teachers. I learned to let them inspire me. I learned to be a better person because of their example.

I learned pets are family, too.

I learned I like people more than I thought I did.

I learned patience.

I learned that the people in our lives can make us better people, but that we have an obligation to be the best versions of ourselves for them, too.

These lessons made me better. They made 2016 worth it in more ways that I can ever count. They’re the lessons that taught me that 2017 will be special, too.

So, bring it on. And, Happy New Year!

This year my students will help me write well

By Jim Lang

Writing is a funny thing. Sometimes the words pour out of us. Sometimes we hit dry spells.

Perhaps it’s been the hectic schedule of summer, or maybe it’s been the frenzy of the new school year, but I have produced a vast amount of nothing during the last few weeks.

Like most educators and writers (let’s face it – most teachers are writers, too), my inspiration so often comes from my own students. That is the case with me now.

As I write these words, I am surrounded by the sounds of my own student writers — tapping keyboards, scratching pencils, sighs of frustration, the turning of notebook pages. My classroom at this very moment is filled with the oddly active silence of writing.

That’s the commitment we’ve made as writers in my Journalism I class this year – to spend time writing each week, usually on Fridays. This is our time away from the stress of standardized tests, the rapid pace of our hallways and classrooms, the to-do lists that seem to own our lives, and the noise.

We will write here most Fridays. Perhaps we’ll work on our story assignments. This week it’s our personality profiles. Perhaps we’ll work on something unrelated to school. Something unique. Something special. Something not dictated by endless streams of data, standards, or tests. Sometimes “just something” is enough.

We’ll share our writing here, too. We’ll help each other grow as writers through editing and revision. We’ll trust that our love for writing will help us make this classroom a true community of writers.

So, here I am writing. Today I am not their teacher.

I am a fellow writer.

My dry spell is over.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: Patience, Priesthood, and a Middle School Prediction

by Jim Lang

My middle school years were spent at Sacred Heart in Jeffersonville, where Anne Malone introduced me to the world of books. Her shelves were stocked with Agatha Christie mysteries. I’m sure I checked out and devoured every whodunit.

Exceedingly kind and always patient, Mrs. Malone pushed me to embrace the unfamiliar, and in doing so built my confidence in ways I did not appreciate at the time. I played a priest in an eighth-grade production of short stories that Mrs. Malone directed (just call me Fr. Jim, I guess). That was the beginning and end of my theatrical career, but as the quiet kid who rarely stepped out of the box, I remember that night and those moments as some of my favorites in middle school.

I believed more in myself because Anne Malone believed in me. And when I graduated from Sacred Heart and moved on to high school, Mrs. Malone included a prediction in her comments that she wrote in my yearbook – that she would someday enjoy reading my work as a writer or as a journalist.

She was close. Of course, neither of us knew at the time that my love for writing and journalism would blend so well with my love for teaching.

I’m sure that Anne Malone had something to do with that.

Wednesday: The Places I Loved and the Lessons I Learned in High School

 

Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: My Purpose and My Challenge

by Jim Lang

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. As I think of those words – “teacher” and “appreciation” – I realize how blessed I have been throughout my life to have been guided by so many exceptional educators. In so many ways, I am the teacher and person I am today because of the special teachers who shaped my life.

So, I would like to do something different here this week – honor the teachers who have made such a difference in my life. I want them to know how profoundly they have influenced me.

And, I want you to know their names.

Each day this week beginning tomorrow, I’ll write about these special teachers and their unique influence on me. It’s just a small way for me to honor their excellence.

And here’s where my challenge comes in. If you are reading this, find a way to honor a special teacher this week. Write a thank-you note to a former teacher. Send an e-mail or make a quick call to your child’s teacher. If you are an educator yourself, compliment a colleague or contact a mentor teacher to say, “Thanks.”

Be creative. Reach out. Do something to show your appreciation for a teacher in your life.

And please join me here this week as I thank the teachers who have influenced mine.

Monday: Elementary School and the Power of a Smile

64, 596.95: The number that reveals the most about Floyd Central High School

by Jim Lang

64, 596.95.

In a time when we use numbers to evaluate our teachers, students, and schools, the number that reveals the most about Floyd Central High School is 64, 596.95.

This single number, this piece of data, shows us everything we need to know about Floyd Central High School.

