Sunday, May 11, 2014

'Amazing Spider-Man 2' movie review

Andrew Garfield is a beter Peter Parker than Tobey Macguire just based off the fact that he doesn't make a laughable face when he is crying in a scene.  Watch the bridge scene of the forgettable 'Spider-Man 3' for the worst example of this.  That being said, I agree with many of the other reviews that 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2's' flaws come from Sony's attempt to make a multi-franchise universe like 'The Avengers' when they only own the rights to ONE hero (and his villians and side characters).  They are going to make movies centered on the villians, which is not necessarily a bad idea.  They make gangster movies, centered around characters who would be villians in a Dick Tracy or other cop movie.  So, sort of like a comic book 'The Godfather'.  That being said, 'Iron Man 2' suffered greatly from trying to set up "other stuff" at the expense of its own movie and 'Spider-Man 3' suffered by cramming too many villians into one film.  This movie is WAY better than those two films, but has similar flaws.

The opening scene shows us Peter's father running away and leaving Peter with Aunt May just like the first movie, but gives us more information on what he was working on.  Then, we have a great "opening" action scene where Spidey is trying to take down the Russian gangster who later becomes the Rhino, despite the fact that Peter/Spidey is late for his high school graduation.  This scene is very exciting.  It has a lot of humor and is fun to watch. Paul Giamatti is a great actor.  Buuuut, the Rhino is only shown at the beginning of the movie and at the end.  Two very cool scenes.  Very funny and they both have a point, buuuut, Rhino should not have been in trailer based on the small amount of screen time he gets.  Yes, they are setting up the "bad guy" movies, which is why they gave a great actor such a small part, but don't expect too much Rhino but DO expect to enjoy the Rhino you get.

Real-life couple Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry as Peter and Gwen.  Peter breaks up with Gwen early on in the film, because whenever he is fighting crime as Spider-Man, he sees Gwen's father, who died in the first movie after making him promise that he would stay away from Gwen to protect her from his enemies.  But since the whole story arc is about him feeling guilty about putting her in danger and they end up back together anyway, the break-up scene feels unnecessary.  He could have gone the whole movie staying with her and feeling guilty and that would have served the same purpose in the end result, plus taking away from the scenes that dragged.

Early in the film, we meet Max Dillon, who will remind you of Edward Nygma/The Riddler in 'Batman Forever'.  He is lonely, has no friends and becomes obsessed with Spider-Man when he is shown a little attention.  Jamie Foxx is a great actor.  The character is not over the top like Jim Carrey did Riddler.  The filmmakers expect you to remember all that 'cross species genetics' stuff from the first movie so you won't question why they are building an electric generator out of eels.  Max falls in there and becomes Electro.  He becomes a villian when he feels slighted that Spider-Man doesn't remember his name.  His fight scene is also a little long, but very cool and does develop the character very well.

Peter soon meets up with his old friend Harry Osborn.  Harry finds out that he inherited a debilitating disease from his father.  Because of Oscorp's dabbling in 'cross species genetics', Harry suspects that Spider-Man's blood can help him find a cure and hates him when he refuses to help, fearing (because of his father's research) that it will do more harm than good.  I liked Peter and Harry's relationship.  This was the part of the movie that could have been better developed if they cut out the on-again, off-again stuff with Peter and Gwen.  They could still develop their relationship and have it be as romantic and cute as it is (one of the film's strengths), but a little snip could have given us more Peter and Harry.

As I said, there is a lot of "stuff" that makes the first half of this movie seem long and yes, they are developing future movies, but most of it does come together quite well in the final action scene, which was one of the most intense that I have seen in a while.  Very dramatic and well-done.  Director Marc Webb is very good at human drama, evidenced by the rom-coms he did pre-Spidey, but snipping SOME of the love story to develop the Peter/Harry rivalry would have only benefited that final scene, which is quite a tear-jerker even if you are familar with the outcome of 'Amazing Spider-Man #121' from 1973.  People in the theatre I was at were crying like Tobey Macguire during a bridge scene.  Peter does find out more information about what happened to his father and that Oscorp is evil, which moves his story forward and sets up future sequels and spin-offs.

