Archive for July, 2012

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

July 6, 2012

After the ho-hum first entry of the eventual trilogy, Spider-Man 2 showed a greater promise when the buzz started of its production. It delivers a much better movie, this time shifting to Doctor Octopus and the complicated relationship between Peter and MJ. Spider-Man 2 is considered one of if not the best comic book movie we have in existence by many, so it’s difficult not to be hyper-critical of it’s strengths and flaws, and again, I openly admit to not thinking this installment is that great ahead of time.

The movie jumps right into everyday life for Peter Parker, who is rushing to deliver pizzas to keep his job. He is struggling financially and always late to class. He is so caught up in the rat race that his social life is gone, moonlighting as Spider-Man (y’know, great responsibility and all that) is a tiresome job that seems to be getting him nowhere and no respect. Yes these are hard times for Spidey.

Again, the film’s largest focus is on Peter and MJ’s relationship, which is challenged when she decides she wants to marry some chump we have never heard of and never will again. It’s a cheap shot, because she also seems to be hung up on Peter, who refuses to admit he loves her too, preferring to keep her safe from his enemies (who must be lining up to kill any and all people in Spider-Man’s life, right?). The seeds of their farce of a romance aren’t as blatant here and it seems like there is something between them, but I still cannot buy into it. Do women really go so far as to marry some random dude “just because”? The most endearing moment between them happens at the end as he saves her once more, and it’s rewarding more because I want it to be than it actually is, but it is still a fairly romantic and fun step for them.

Doctor Octopus is a more interesting villain than the Green Goblin (historically, Ock was Spider-Man’s number one enemy until Green Goblin upped his game in the comics), and his tentacles are fun to look at (although their practicality and execution have to be given suspension of disbelief due to size and functionality). Another instance of many in the movies where good-intentioned people become the villain in the end, a common occurrence in Spidey’s life. It’s unfortunate that Doc Ock’s motivations stem from a temporary insanity rather than a more intentional place. By the end of the movie, he wakes from his evil dream and switches back to good, which kind of defeats the purpose of him as a villain.

There is a point where Peter begins to lose his spider powers because he is depressed about MJ. It’s an okay idea which we have already seen in Superman II where the hero gives it all up for the girl, but it’s also somewhat self-defeating because we know it will all work out in the end. I am not sure how much I like a hero who is willing to just giving up his power, and the affects of his decision fluctuate in their impact on him as he survives a fall from the top of a building but hurts his arm when he tries to break a door down. I kind of understand it, but kind of don’t at the same time. Is this all mental? The boundaries and continuity of his power loss is hazy at best.

A highlight of the movie is the surgery room scene where Doc Ock’s tentacles wreak havoc on a handful of doctors. Again Raimi is able to slip in his own homage to himself that works extremely well, harkening to Evil Dead obsessives everywhere. The music drops and suddenly we are in a horror movie. There are some other tidbits of fun such as Bruce Campbell’s small but mighty role, but again, these moments beg audiences who love Evil Dead and Raimi’s other works to laugh and enjoy the nods rather than contributing to the mythos of Spider-Man. The part when J.J. Jameson finally seems to admit his guilt over defaming Spider-Man, only to switch back soon thereafter as Spider-Man returns to action is also pretty fun.

In retrospect there are a lot of warning signs in this movie, an indication of what would come later with Spider-Man 3. Raimi shifts this one into a more comedic and over-the-top place, with characters becoming almost caricatures, pushing them to the extremes of themselves and further away from a realistic tone to comedic and over-dramatic. They are all only driven by one motive, which is boring and too conventional (look at Harry Osborn who can only speak of his hatred for Spider-Man when he opens his mouth). The lack of depth to these characters would go over the edge in Spider-Man 3, but it’s fairly obvious here of things to come.