This number reflects the focus, spirit, and determination of FC students. It reflects their ability to organize a major community event. It reflects their ability to problem solve, communicate, work collaboratively, overcome obstacles, and set and exceed goals.

Yes, this number reveals more than any state test or standard that FC students are “career and college ready.”

This number shows much more, though. It reveals the quality of FC teachers, staff, and administrators. It is a testament to the many hours and days that event organizers and volunteers spent teaching, mentoring, planning with and, yes, laughing and even crying with, their students. It reflects their sacrifice to help their students achieve something so special and memorable that it will bond them forever. It reveals that to these educators, teaching is more than a test score – it’s an opportunity to shape lives and make a difference.

This number, too, is a reflection of a caring, generous community, one that supports and cherishes its school rather than ignoring, blaming, or abandoning it. This number reveals an essential truth – that successful schools and their students reflect the level of support and love from their community.

Most importantly, though, this number reflects an attribute that no state standard could ever measure because, frankly, it is far more important than any attribute measured by any state standard: generosity.

Last night, students, educators, parents, and community members came together at the annual Floyd Central Dance Marathon to raise $64, 596.95 for Riley Children’s Hospital. It was an event that revealed just how deeply and completely a school community could care about others. It revealed just how much good could still be accomplished in a world that needs leaders with a generous spirit of service far more than leaders with a particular major or grade-point average.

I have heard many cheers from FC students over the years, but none quite matched the pure joy and pride I heard last night when that number — $64, 596.95 – was announced.

That moment – and that number – reveal more about our school and community than any other piece of data ever could.

Mary Beth Tinker reminds us that teens can — and should — initiate change

by Jim Lang

“Young people want to make things better.”

This was the reminder delivered by Mary Beth Tinker last night at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany as she spoke about the power of the First Amendment.

Tinker experienced this desire to initiate positive change herself growing up in Iowa in a family that believed their religious beliefs should be put into action. This prompted her family to become involved in the 1960s civil rights movement.

Mary Beth Tinker discusses the First Amendment and the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines case at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany on Oct. 9. An advocate for students and their free expression rights, Tinker said, "The First Amendment has to do with how we treat each other."

Mary Beth Tinker discusses the First Amendment and the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines case at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany on Wednesday, Oct. 9. An advocate for students and their free expression rights, Tinker said, “The First Amendment has to do with how we treat each other.”

And while she repeatedly described herself last night as “shy,” it was a 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker who joined her brothers, sisters, and a few friends in peacefully defying school policy and wearing black armbands to school to mourn the dead of the Vietnam War. And when the school corporation suspended several of the students, they and their families sued the school.

The end result, of course, was the landmark 1969 Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines that established that students do not shed their constitutionally-protected rights of free speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.

Last night’s speech by Tinker, part of the Tinker Tour sponsored by the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., was a powerful reminder that young people can – and should – initiate positive change.

As Tinker spoke about her own experiences, I found myself wishing that most adults respected teenagers and believed in their capacity for change as much as she does.

As a journalism teachers and newspaper adviser, I see the educational value of empowering young people to ask questions, examine school and governmental policies, and use their writing and communication skills to report, analyze, and, yes, sometimes challenge the system to initiate change.

Far too much of our modern education system is designed for today’s students to obediently jump through hoops and pass a test rather than truly critique and examine why they believe what they believe. Today’s students often seem more concerned with scooping up AP credits, maintaining their class rank or grade-point average, or selecting which classes to take based on their “weight.” Challenging the status quo to change the system has its risks.

That was the value of Mary Beth Tinker’s speech last night. She reminded us that the risks are worth it. And in a time when, as she put it, “Young people are not getting a fair deal in our society,” she reminded us of the moral imperative for teenagers to embrace that desire to make things better.

As Tinker stated, “Rights are like your muscles. You can lose them if you don’t use them.” As educators, we must ensure that our schools provide the opportunities for students to know and practice their First Amendment rights, even when it is uncomfortable for us.

Supporting student media free from administrative prior review and censorship, encouraging the arts, emphasizing literacy and civic education, embracing and educating students about social media, and promoting strong student government and community service programs are just a few ways to ensure that our children understand and practice their guaranteed rights of free speech and expression.

As educators, we must do more than simply prepare teenagers for their careers.

We must ensure that our students exercise their rights, embrace their responsibilities, and use their voices as well as Mary Beth Tinker.