I appreciate the efforts that this and the preceeding film made not to repeat/imitate the Tobey Macguire/Sam Raimi Spidey movies.  In the reboot, they took the "Spidey becomes a wrestler" part out of his origin because we saw that before.  They nodded to it by having Peter's mask be inspired by a wrestler's mask.  There is a version of the Green Goblin in the comics where Harry becomes a villian before/instead of his faher, so they went with that to avoid compairsons to the old series.  Part of me wanted to see J. Jonah Jameson, who is referred to, but not seen, but since my complaints were about the film being too cluttered in places, maybe I should just wait patiently for the third film.  And for the record, I am totally for them using the same guy, even though the rest of the cast is different.  I believe in J.K. Simmons.

So, even though it dragged in a few places, 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' is a very fun movie where everything comes together very well in the end.  Some fun nods for comic book fans and enough romance to keep the women in the audience interested (enough).  I give this movie 3 thwips out of 5.

'Divirgent' movie review

'Divirgent' is a 'Hunger Games' knock-off...and I say that from a very realistic place.  Even the Divirgent book came out three years after the first Hunger Games book.  I WAS going to review this film on its own merits, but since this movie has the same audience as Hunger Games, learning how much better Hunger Games was is relevant to how much this sucks.

Divirgent takes place in a future world in which the city of Chicago has been decimated by a war.  And you don't really know what's "out there" beyond the city of Chicago.  Like Hunger Games, it uses the backdrop of the future to set its own rules.  This is a different world than we live in.  There are five factions (in Chicago) that serve different purposes in this society, the intellectuals, the soldiers, the selfless ones (and two others) and they all have funny names.  There are some technologies that we don't have in real life, but other than that, the futuristic backdrop is just used to set its own rules.  No flying cars etc. (I just watched 'Fifth Element'.  None of that stuff here.)

Deleted scene Mary Jane Watson actress Shailene Woodley plays this girl who was born into the "selfless" faction (that is called something else).  She and her brother take an aptitude test that tell them which faction they would best fit into.  Her results are inconclusive, labeling her as (dumb dumb dumb) divirgent!  The lady who administers the test is nice enough to manually label her with the faction she grew up in, because we learn that divirgents are feared by the intellectuals who are trying to wrench power away from the selfless.  People who don't fit into society's (five) molds threaten the whole system and some have even been killed.  It is a much less interesting take on the "people don't understand me" teen angst sci-fi trope than the X-Men films.  All "being divirgent" does to this girl (and others who are) is that when the bad guys inject them with a mind-control serum, it doesn't work.  They can't fly or stop bullets or any Neo-like powers that would have improved this film.

Potential MJ doesn't like the selfless faction.  She wants to look at herself in the mirror (which is not allowed) because she's a teenage girl, so she joins the soldier faction.  "I wanna look at myself in the mirror, Mom!  I'm joining the Army!"  Yes, that is a major plot point.  Then, she jumps onto moving trains with her soldier buddies and gets a tattoo.  In 'The Hunger Games', Katniss is thrown into the "action" by a draft that she can't control.  The government picks her younger sister and she selflessly goes in her place (a commentary on young people being drafted into war).  Here, the rebellious (whiny) girl joins the Army because her parents are too strict.  Yes, she is sorry later, but the movie still glorifies teenage rebellion with the tattoo and the train jumping.  More "fight against the government" stuff (a beloved sci-fi trope) would have helped the plot (as it did with Hunger Games...and Star Wars...and The Matrix), but here is where Divirgent gets really sloppy.

As soon as the girl joins the Army faction, she meets this boy who is a jerk to her and later softens and they end up together.  Yes, picture that in the most cliched teen romance way you can, because that's it. make matters worse, there are LOOOOONG scenes of kids training for this Army.  Scenes in movies where people are fight training bore me to tears unless something else is done to spice them up.  In 'Rocky', it was a musical montage with a rousing theme.  In 'Batman Begins', it was intercut with scenes of Bruce learning stealth and making smoke bombs.  In 'The Matrix', the training scene was not that long and had some cool effects.  In all three of these examples, the characters were established before they starte training, so you cared what they were learning.  This movie uses the training to establish the characters and it doesn't work because you don't care who is fighting and it takes you out of the movie.  At least 'Ender's Game' had zero gravity stuff.

Like I said, this movie should have focused more on the "bring down the system" stuff, which is more interesting "rebellion" for a movie than running away to join the Army and getting a tattoo.  I give this movie 1.5 ferris wheels out of 5, just because Woodley and her movie mom, played by Naomi Watts, give good performances.