On the whole, this is easily the best of the Raimi trilogy, but even still it seems scattered and impractical. I would almost rather see an entire movie focusing on just Peter and MJ’s relationship (from scratch), having them deal exclusively with balancing life as a superhero, with the villain and other plot points shoved into the far background. Because this movie is a blockbuster, it seems afraid to do that, favoring the spectacle of elaborate sets and tried action over simple character pathos. There are flashes of humanity and empathy, but all in all the movie is just too one-dimensional to really entice me to care. The times Spider-Man 2 gets things right cannot hide the things they miss, despite the ratio being more favorable than any of the other installments. So it seems Spider-Man 2 just isn’t that great.

Final Grade: C+ (6.5 out of 10)

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

July 4, 2012

Three Spider-Man movies have come and gone in the past 10 years, and I admittedly never enjoyed them as much as I hoped to. I can also admit that when they initially announced the reboot, I groaned “We have been there, we have done that. Why are they making this?” just like everyone else. Then I saw the first picture of the suit and Andrew Garfield in it…and I found myself anxiously awaiting for The Amazing Spider-Man since. As my interest grew and grew, the line was drawn in the sand amongst friends who were also excited for the new movie and those who felt it was a pointless and stupid reboot. Having finally seen it, I have chosen my side of the line.

Amazing would not be what it is without the original Spider-Man trilogy doing a lot of the legwork. Where the original trilogy familiarized audiences with a lot of Spider-Man’s universe, Amazing relies on that, leaving certain things unattended whilst exploring other territories. By rebooting the franchise, Amazing knows what and what not to do to get fans interested and keep them that way, fixing and tinkering with things that maybe didn’t work so well in the originals. Amazing is a 180-degree turn from it’s alternate-world brother, serving more akin to the Ultimate Spider-Man comics than the true Marvel series (much like Avengers movie was based more on the Ultimates). As this is a reboot, it works quite brilliantly.

The movie does suffer from a few things that are almost unavoidable in any comic book movie, starting with the most obvious build throughout the movie (back story, origin story, etc.), climaxing at the inevitable “hero vs. villain” at the top of a building. There are quite a few things in here we have seen countless times before; it wasn’t annoying or bothersome, just a little bit of a let down. The movie definitely lulls in a few places, and could have easily been 15 minutes shorter, but that also wasn’t a huge detractor. Unfortunately, the movie definitely suffers from the trailer giving away a lot of the climactic moments, so I wasn’t as blown away by any revelations or developments throughout. There are a few plot elements that come and go without any answers, but all in all they are fringe points and perhaps something that will be addressed in later installments (regardless of this movie’s success there will be more to come).

What works best?

  • Garfield as Peter Parker – brings a honed level of nerdy but lovable outcast to the role, and physically commands the screen once he dons the red and blue suit. Wiry, thin but strong, Garfield is the perfect Spidey, showing Peter as more innately heroic, but also perhaps more cocky and self-assured (almost to a fault), never losing the investment of the audience in him and his struggles to become a superhero. Tobey Maguire never felt like Peter Parker to me, he was too dopey and shy and he never delivered the wit that Spider-Man has. Garfield delivers every bit of attitude that Spidey should have.
  • Gwen Stacy as the love interest – Gwen’s storyline is a huge part of Marvel’s history, really marking a proverbial shift from the Silver Age to the Modern Age in comic books. As Peter’s first true love interest, her impact on his life is huge, and it was a missed opportunity to skip over her in the original trilogy. Emma Stone is a success in the role, and it will be very interesting to see where they go with their complicated relationship in the future.
  • The web shooters are mechanical – Peter’s prowess with technology while also showing his inventiveness is perfectly illustrated by going back to the comic book version of the shooters, foregoing the organic ones that Raimi created.
  • Web-slinging – He uses his webbing in a variety of ways, much more effectively than ever before. One of the cooler ideas has him crawling around the Lizard wrapping him up like a spider would his prey. The webbing is light and strong, and comes out fast and with purpose. When he swings across the city it feels more frantic, and much more real (he doesn’t float through the air, it’s actually rather “violent” the way he catches buildings to swing on).
  • The physicality of everything – Raimi’s take seemed much more whimsical and romantic, and rather light on some of the action scenes. Amazing just feels more grounded, more dynamic, stronger and faster. CGI all looks like CGI in every movie (it’s a part of life now), but it works very effectively here, really pushing Spidey into situations where he needs to use his agility and physicality to an extent we haven’t really seen before. Action sequences were not confusing and were actually interesting to watch and the physics of Spidey’s movements were spot on.
  • I don’t like that Stan Lee has a cameo in every Marvel movie, but this one was actually pretty good.
  • The suit – it’s a stronger design (despite how timeless Spidey’s suit is in the comics), a little more DIY, and definitely announces this is a new and different Spider-Man. It helps that Garfield fills it so perfectly and while it retains the kind of impossible construction of the past movies, this version makes more sense.

