Tag Archives: Superhero

Amazing Spider-Man 2

ASM2 seems to be one of the most heavily reviewed movies out there right now, being at the start of “blockbuster” season before the glut, but individual responses almost seem dependent on coin flips: Rotten Tomatoes seems split pretty much down the middle, and for every reviewer that hates this movie, another one enjoys it. I admit how disconcerting it’s been to read reviews that take an axe to the same ideas and scenes I found myself appreciating.

Where did it fall for me? No, it’s not a classic within “genre movies” like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, or Wrath of Khan; and it’s not as solid as Avengers or Iron Man; but I still enjoyed it my viewing of it in the IMAX 3D. The opening sequence (a semi-routine Spidey heist-chase) is one of the best. And in this movie, Garfield continues to expertly convey the wisecracking variation of Spider-man, along with Peter’s skills as a gearhead… something Maguire’s version veered away from.

Some of the more personal scenes were moving enough to tear me up. Sally Field might not look like Aunt May in the way Rosemary Harris did, but she’s far more able to move me with the transparency of her agony over her evolving relationship to Peter and his own complexes. There is some great directing work when Harry and Peter meet for the first time in years and the mood has to shift abruptly from that awkward distance between long-separated friends to reexperienced comraderie.

And of course, it’s amazing how Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield can construct a realistic relationship through the intimate rhythm of their banter with dialogue that, on paper, is rarely ever a completed (even half-completed) thought. I believe they love each other when I see them — I believe so much. They’re like two parts of the same person, they can’t help but be together.

I didn’t mind flashbacks to Gwen’s dad (since a neurotic Peter who doesn’t deal directly with his emotions would necessarily be besieged through his subconscious by broken promises). I didn’t mind that there were in total “three supervillains” in the movie because none of them were on screen at once; only one is the primary villain, another’s predictable development is tracked steadily throughout, just in time to appear for a brief but significant encounter; and the third villain plays the same role that the Underminer did in The Incredibles, so he doesn’t even really count as being in the movie. I didn’t mind Electro’s plot arc, which if you break it down to the basics, is pretty similar in beats to Doc Octopus’s in Spiderman 2 [bad accident, recuperates, first encounter, villain hones his goals, final encounter]. And all these characters had clear and reasonable motivations for their behavior — you see it all unfold onscreen.

I didn’t mind that the movie also toyed with the resolution of Gwen Stacy and her romance with Peter. You pretty much have to live under a rock to remain unaware of the plot spoiler from the comic series, so it’s inevitable that you’ll start the movie feeling some anxiety. The movie plays with this, consciously. But every time it bluntly foreshadows one outcome, it’ll renege a bit later, leaving you wondering whether (a la The Walking Dead) a character’s fate on the big screen can truly be set in stone on the pages of a flimsy comic book.

I had a few regrets, one being that Chris Cooper got barely any screen time. (That guy is just too damn good to be resigned to a cameo.) Another was Kafka, the mad scientist who seems so much a cliche — although, if you’re a comic fan, you’ll recognize that name as being from the actual book. The “crossover clip” in the credits really came out of left field. The board meeting scene was pretty sketchy, writing-wise. And so on.

But like I said, it’s not high art. It could have been better, yes. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable for me, or that I couldn’t see moments of perfection within it. I came to see an action picture that would also move me on occasion with some authentic interactions among the cast, and that’s what I ended up getting. But there were things here that should remain burned into Peter’s psyche in regards to all of his important relationships, and I expect to see them followed up on in ASM3 if there is to be authenticity.

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The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie is one of the pictures where the less said about it ahead of time, the better. So I won’t say a lot about the specifics.

But I will say that this movie works on so many levels at once, it’s clear that despite the ease with which it unfolds on the screen, the lines and plot and themes were carefully thought through. This movie was lovingly crafted, and with deep respect for its audience. What comes off as cliche in other movies did not scan as cliche here.

It works as a pop-culture smorgasbourd (anything from fantasy and comic book tropes to science fiction movies and Saturday morning cartoons).

It works as a nostalgic peek at the toys that multiple generations have built with.

It works as a humor Gatlin gun, one laugh flung right after the next so that you might miss a few zingers if you’re not attentive.

It works as a self-referential story with strong overtones of The Matrix, dovetailing the efforts of freedom fighters to overthrow a despotic regime with one LEGO figure’s quest to find meaning for himself.

