I've been sitting out of a lot of movies this past few years due to the COVID pandemic. Even though I'm vaccinated and boosted, I'm just still not comfortable sitting in a crowded theater with a bunch of randos. And if I did go to a movie in a theater, I would wear a mask, and that can get uncomfortable for a whole 2 or 3 hour movie. I could maybe be convinced to go to a theater for a small movie with a mostly-empty theater, but for a big summer blockbuster, I'm just not there yet. So despite being a big Spider-Man fan, and generally having liked the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far, and despite the movie's universal acclaim and praise, I passed on seeing No Way Home in theaters when it released last year. I waited until it finally showed up on streaming, and just now finally got around to watching it this past weekend.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far is that none of them have been terribly surprising. Both Homecoming and Far From Home had pretty predictable plots, with the only real surprise being Mysterio's deathbed public reveal of Spider-Man's true identity. No Way Home does not deviate far in terms of predictability. The multiverse aspect and return of villains from the previous movie continuities was in the trailers, and the fact that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles was one of the worst-kept secrets of any movie ever.

In fact, the only real surprise for me was that this movie did not do the one thing that I really thought that it would do. It doesn't have any new villains -- not even in a bit part. I thought for sure that some new minor villains would show up early in the movie, knowing Spider-Man's identity, and threatening him, May, MJ, and/or Ned, and that would be the impetus for Peter going to Doctor Strange to reset the timeline.

Specifically, I was expecting to see the Scorpion. The end-credits stinger from Homecoming introduced Mac Gargan, who very much wanted to learn Spider-Man's identity from the Vulture. I thought for sure that with Spidey's identity being public, that the opening act of the movie would have J. Jonah Jameson hiring Mac Gargan to become the Scorpion to hunt down Peter Parker and capture or kill him. Peter would defeat Scorpion, but not before Gargan goes too far in threatening Peter's friends and family, leaving Peter with no choice but to go to Strange to help protect the people he loves.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Mac Gargan © Sony Pictures, Disney
I was surprised that the Scorpion did not show up early in this movie to raise the stakes.

This never happens. The impetus for going to Strange is that Peter and his friends aren't accepted into college because the colleges are afraid of the controversy of admitting a known vigilante. It feels like a flimsy excuse for wanting to change the timeline or mind-wipe the entire planet, especially considering that the MCU's Peter has strong connections to Stark Industries, Nick Fury, and the Avengers, and shouldn't have any problem finding ways for him and his friends to have professional lives together.

So I thought the lack of Scorpion was a huge missed opportunity. It would have raised the stakes, provided some act 1 action, and allowed for the inclusion of a new character. It also would have served as a red herring for the movie's trailers by letting Disney show some action scenes with a villain, while trying to keep the rest of the villain roster a secret for as long as possible. Maybe this was part of the original plan, but Marvel axed it after a version of Scorpion showed up in Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe they didn't want to look too similar to Spider-Verse?

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I wrote a lengthy blog late last year about the stagnant, "limbo"-like feel of most open world games' narratives. I had written that blog mostly before I played Metal Gear Solid V, and so I wasn't able to incorporate my thoughts regarding that game into the blog. But I did come to a new realization about open world gaming while I was playing MGSV. In my review of that game, I noted that:

"Even the open world itself feels constrained, as sheer cliffs prevent you from travelling too far off of the roads and serve to functionally railroad the player towards the small set-piece outposts and villages."
    - from my Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain review

I realized while playing MGSV that the game had built this large, open world (well, two large, open worlds really, but I hadn't gotten that far yet), but it didn't really care to let the player actually traverse that space or use it in any meaningful way other than scavenger hunting for collectibles. At least those collectibles felt relevant to gameplay though! Roughly half the map is dead space that the player can't even access. There was also this strange focus on using the helicopter to drop in and drop out of missions, rather than actually living in the game world, as the character had to do in Snake Eater. The map started to feel less and less like a place, and more like a convoluted mission-select screen. At first, this seemed like a strange, isolated example of an open world game that really doesn't want the player actually exploring its world. But as I thought about it, I realized that this isn't really a new phenomenon; it's actually just a very extreme example of what has become a sort of defacto state in most open world games.

Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain - restricted world map
The Afghanistan map of Metal Gear Solid V feels heavily constrained by sheer cliffs.

