The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2Released: May 2, 2014. Directed by: Marc Webb. Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx. Runtime: 142 min.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proves you can only have as many as three villains in a film to have the narrative still remain coherent. The tightly packed narrative makes the film have minor pacing issues – but this is still a heck of a lot of fun and a great follow-up to a solid introduction. It’s at least not Spider-Man 3 all over again, because at least we’re spared from unlikable stretches with the main character – but a difference is Garfield will still be mildly tolerable. I think Marc Webb is too smart to do that all over again.

The film finds Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) in his most personal battle yet. He’s still trying to find out why his parents had to leave, which is a good mystery that fits well into the narrative but packs it tighter. He sees Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Stone) father everywhere he goes, unable to shake his promise he made to stay away from Gwen to keep her out of danger. The super villain of this film is a cool villain called Electro (Jamie Foxx). His battles become more personal when Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) comes back into town after the death of his father. Peter comes to realize that a lot of things that happen in his life and that affect him enemy-wise revolve around one thing: Oscorp.

A personal battle for the characters on-screen, this is also more painful and personal for audience members, more-so fans of the franchise. The urgency audience members will feel for some character’s safety adds intensity to the film. The narrative does well with foreshadowing. Peter’s love for Gwen gives him a layer of vulnerability; you’d think he’d protect her better as Spider-Man by disguising his voice like Batman does. Andrew Garfield plays to his strengths as his character, and he gets a lot more laughs than the last film – losing himself in a Marvel-like and comedic atmosphere. (This is one of Marvel’s funnier films.) His chemistry with Emma Stone is just so easy to love. It’s a great and natural chemistry that makes you tell that the characters work better when they’re in each other’s lives. They’re allowed to play to their emotional strengths as actors, as well; Stone notably in a lovely graduation speech which is very inspiring. Sally Field also has a great scene where she shows her strengths as a dramatic actress.

One part that interests me about the plot is that Parker’s involvement with the Daily Bugle is played down; only mentioned as an income for Peter, and he only e-mails J. Jonah Jameson and never actually goes into the Bugle. I think it’s smart that Webb doesn’t cast a Jameson, because J.K. Simmons is such a great actor to portray the character. Since Peter only e-mails Jameson, which is an arc that makes sense in the digital age, it saves probably saves five minutes that would have just added to the already lengthy 142 minutes that doesn’t need anything more. I don’t like that Spider-Man is so controversial in this film; a lot of people think he should just let the cops do their jobs. He saves a lot more people than the cops ever could; and I think the controversy aspect would be better suited for the titular hero in Kick-Ass. I think the R-rated crime fighting would be a more realistic subject to criticism inside the film.

Anyway, Spidey learns the hard way that he shouldn’t save everyone by saving Max Dillon (Foxx), who later becomes Electro in a freak accident, which is the origins story based more on the one from the classic Marvel universe. I think Max’s motivations are very human, as well – he’s a mild-mannered, insecure guy who wants some attention and to be needed. Foxx gives a cool performance as Electro, with some awesome electric vocal styles. Hans Zimmer also has a lot of fun with the score, making voices in Electro’s head an electric song in its own – most notably during a critical introduction of the villain. He delivers yet another great score, but we rarely expect anything less from him.

Dane DeHaan is great as Harry Osborn. His arc in this reboot is different than the one in the original trilogy – and his human motivation of his own survival is easy to understand and well-written. DeHaan is magnetic as the character, funny at times and chilling at the end; where he receives a make-up job which makes this a physically demanding role. I’ve really liked him as an actor ever since 2012’s Chronicle, particularly his his apex predator monologue. Chris Cooper is disappointingly under-utilized as Norman Osborn, where we only see him in one measly scene on his death bed.

The film has another talented star as a villain, Paul Giamatti – but his limited role is really just a preview for the next film. I’m patient enough to see more development for him next time around, as he works perfectly as a bridge to the next film. Giamatti sports an over-the-top Russian accent and has a lot of fun as Aleksei Sytsevich. It’s funny that, in the beginning, Marc Webb decides to include two introductory action sequences. One with Peter’s father on a plane action sequence; and then it skips to the present day to a car chase with Giamatti’s Russian terrorist. I liked the performances from the antagonists in this film more than Marvel’s last outing Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think the villain’s motivations are more realistic and easier to understand. Something that also really works for the film is its stunning CGI visual effects, beautifully filmed action sequences and a phenomenal finale in a clock tower. Those memorable scenes, and the film’s humour, make this a ride well worth taking.