What didn’t work so well?

  • Flash Thompson – he makes a rather unconvincing turn from heel to bud, from kicking Peter in the stomach while he is down to trying to hug it out with him when his Uncle Ben dies. It’s a little too convenient and simple.
  • The missing parents – this movie hinted that there would be some revelations about Peter’s parents and why they abandoned him, and while the movie started looking that way, by the end that aspect becomes an afterthought. It didn’t seem too much of a focus for the story which had me asking why it was even brought up to begin with.
  • Why are there lizards all over New York just because the Lizard is in the sewers?
  • The origin of the suit –  Why a lucha libre inspired costume? It wasn’t a huge distraction but it was just kind of out of left field.
  • The overall story is a little flat, with nothing really new or interesting to present to a jaded audience having just seen The Avengers and any other blockbuster. At this point in the superhero game, these kinds of movies should be pushing us into different, unfamiliar territory.

While the negatives of this movie suffer from the same problems of any blockbuster where perhaps there is often more style than substance, Amazing certainly succeeds in many places that the originals didn’t. Amazing feels like a truer movie; it was tighter, more fit with more weight to it, packing punches with a gusto and liveliness the originals were always missing. The romance between Peter and Gwen was much more believable and dynamic than the one set-up between Peter and MJ before. Spider-Man is more snarky, more vibrant and alive, and most importantly, more enjoyable to watch.

After seeing The Amazing Spider-Man, discussing it amongst my friends and fellow nerds of varying degrees, the deciding factor of whether you will enjoy the reboot or not comes down to this: Those who loved the original trilogy, who can look to Raimi’s interpretation of the character and feel content with what he did (while also ignoring the unforgivably awful Spider-Man 3), will probably not enjoy this movie so much, claiming it’s too soon and too similar to the Raimi trilogy and thus pointless. To those who never liked the originals, who want something more and something different and something that will finally present them with a Spider-Man they can get behind, you need not look any further than The Amazing Spider-Man, because this is as good as you are going to get.

Final Grade B+ (8.4 out of 10 on the comic book movie scale)

Spider-Man (2002)

July 3, 2012

Let’s go back to when comic book movies were in their infancy, or at least in terms of building viable franchises from them. There was once a time when we had only had movies like Blade and X-Men coming out from Marvel, and they put a lot of eggs in the Spider-Man basket when it finally got made. I’m sure I saw it opening day and I remember definitely being into parts of it. When Spider-Man swings through the city on his webs for the first time, there was an undeniable rush, a thought of “Wow, we can finally do this in movies? Thank God”. The real comic book movie had arrived. In the year 2012, these comic book blockbusters are commonplace, but ten years ago this was new and exciting.

So watching Spider-Man today, what holds up and what doesn’t?

Once you get past the hammy voice over and crappy intro credits, The first 20 minutes are really where I wanted the movie to stay. Peter Parker in his element, being ridiculed and picked out as a real dork got me on his side. The sheer amount of bullying is baffling here, but it also kind of works in a way. I am still a little curious of the security in a place where deadly super-spiders are missing from cages, and I question just how smart Parker is if he doesn’t immediately go to a doctor after getting bit by one, but y’know, high schoolers will be high schoolers. The debut of Spider-Man at the wrestling match with Bonesaw (RIP Macho Man) is still fun and where you say “Ah-ha! This is why Raimi was selected to do this movie!”. Also the last fight between Goblin and Spidey is extremely physical and pretty sweet, and seems to be the innovator of the slow-down punches that have since flooded action movies (a la 300). Good stuff.