It works as an exploration of the relationship between parent and child — what kinds of expectations exist and what kinds of interactions are ultimately productive for everyone.

It works as a criticism of cultures that alternately squelch out creativity and freedom in favor of mindless productivity and efficiency, while at the same time frantically stoking the self-indulgent fires of each individual’s imagined self-importance.

It also works at the best kind of advertisement, not just as a venue for multiple product placement or by presenting options for what one can build with LEGOs, but by respecting and encouraging the creative spark that exists in EVERY person regardless of whether someone is zany or traditional, old or young. It says that we all can be remarkably inventive, regardless of our personality style, without a quiver of exploitation or snark in its voice.

And this last bit, in a movie that could have easily veered into becoming mostly cynical or somewhat trite, that could have favored part of its audience at the exclusion of other parts but didn’t, is what makes it truly remarkable.

4.5/5

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Man of Steel

Jonathan Kent: You’re the answer, son. You’re the answer to “are we alone in the universe”.

Clark Kent at 13: Can’t I just… keep pretending I’m your son?

Jonathan Kent: You ARE my son. And I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.

Despite negative critical buzz, “Man of Steel” is the kind of movie whose success hinges upon your particular tastes. Yes, it doesn’t help that one of Snyder’s weaknesses as a director is creating nuanced pathos — that problem plagues him here, he has trouble knowing how to shoot a scene in a way that generates complex emotion, there are lines that fall flat — but the story by Goyer and Nolan at least gives him that chance that “Sucker Punch” never had.

It also doesn’t help that the movie breaks from established expectations for a Superman movie; while accusations of the tone being “brooding” honestly are overblown, it’s true that this Clark goes through his growing pains as a boy even while essentially on the same route to becoming the Superman the world knows and loves. It just seems difficult, in the eyes of many, for Cavill’s genuine earnestness to compete with Reeve’s understated sweetness of soul. The latter joined with Kidder’s tenacious but squirrelly Lois seemed to possess more chemistry than Cavill and Adams are able to generate here.

The best parts of the movie focus on Clark’s ever-maturing loyalties. The most important events in Clark’s childhood are revealed in flashbacks; the Clark who begins the movie is a young man still “searching” for himself, drifting through odd jobs across the breadth of North America. While he is aware that he is not human, the only definitive thing he knows about himself is that he often feels compelled to help those who are in need, even if it might expose him. When he finally runs across a simulacrum of his Kryptonian daddy, he can face the task of forging an identity that honors both sides of his heritage. The real dilemma is what happens when Zod and his mob of cray-cray finally comes earthside: Clark is forced to choose between an adopted home where he’s always felt untrusted as an outsider, versus blood relatives who are (in essence) total asshats. What should have been a Kodak moment becomes instead a family-holiday nightmare, but it’s through what follows that Clark finally comes to terms with who he is and what he values.

Yes, there are fight sequences, as one would expect in a movie about the mightiest mortal of them all. If you enjoy watching superheroes destroy large swaths of urban architecture, then this should be a veritable smorgasbord — the fights here make the Neo/Smith battle from Matrix Revolutions look like preschool recess. (The distance of the first knockback needs to be measured in miles, not yards; and whoever wins the Metropolis City construction contracts at movie’s end will be in business for at least the next century.) The only side that doesn’t stand a chance is (of course) us, the humans, even using our most advanced weaponry and battle tactics; and it doesn’t take long for the Kryptonians to recognize humanity as Superman’s only real weakness as well.

One honest disappointment of “Man of Steel” is that the supporting cast — many of them fine actors in their own right — are limited by the script and/or direction so as to be merely adequate rather than super. And the female characters so typically strong in a Superman movie don’t really get a unique voice here at all. (Diane Lane, as Martha Kent, shares a good portion of the female screen time with Adams, but her lines are sadly more paint-by-the-numbers than resonant.)

Only the two father figures of the movie — Jor-El and Jonathan Kent — fair decently; and of the two, Costner’s performance is easily the stronger despite Crowe’s trademark machismo. Jonathan Kent walks a tenuous line between hesitance and prudence, a simple man who places more value in character than achievement, and yet just when you think he’s holding Clark back needlessly, he lifts the boy higher so that he has a chance to fly. Although the Kryptonian father bequeaths his son with the coolest gifts (superpowers, advanced science, alien technology), it’s the human father who somehow creates a safe space around his son so that in the silence he can finally hear his own voice. (This is notably realized in a flashback scene with Martha, where she provides a safe focal point for Clark amid the sensory chaos he is experiencing during puberty while struggling to master his emerging abilities.) What Snyder lacks as a director of dialogue he often finds within a particular visual image, and this movie has a few such shots that are powerful without any words needing to be spoken. In the end, Clark might feel robbed by being stuck between two worlds , but in the process he has received a double-portion of something that some people don’t even have one of: A pair of loving parents.

