The Amazing Spider-Man

July 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

I think you can mark this film as the official date when the comic book world of cinema has started to eat itself. With all of the remakes and reboots, Sony Pictures decided to join the fun because they still had the rights from the original trilogy that was directed by Sam Raimi. Instead of doing something original, though, they just re-hash the origin story and pepper in a few new details that are actually closer to the Spider-Man story. Some are interesting, some are just filler. The most disappointing part of the filler is the story of the fate of Peter Parker’s parents. It’s such a muddled story and surrounded by mystery, that it really just feels tacked on and unnecessary.

Again, we are introduced to the shy, but precocious Peter (played by Andrew Garfield), and this time we’re given his true first girlfriend from the comics, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Gwen is a bit of a science nerd like Parker, and the two develop an awkward but affectionate love story that wedges into the mad scientist monster story that gives Spider-Man his villain.

All right, must I go through the plot? Let me summarize: the mad scientist (Rhys Ilfans) wants to create re-generation in humans to make them “perfect”. He and Parker’s father worked on it until Parker’s death. Peter wants to help the scientist, Curt Connors, but inadvertently turns Connors into a giant lizard monster because he gives him an equation that can help create the syrum that is supposed to re-generate limbs. Peter’s uncle dies at the hands of a gunman just like in the movie that came out only 10 years ago, and if you’ve forgotten what happens next in Peter’s story you really should regret that lobotomy you got.

The biggest problem with this reboot is that it has none of the joy or creativity of the Raimi films. Sure, “Spider-man 3” was overstuffed. But it at least had some entertaining moments. This movie has no sense of humor about its hero, it has no real sense of place…half of it feels like you’re in “Virtual Spidey World”, where you’re just swinging along with him getting all kinds of vertigo in the process. Parker’s anguished demeanor (for good reasons) throughout is a high contrast to his bubbly Spidey alter ego, and though that can be explained by him enjoying the endorphins released when flinging himself all over NYC, it still doesn’t really add up and winds up being a bit distracting even.

We also get another New York City to the Rescue moment. This was a bit painful in the original; here it is literally a Deus Ex Machina. We are fortunately spared a love triangle, though. There is no Harry Osborn–in fact we never even see Norman Osborn (but we probably will in the sequel).

One thing that kept going through my mind while watching this film was that it made absolutely no difference who directed it. In “The Avengers”, there is a real face on the film–Joss Whedon. Why? Because he takes the time with his characters and knows how to develop a good story and flesh them out. Raimi did the same thing with this franchise only a decade ago. But this has no face, no uniqueness. It is just simply an action super hero movie. Big deal. Sure, it’ll make money because of the name, because of the franchise, because we want to see Spider-Man. And the shame is, Garfield does about a good a job as anyone could filling Tobey Maguire’s shoes. In fact, in some ways, I think he’s better equipped to play the part. But he’s given nothing to really work with, nor is Emma Stone who also delivers a fine performance.

Sally Field is wasted along with Martin Sheen, and Denis Leary is only somewhat useful as George Stacy, Gwen’s dad. The film doesn’t seem to want to be anything more than a glorified video game. It moves along very slowly at first, then when it gets to the action, we’re already unconvinced of the spectacle. It’s like watching people ride a roller coaster. Sure it looks fun for them. But you really wish you could be the one in the car, feeling the exhilaration. Instead, we’re just spectators to something that we’ve already seen before, and done better–even if the special effects are superior.

Oh, and Stan Lee delivers another cringe inducing cameo. But I hope you aren’t surprised by that.

My rating: : :?

Kick-Ass

April 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, giving his nephew Peter a little bit of foreshadowing as he emerges as The Amazing Spider-man. True words.

But how about when you have no power? Kick-Ass, also known as David Lizewski (played by English actor Aaron Johnson), asks this question in the film “Kick-Ass”, a non-superhero super-hero movie that works almost as two movies. One, a light hearted comic book movie that features a lot of action, and cartoon violence. The other is a more serious undertone of betrayal, hatred, and exploitation on the part of fathers and their children. Do the two work?

Well, let’s back up for a moment. “Kick-Ass” introduces a super hero idea in which we live in the normal world, and one kid doesn’t understand why there hasn’t been a copy-cat of a comic book super-hero. He invents one that ultimately is named Kick-Ass, and goes to try and save kittens or junkies from being beaten up by a gang of other junkies. When he is incapacitated by one such group, he has lost some feeling in certain parts of his body so he is able to withstand more beatings than the normal human being. In all of the comic book movies I’ve seen, this was the most painfully realistic set up for an origin story I’ve seen. Nothing about military experiments. No explosions in the lab, no radioactive side effects from an arachnid bite. No, this was just a kid who got a little over his head and wound up surviving a stab wound among other injuries.

