The Not-So-Amazing Spider-Man 2

Well I got the chance to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In short, I was unimpressed.

Amazing Spider-Man 2

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) – Rated PG-13

Peter Parker runs the gauntlet as the mysterious company Oscorp sends up a slew of supervillains against him, impacting on his life.”

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was brilliant. He captured the mopey, nebbishy, picked on nerd that was Peter Parker and pretty much nailed all the other characters with a near perfect cast. Not only were Norman Osborn, Aunt May, and Mary Jane Watson spot on but so were lesser characters like J. Jonah Jameson and Flash Thompson.

Spider-Man 2 was even more brilliant as we didn’t have to spend screentime on the hero origin story. Alfred Molina was perfectly cast as a tormented Dr. Octopus. The web-slinging and swinging nature of our hero was even better defined.

Spider-Man 3 was, of course, a major misstep. It attempted to be three movies in one: the continuation of our story with Spidey and the Green Goblin, the black suit Venom story, and an attempt to create another tragic villain in The Sandman. The Venom story is the worst because Peter spends a lot of time being essentially the opposite of Peter, and very unsympathetic to boot.

For various reasons, Spider-Man 4 was put on the back burner. Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, and Kirsten Dunst were all set to receive $30 million each for the new film. Sony/Columbia opted for a reboot instead and, not wanting the rights to revert back to Marvel, rushed The Amazing Spider-Man into production.

The Amazing Spider-Man was a mixed bag. They made Spider-Man and the other characters more grounded. The writers adapted elements of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man that Raimi had not. In a throwback to the original comics, they dropped the biological webshooters in favor of ones that Peter creates. This allowed the oft-used gag of Peter running dry at an inopportune moment.

The Amazing Spider-Man should not have worked. It is a reboot so we have to watch the origin of Spider-Man all over again, although it is quite a bit different than Raimi’s version. Martin Sheen and Sally Field are good but Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris were iconic as Ben and May Parker. The Lizard is ill-defined and ill-used, relying too heavily on unimpressive CGI.

Where it works is the chemistry between Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. They are great separately and together. Garfield nails Peter’s sarcastic nature and Spidey’s general quippiness. Emma Stone is sweet as Gwen Stacy. Their chemistry is great and they both have good comic timing. Denis Leary makes a great Captain Stacy as well.

Unfortunately, while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 learns some of what works from its forebears. it also fails to learn other lessons. We have too many villains – Electro, The Rhino, The Green Goblin and not enough story.

 

The villains themselves are a huge disappointment. Electro from the comics has been changed into a clone of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen – not just the way he looks but the he moves and acts. The Rhino appears in a brief yet ridiculous segment – the fight scene in the trailer is essentially the entire fight. While The Green Goblin in Raimi’s version was a little silly, here he is much worse. The Green Goblin is so poorly executed that they only show glimpses of the glider in the trailer- even the studio is embarrassed to show you.

Perversely, we also have too much story as the unnecessary parts about Peter’s parents from the first film are featured more heavily here. At two hours and twenty-one minutes, it suffers from summer bloat. Captain America: The Winter Soldier clocked in at two hours and nine minutes and none of it felt wasted.

The action sequences are good but there are no showstoppers. In fact there seemed to be no building action in the film. It was exposition, dialogue, action, repeat. I had no idea when the film was going to end because there never seemed to be a climax.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are wonderful as they were in the first film. Their relationship is probably the best part of the film.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t bad, just deeply disappointing. I hope this does not bode ill for summer.

White House Dumb

Air Force OneWolfgang Peterson’s Air Force One (1997 – sadly not currently available on instant Netflix or Amazon Prime) was a wonderful melding of the Die Hard premise (lone, unprepared hero fights off a band of villains to save innocents, including his family) with politics and the Presidency.

Olympus Has Fallen

Strangely, after a decade and a half, two studios simultaneously decided to remake this, choosing to make the protagonist a failed Secret Service member (Olympus Has Fallen)/a cop who failed to become a Secret Service member (White House Down), and set it in the White House so we could bring maximum building destruction.

White House Down

In itself these are not bad premises but in Air Force One, the plan is canny if a little loopy and the number of Secret Service agents are reduced by being on Air Force One. When the plan goes into effect, even though it is aided by someone on the inside, the Secret Service goes into action and does exactly their job. The rest of the story occurs because the President refuses to leave his family.

In Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, we have a full complement of Secret Service agents and auxiliary personnel. When the plan goes down, ALL of the agents search out the gunfire and throw their bodies in front of it, not for any effect other than to let our lone hero begin his mission. Olympus Has Fallen is the worst one, with a withering fire concentrated on the White House entrance and agent after agent walking right into the fire. It was almost as if they were filming a World War I over-the-top trench scene.