While Shannon does not bring the same casual audacity and narcissism to the role of Zod brought so deliciously by Terrence Stamp, his zealot leader is almost more admirable, his motivations more accessible. Zod seems almost sane when explaining that everything he has done has been for the good of the people — well, his people. It’s the kind of justification that might even fly as long as you weren’t the one at the business end of the zealot’s brutal ministrations. But it does raise the stakes: The old Clark in “Superman 2” had no doubt that a Zod victory would be a disaster, while in “Man of Steel” stopping Zod means ensuring that the people of Krypton will be forever lost. It’s the general’s right-hand woman, Faora-Ul, who is the real amoral terror among the Kryptonian rebels, viewing mercy and restraint as evolutionary disadvantages that result only in extinction for those foolish enough to practice them.

How you feel about “Man of Steel” by the movie’s end will likely depend in part on how carefully you can track the human story through the movie, versus just the superpowered one. As a parent of both biological and adopted children, I could resonate with both sets of parents — the ones who gave away their son so that he might live, and the ones who invested and sacrificed to raise him regardless of where the boy would finally decide to hang his cape. Would that any of us had parents who loved us enough to provide us with the resources and freedom to, rather than bending us to their will, find our own answers and passions over the course of our own lives.

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Iron Man 3

Even this early in the season, Iron Man 3 will likely hands-down win the “Twist of 2013” award… perhaps to its detriment. If you’re into some creative shit-stirring, you might delight over Shane Black seizing an opportunity to break expectations; on the other hand, you might also feel like Ellie Driver after Budd claimed to have pumped the Bride full of rock salt and dumped her in Paula Schultz’s grave — not much relief, just regret, because at least one character deserved better.

(As a parallel, maybe punting the Jenga game against the wall in the final round is a legitimate move, but wouldn’t you feel horribly cheated by such a strategy, especially in a game you were invested in?)

Will Tony Stark ever get real? That’s kind of where this movie is going. Like any guy who almost wiped while saving the Big Apple, now he can’t sleep at night and has panic attacks in situations he can’t control. In the past, Tony tried to put out the crazy with even more crazy — a terminal blend of verbal panache and workaholism — but even that seems to be failing him. He’s realizing that Pepper is becoming the center of his world, yet she’s tired of playing nanny to his hotshot antics — and a dangerous fluke when she tries to help him through a nightmare only drives the point home that, if he doesn’t change something fast, he might lose her forever.

And it’s at this point when a super-stressed Tony shoots off his mouth and thus plants himself firmly in a game of chicken between the United States and an international terrorist known as The Mandarin. I admit to mainly being in this to ogle over RDJr, but I still have to admit I felt really bad about the Saleen S7…

From there, the movie spirals into an ever-expanding cloud of explosions, double-crosses, home invasions, White House politics, cute kid sidekicks, blame games, and Guy Pierce kicking ass in a way he never got to do in “Prometheus” while stuck in that walker. Much of it is exciting and often amusing (and that’s one thing that the Iron Man movies have really done well — seamlessly fusing humor and thrills). And it is so Girl’s Night Out — not only does a female baddy named Brandt send Stark into the kitchen, but even Pepper gets to play. It’s just unfortunate that the dramatic energy dissipates at a very notable, very obvious moment in the narrative.

Overshadowing the movies are the Iron Man suits themselves, proliferating like bunnies from Tony’s wellspring of anxious energy and coming in every size, shape, and rainbow-tinted hue. This isn’t just about some guy who flies around and blasts things in a static case of armor, this Tony Stark wields tech almost as an extension of his mind — ‘If you can dream it, you can do it!’ — managing in a moment’s notice to think outside the box of what you thought was already outside the box. The final slugfest with Killian is fast, furious, and ingenuous; you’ll see applications for the armor that you’ve never quite seen before. But will it be enough?

At the end, the fate of Iron Man as we’ve known him is unclear. Whatever happens, however, it’s been a good run, and as the end credit clip reminds us, Tony never gives up on his friends.

Rating: See it. 

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