But, instead of deterring him from fighting crime, it inspires him even more. He is an internet sensation, and he designs a MySpace page (dating the film’s development process, obviously). He gets the attention of two others–a disenchanted father (played by Nicholas Cage) and his daughter, Mindy. He has an idea to showcase her as a superhero as well–but a much more violent one, as Hit Girl. She’s got a mouth that would give Irish Spring and Dove a billion dollar endorsement, and moves that make Cat Woman look like an amateur.

They somewhat “team up” when Kick-Ass is asked by The Hot Chick at David’s school, as they have become chums since she thinks he’s her gay BFF, to tell one of her former “clients” at a help clinic to back off of her. When Kick-Ass goes to this guy’s pad, he realizes he really is way in over his head as there are five or six other guys in there and they can easily kill him. But Hit Girl comes in and saves the day, and from there, the other more insidious plot develops.

A drug cartel is being run in the city underground by a powerful “lumber entrepreneur” named Frank D’Amico (played by another English actor, Mark Strong), and his plans are being spoiled by an unidentified “masked man” who has been killing his men. On this night when Kick-Ass is identified as being a part of the scheme (since the “client” was working for him), he is indicted fully by D’Amico, who wants him dead. His son, Chris (played by McLovin, or Christopher Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to create his own super hero persona to lure Kick-Ass and let his dad catch him. He wants to “learn about the family business”. His father allows it, and thus creates Red Mist.

When we learn about Mindy’s father’s past, the plot becomes a bit muddled in its purpose. What was once a fun loving, cute, and somewhat realistic approach to what it would be like to be a “real life superhero” becomes a darker, more sardonic tale of revenge and manipulation. Mindy’s Dad, Damon (super hero persona is Big Daddy, and he sports a very funny Adam West impersonation), raises his daughter to be a lethal killer so he can exact revenge on D’Amico for selling him out and causing major family complications. When she is enlisted as Hit Girl, she is more than willing. It’s hard to tell whether it’s just brainwashing and we should dislike Damon; or, we should feel he’s justified. It’s a slippery slope, and one that may be a little too heavy-handed for otherwise such a jovial movie.

The film’s fork in the road occurs when Kick-Ass  and Big Daddy are captured by D’Amico’s men, and there’s a very real danger of them being killed. While David is narrating the film, he reminds us of other endings in which the hero narrates even when he’s not alive. Is it a ruse? Or will this film go that far to prove a point?

The film, from this point, sheds its realistic layer of skin and uncovers what I guess it was going for all along–superhero comic book violence and big explosions.

It’s hard to say whether it’s a total failure. I was, by this time, completely enthralled by the film. I really liked the characters, and I really hated the bad guys. In the climactic ending, it is extremely unrealistic and extremely violent. It bears no resemblance to the sweet and funny movie it started as. But I didn’t dislike how it progressed. If you look at a lot of comic book stories, some of them do resemble normal stories of normal people in fantastic situations. Peter Parker is the perfect example. He is exactly what “Kick-Ass” is emulating, except that Peter Parker *does* possess super powers.

The lesson of the film is certainly muddled because of the bombastic way the film ends. It goes from being about taking responsibility for who you are, the loss of identity, and the exploitation of society, to being about getting revenge and losing yourself in the super hero persona. My feeling is that’s what the filmmakers wanted. They wanted this ultimately to be a sarcastic super hero film that ends like all other super hero movies end. And of course, it ends on a note that leaves it open for a sequel.

I liked this film a lot, and I would love to see a sequel. I’d love to revisit these characters. But I wonder if maybe they were missing something here. It’s hard to feel sorry for Damon, Mindy’s dad, because he’s made her a victim just as much as he made himself. Whether Mindy likes her lifestyle as being a cold-blooded killer or not, she wasn’t really given the choice. It’s a bit dark and moody and out of place in a movie that’s supposed to be mostly for laughs. However, I do find it daring that they chose to make her so young. This is an age when the younger generation has an advantage over the older ones. They have technology, and so many more things at their fingertips. Is it really overexposure and exploiting? Or is it just the way things are now? Every generation takes a few steps back and a few steps forward. The invention of Hit Girl is tricky because I certainly wouldn’t like to see anyone try to mimic her in real life–they’d be killed. But her spirit is nothing to be offended by or be ashamed or afraid of. Her heart is in the right place. I also would hope that David has realized how much his docile and sympathetic father has been so much better for him letting him make his own choices, unlike Chris and Mindy, who have had their destinies and decisions forced upon them by their fathers. I do think the film missed the boat on that revelation.

Overall though, this is a good yarn, and it’s fun. Yes it gets a bit heavy handed at times, but I still find it very entertaining–and before you start feeling bad about reveling in Hit Girl’s ability to kill 5 men in less than 1 minute, remember that these are heartless criminals who do nothing for society except have more money than you and make crass remarks about women and double park when they shouldn’t. So really, she did us all a favor.

Take the film as an origin story for a comic book, and there’s not a lot of difference between this and any other comic book movie you’ve seen. And it delivers as well as the best ones out there.

My rating: :-)