Think about it this way: in a linear game with rooms and corridors, every hallway and room should serve some purpose or function. In most games, this function will be some kind of skill or system mastery test. An action game like Devil May Cry will throw enemies at you to fight; a puzzle game like Portal will have a puzzle (or a piece of a puzzle) in the room to solve; a stealth game like Metal Gear Solid 3 will have a sneaking challenge or obstacle to pass; and so on. In the best games, each of these challenges will also provide a unique or novel test of skill or system mastery: unique combinations of enemies, unique puzzles, or novel arrangements of enemies and obstacles. Other games can use those rooms for thematic or narrative purposes. A survival horror game like Resident Evil or Silent Hill will usually put enemies, puzzle items, or supplies in a room, but some rooms might instead contain a scripted scare. In some cases, a room might even be left completely empty in order to build some kind of tension or anticipation, or to delay the release of already-built tension or anticipation.

So what is the gameplay purpose of an open world map? ...

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Amazing Spider-Man 2 banner

I did not at all care for The Amazing Spider-Man movie that was released last year. In summary, the movie was too dark, it lacked the light-hearted fun that I expect from Spider-Man, and the romantic dynamic between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy just didn't work in my mind. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was disappointed in the movie because of these issues. At this year's San Diego ComicCon, the creators and cast of the sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, revealed a lot of information about the new movie that actually impressed me! It just might be possible that the creators swallowed their pride, and took the criticism of the previous movie to heart.

This movie might actually look like a Spider-Man movie

The most noticeable and immediately obvious change in the overall look and feel of the new movie is the color palette. Most of the images from the film are sequences that take place during the day, so the images are bright and colorful. But the most important change is the complete redesign of Spidey's suit.

The new Spider-suit is "amazing"!

The new suit design is absolutely gorgeous! They totally nailed it this time around!

Amazing Spider-Man 2 - costume redesign
NAILED IT!

First and foremost, it is actually a direct adaptation of the comic book suit (minus the armpit web). It actually looks like something Peter Parker could have put together with the limited resources at his disposal rather than some kind of military-grade commando outfit. It looks like a spandex suit. The eyes are bigger and buggier and actually white instead of gray or silver, which just looks great and adds just the right amount of "cartoonish-ness" to the character. The colors could have been a little brighter, but I can live with that. Put simply: this is the best looking movie Spider-Man suit so far, hand down!

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Amazing Spider-Man game banner

Prerelease promotional material really soured my interest in this game to the point that I waited over 6 months to pick up a used copy cheap off eBay. And the movie ended up being sloppy and wrong on numerous levels. And Edge of Time had caused me to lose faith in Beenox’s competency as a developer of Spider-Man games.

So there was a lot stacked up against this game, and I went into it gritting my teeth and ready to be furious. Maybe I set the bar a little bit too low, but I ended up enjoying Amazing Spider-Man. It cut a lot of corners and is easy and boring, but there’s enough good ideas in here that I’m actually excited to see if Beenox gets another chance to hopefully knock one out of the park.

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Amazing Spider-Man game - web swinging without physics Amazing Spider-Man game - web swinging without physics
Spider-Man can swing without anything nearby for his webs to stick to, including over the tops of parks and the city skyline itself.
This instantly pulls me out of the game experience everytime it happens.
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the amazing Spider-Man

I have to say that I was impressed with how quick a 2 hour and 16 minute movie could feel. The Amazing Spider-Man is slightly shorter than The Avengers, but it is just about as well-paced. Despite being stuck with another telling of Spider-Man's origin, the movie manages to keep things moving along without getting boring. It does this by offering a very different version of the characters and events leading up to Peter's transformation into Spider-Man. But it lacks the same emotional impact that the first movie had and ends up feeling a bit more sloppy.

First and foremost, Andrew Garfield is not your father's Peter Parker. He's much more confident and outgoing, as well as being tall and handsome. I would even go so far as to say that he comes off as being cocky. As such, he doesn't quite live up to the socially-outcast-nerd identity that most fans assume. Garfield's Peter Parker does, however, express his techie, intellectual side much better than Tobey's previous interpretation of the character. Even before Peter is spider-bitten, we see him inventing unique tools and gadgets, manipulating photos for the school paper, and offering Uncle Ben suggestions for fixing a leaking washing machine.

A major point of the movie's early plot is the mysterious disappearance of Peter's parents. Richard Parker's work in genetics is something that apparently got him in trouble with some unreputable individuals, and he and his wife Mary had to leave Peter with Ben and May and run away. When Peter learns that his father used to work with Curtis Connors at Oscorp, he sneaks into Oscorp in order to find out what they were working on. It is here that he wanders into a room containing the experimental spiders that give him his powers. Despite his intelligence, and fondness for science and technology, he just starts playing around with stuff in the lab. You'd think a smart guy like him would know better, but whatever.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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