Unfortunately, that’s more or less the only stuff that really works in this movie. Now for the bad stuff.

I don’t buy Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. Yes, he is a dork and kinda nerdy, but he is even more so dopey. I can’t picture him staying up late doing his homework and building computers. I see him more as a “watching the Simpsons and pining over MJ with the lights off every night staring through his window” type of guy. His relationship with his aunt and uncle seems very forced and surface-level, where he is constantly coming and going exchanging hellos and goodbyes, with only the “great responsibility” speech tying it all together that he actually cares about his family (his behavior kind of becomes part of the story, but it makes me doubt that they were ever tight-knit). It’s more 1950’s than it is 2000’s.

The obvious focus of the entire trilogy is Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s relationship, which from the get go is flimsy at best. She literally ignores him throughout the entire first half of the movie, with these moments of “Hmm, there is that guy again, isn’t he my neighbor? Oh my ride is here, gotta go date the school bully and general shithead!”. It is unfortunate that her character is so one dimensional and it really seems like Peter could do better. We go from this to 5 months later (I estimate) where she desperately confesses her love for him. Excuse me? Where is this coming from? They meet each other like 4 times throughout the movie, in passing, catching up through stop-and-chats. They don’t hang out. They don’t e-mail each other. They barely know each other. It takes Green Goblin throwing her off a bridge for her to realize she loves the dweeb she barely knows? Come on. The foundation of their relationship is so weak, and that carries throughout the entire series as a result.

The Green Goblin is grossly misused here. He doesn’t really seem to have much of a beef with Spider-Man until the very end of the movie. His costume is ridiculous; he should not be acting through a mask. Have you seen Willem DeFoe? The guy looks like a goblin! Paint him green and there you go (salt in the wound seeing his SFX make-up test). His little side story seems like how kids might think an adult world is. The military is invested in flying gliders and goblin helmets? I guess so…

There are a few scenes that really get under my skin:

  1. The sleeping gas that Green Goblin uses on Spider-Man – What? First of all, I’ve seen better sleeping gas in the Adam West Batman movie than was used here. The gas is barely going towards Spidey’s face. Also, why tell him to sleep? Maybe because its so impractical of a “weapon” that Spider-Man was thinking “What the hell is that? What am I supposed to do here?”.
  2. The kid who almost gets killed by the balloon at the parade scene – Worst kid in the history of kids. The stupid awe-struck face of his, the wind blowing his hair back; Spidey should have left him be.
  3. Norman Osborn enters Peter’s room while Peter hides on the ceiling – When you enter a room, you don’t have a narrow tunnel of vision. You don’t enter a room and just see where your face is pointing.
  4. The attack on Aunt May by the Green Goblin – I honestly didn’t remember this scene at all, and it almost made me vomit whilst my mouth was agape. Unforgivable.

All in all this is a very safe movie. They don’t delve too deep into the mythology, they don’t push the audience too far, it’s an entry level movie that shows more potential than prowess. I certainly never say to anyone (other than to write these reviews) “Hey, let’s watch Spider-Man” because it really is just a ho-hum early entry in the history of blockbuster comic book movies. It was that time where comic book movies were insecure and made fun of themselves to compensate for the sheer ridiculous premise of super heroes (when he tries to figure out how to shoot his web by saying things like “Shazaam”, etc.) which are all fun and a cheap laugh, but it let’s the audience know “Hey, we aren’t taking it seriously either folks”. And you don’t have to. If you want a campy, fun, romp that just goes a steady 55 mph on a 55mph signed road, then hey, maybe you will like this one. Me? I can’t drive 55. I want more.

Final Grade: C- (5 out of 10)