"On behalf of the fine people of New York and real rhinos everywhere, I ask you to put your mechanized paws in the air!"
Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield)
When Marc Webb's 2012 "reboot" of everyone's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man arrived on our big screens, it is fair to say that the reaction was mixed. While a global box-office haul of over $750million cemented Sony's decision to essentially re-start an already successful franchise, critics and fans alike were fairly evenly split into the for- and against-camps. While there is high praise for actor Andrew Garfield's superior portrayal of Ol' Webhead and the on-screen chemistry with Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey, there were low marks scored for the rather nondescript main villain The Lizard (despite a valiant effort from Rhys Ifans) and some occasionally ropey FX. Yet Webb and his team bring to the table the next in the 'Amazing' franchise, free from the need to re-establish the hero's backstory and origins and have created, for the most part, a highly entertaining Saturday Afternoon popcorn blockbuster.
As Peter Parker struggles to juggle the ordinary obligations of his everyday life and the extraordinary responsibilities in his guise as Spider-Man, a new and powerful foe arrives in the form of Electro (Jamie Foxx). With the arrival of his old school friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) and his relationship with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) tested to the limits, our hero discovers that the disappearance of his parents and his very existence is inextricably linked to the powerful Oscorp corporation... Right from the word go, Webb (still a great name for the director of these movies!) throws his audience straight into the heart of the action. There is a significant step up in confidence since the first movie and it shows all across the screen. The FX budget has also increased substantially as Dan Mindel's camera swoops elegantly after Spidey, diving and swinging through the gleaming skyscrapers of Manhattan. And while the action tics are superior to the first outing, Webb and his writers remain focused on character - particularly the love story between Peter and Gwen. Garfield and Stone have such an easy, natural chemistry (it's no secret that the two are dating in real life) and invest the love story with credibility and charm. Garfield in particular is the perfect choice for the hero, ably wiping away all memories of Tobey Maguire's interpretation from the Raimi editions.
Sadly, Some of the pitfalls that befell the previous film rear their head once again - primarily with the super-villains. Considering the hard work put into the protagonists, it is such a shame that there was little time to work on the characterization of Jamie Foxx's Electro. His Max Dillon is a caricature - a Spidey-obsessed techno geek who has a new jolt of life, thanks to some mutated electric eels and about 1.21 GIGAWATTS. Foxx's talents are limited to some emoting alongside the usual evil-plotting, with little time to really make much of an impact. Similarly, Dane DeHaan doesn't have the luxury of a couple of movies to establish his Harry Osborne like James Franco had. So the hurried explanation that he has been away at boarding school, topped with some happy-go-lucky bonding and skimming on the Hudson with Peter is about all we get for one of the key relationships in the Spider-Man back story. This is before we even get to the blink-and-miss-it performance from Paul Giamatti as The Rhino. And while the action sequences are a distinct improvement, there isn't a real stand-out sequence that distinguishes this from the swell of comic-book action hits we have had in recent years. For Spider-Man, the subway fight between Spidey and Doc Ock from the Maguire days remains the watermark. Still, there are worse ways to spend a trip to the flicks at the moment and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is another entertaining adventure for everyone's favorite wall-crawler.
Despite some narrative sloppiness and indifferent villains, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a vast improvement on the first film. And the film's key strength lies in the relationship between the two protagonists. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here...
"The price of freedom is high... And it's a price I'm willing to pay."
Another week, another comic book movie adaptation... Ever since the key success of Bryan Singer's take on Marvel's superhero team X-Men, audiences have been flocking in droves to see the big screen escapades of their childhood heroes. Gone, it would seem, are the days when comic book movies were treated as Z-grade movie trash - a method of holding onto some tenuous property rights and a handy way to keep tax men from knocking on the door. Yet after more than 10 years of superhumans, alien boy scouts and psychotic vigilantes (yes, I'm looking at you, Batman!), perhaps narrative comic book fatigue has set in. Story-wise, these action blockbusters tend to follow a very similar pattern. So it is with a certain level of surprise that the Russo brothers' entry into the Marvel universe boldly makes a stab at new pastures - and for the most part, it succeeds.
After the events of the Avengers movie, Captain America (Chris Evans) continues to try and find his way in a modern USA. Despite throwing himself into his work (literally from great heights at times), it becomes clear that the morals and codes of honor that he strives to represent are being eaten away from inside by a parasite within the very organization that he is working for. Not knowing who he can trust, Cap must stay true to his beliefs and fight the very system that he is trying to uphold. And this conflict becomes even more personal when he comes face-to-face with a deadly new assassin, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)... Anthony and Joe Russo seemed to be another left-field choice of directors for this type of movie - previous work on TV show Community, as well as the rather meekly received Welcome To Collinwood and You, Me and Dupree does not scream out blockbuster potential. Yet it is arguable that they have created one of the most fascinating Marvel movies yet... Some could even say, one of the best. Cap is a divisive character in the Marvel canon - boring, bland and too straight-laced are all terms used to describe him. Yet for me he has always been one of the best heroes Stan Lee created. Patriotic, forthright, noble and honest, he is the very best that we as a species can be - not just physically, but ethically and spiritually too. For me, he felt like the type of superhero that could be attainable above all else (Iron Man and Batman may be human, but they are also mega-billionaire geniuses - at least Cap was from the streets!). And the film makers don't just stick him in another mindless action escapade here - placing him in what is essentially a 1970s-style conspiracy thriller is a masterstroke from both the writers and directors.
Evans steps manfully back into Cap's boots and shows true lantern-jawed goodness in the lead role. It could be so easy for an actor to make him a cornball, cheese-induced goody-goody, but Evans provides enough layers of self-doubt and inner conflict to keep us interested. The usual roster of Marvel players are present and correct, with Sam Jackson's Nick Fury (isn't it about time he had his own movie by now?) and Cobie Smolders' Agent Hill back in the fray. Scarlett Johansson returns as the lithe Black Widow (never a bad thing for the fanboys!) and new sidekick Falcon (a great performance from Anthony Mackie) add to the hero line-up. And there is another fine list in the Rogues Gallery this time around with Frank Grillo's mercenary and Robert Redford's slippery politician on excellent, greasy form. And let us not forget the eponymous villain himself.
Now to anyone who A) reads the comics, B) has seen the first Cap movie or C) likes to read about movies online, the big plot twist regarding the Winter Soldier is not that surprising. Even saying that Sebastian Stan plays the deadly assassin can be seen as a plot spoiler. What is surprising however is just how little he actually features in the film's plot. Amongst all the conspiracy plotting and the requisite epic battles one expects from a Marvel movie, we get a couple of nifty dust-ups between our hero and villain... And that's about it. True, Stan does what he can with the role, but sadly not enough time is spent developing this interesting character - which works against a lot of the good work that has come before. This is a shame, but it is not the only flaw. A couple of painful exposition-driven scenes could have been written a little better, and the action sequences still tend to dominate the great character work done. But then again we mustn't forget that this is a big budget comic book movie and despite a few chinks in its armor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is certainly one of the best action films in the Marvel Universe so far.
Pitched perfectly to compete with the adventures of Iron Man and Thor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Parallax View, Serpico and Three Days of the Condor. A bold and exciting conspiracy actioner with strong performances from the cast and a daring effort to go beyond the norm for superhero movies. Next time though, let's have a little more from the main supervillain please...
"What is filmmaking but groping in the dark?" - Alexander Payne