White House Down is clearly the more well thought out of the two plots. It has an irritatingly de rigeur and deus ex machina hacker so that various things can be magically taken care of but the overall villains give the best chance for success. Olympus Has Fallen was the right-wing version of the story, featuring a white President and North Korean villains. White House Down features Jaime Foxx as an Obama stand-in and the villains are the military industrial complex. I guess private military corporations are the villains du jour, replacing unscrupulous land developers.

It is a shame that neither of these movies can follow the wonderful blueprint set down by the master of the right-wing political thriller, Tom Clancy. Not only can Clancy concoct wonderfully plausible, if xenophobic, scenarios but he doesn’t have a single invincible superhero solve all problems. Honestly, the only purpose the cabinet served in White House Down, besides being victims and hostages, was to tell Cale how much time was left. Clancy has agents Clark and Chavez doing agent type work, intelligence analysts doing analytical work (except when Ryan gets in over his head), and Presidents doing presidential work. Sadly he is so rich now that other people write his books and they don’t typically understand the ensemble approach.

I will say that White House Down has much better special effects and an early blowing up of the Capitol building makes more sense than the Washington Monument as penis metaphor in Olympus Has Fallen. Both feature rah rah jingoistic patriotism, though most of White House Down features Cale (Channing Tatum) trying to rescue his daughter, while the President seems somewhat incidental.

White House Down can be big dumb fun but I would really like an intelligent thriller.

Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down one-line review:

Seriously, just go back and watch Air Force One.

Django Unchained – Wife vs. Hubby

My wife and I went to see Django Unchained yesterday. This is part of an exchange deal where I take her to see Les Miserables on our next date.

My wife’s take on Django:

“This is Tarantino at his most self-indulgent.  Long, long-winded, poorly paced.  I went in knowing that it would be enormously offensive (it wasn’t nearly as offensive or difficult to watch at Killing Them Softly) and was surprised to find that it was instead mostly just … dull.  Any editor with sense could have cut at least an hour from this film and made it better.  Instead we have long, lingering shots of plantations, mountains, guns, snowmen, and more that don’t propel the story forward in anyway.  And then, two thirds of the way through the movie, it goes from buddy-flick (two wacky bounty hunters on the road to fame and fortune) to sadistic revenge flick (they enslaved him, and took his woman, now they’ll pay) without much transition.  And finally – this is the very first Tarantino flick I’ve ever watched and not thought I MUST GO BUY THE SOUNDTRACK RIGHT NOW.  There wasn’t a single song in this one that worked for the film (or for me).

So very disappointed.  I hope next week’s viewing of Les Mis is more satisfying.  If only I can keep people from spoiling it (further) for me between now and then…”

My take: Were we even watching the same film? Django was an utter delight. Tarantino has an amazing talent for mashing up and updating genres. To borrow from Kellogg, his dialogue snaps, crackles and pops. The violence was done in an amusingly over-the-top spaghetti western style and the cameo from the original Django, Franco Nero, was a hoot.

The acting ranged from good to amazing. Jaime Foxx carried the film quite well, channeling the quiet reserve of an early Eastwood. Christoph Waltz was fantastic as the bounty hunter as were Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. Less good but still a lot of fun were Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, and Don Johnson. In addition to Franco Nero, other cameos include Quentin Tarantino, Jonah Hill, Michael Parks, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, James Remar, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, and Robert Carradine.

Having extolled Django’s virtues (and there are many delights to be had here), I have to agree with my wife on a few points. The music appears to have been haphazardly chosen. There wasn’t a single spot on tune. Can you hear “Stuck in the Middle with You” without imagining the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs? All of the songs in Pulp Fiction make me think of their individual scenes yet none of Django’s songs made an impression.

The editing is clearly the sore point. Django runs over two and a half hours. Sally Menke, who expertly edited all of Tarantino’s films passed away in 2010. Sally was nominated for Academy Awards for Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds (losing to Forrest Gump and The Hurt Locker, sheesh). That loss is clearly felt here as almost every scene ran on too long. I love an epic but Django desperately needs to lose about an hour of running time. Some of the dialogue becomes repetitious and establishing shots linger past their expiration date.

Tone is all over the map. The first two-thirds of the film turn Django from a slave into a bounty hunter and then the movie screeches to a halt as we reach Candyland, the plantation DiCaprio reigns over. None of the women make a strong impression – not that the actresses aren’t good, the roles are simply underwritten.

Django is weak Tarantino but weak Tarantino is better than most filmmakers on their best day. It is a lot of fun but it could have been a lot better.