Score: 83/100

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America - The Winter SoldierReleased: April 4, 2014. Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo. Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 136 min.

The superhero niche genre isn’t my favourite. My expectations for them aren’t usually major, unless they’re X-Men or Batman movies. Sometimes there is an exception, and that comes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the third entry in Marvel’s Phase Two set of films. It’s a smart film that deals with threats to S.H.I.E.L.D. I like how the universe fits its films into the more epic narrative, and even though there are different stories to expand each character, they all make sense. In this film, Captain America (Chris Evans) struggles to find his place in the modern world, as he deals with a major threat from old history: a Soviet agent called the Winter Soldier.

It’s interesting that the film has its title named after the villain of the film, who is great, by the way. (I think it’s better if I keep the villain as a bit mysterious by not talking about him much.) It seems to me that it indicates things are going to be different. Indeed, the stakes in this film are higher and it feels like there’s a sense of urgency throughout. The themes of the film make this feel like a cool Special Ops movie, so it’s practically The Bourne Identity of the Marvel universe, just with less martial arts. But there is a brief scene with martial artist Georges St. Pierre, which is fun to watch. I love the action of the film, and the light humour throughout. It makes the film extremely entertaining. The score complements the great action scenes. My expectations were filled because this is a fun and entertaining popcorn picture, but also something I’d like to watch again.

This is engaging because of the great action,  as well as a story that flows well. The film’s surrounding story is strong, and much more memorable than the Cap’s first outing. Thank goodness that there’s less of that short version of Chris Evans… The CGI effects make his head look way too big for his body, and because of it he looks so disproportionate. It creeps me out. Chris Evans is charismatic as the Captain. I really like him as an actor. The character of Steve Rogers is great, I think, because he has to adjust to a vastly different time period, and he has some conflicting self battle layers which makes him more engaging. A heart-warming scene shared with him and Peggy Carter shows his kind side.

Evans has a great chemistry with all of his cast members, especially with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who share a lot of jokes together. This film makes me more interested to learn of Widow’s past. Johansson rocks the role because she’s mysterious, sexy and just overall awesome. The two characters work really well together, and they seem to be alike in a lot of ways. One way being that they’re both badasses. Samuel L. Jackson fills is great as usual as the kick-ass Nick Fury. Anthony Mackie has a charismatic turn as his character. Robert Redford fills a supporting role. He does a serviceable job, but he’s never great.

The film as a whole is a lot more memorable than Redford. What I think makes this more memorable than Marvel’s usual film is that the story is more attractive to a global audience, and not just fans of super hero films. It’s focused and tonally sync, and the character of Steve Rogers is relate-able enough to almost be average in some ways. It’s an attractive thing about the film.

Score85/100

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor 2Released: November 8, 2013. Directed by: Alan Taylor, James Gunn (post-credits scene). Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston. Runtime: 112 min.

When considering the story of “Thor: The Dark World,” it’s much better than 2011’s “Thor.” All I remember from that installment is snippets and sort-of the ending, and I remember it never really being clear who was the villain or not until after about an hour in. Otherwise, it’s forgettable – but Kenneth Branagh did a decent job at introducing the characters. This first sequel is able to get right into the story with a prologue, and there’s a trailer for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” before the movie starts. (At my theatre, there’s a scene that indicates the movie’s starting – and I thought at first it was the beginning of the movie, but I clued in within a minute… I’m gullible, what can I say?!)

The main villain of the story is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who wanted to turn the world dark back in the Dark ages. This sparked a war between the Asgardians and his Kursed dark elves, and the Asgardians won, burying the Aether (the tool that would enable Malekith to make the world dark) where it would be difficult to find. Skip to the present after the events of “The Avengers,” Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is restoring order to the nine realms. He still longs to see Jane Austen (Natalie Portman) once again. Meanwhile, we find Jane back in London, who eventually picks up readings that might be a passageway to Asgard. It’s pretty cool, they find this sort-of vacuum thing in an abandoned building where they throw it down a staircase and comes down from above. The writers have fun with this. Anyway, this all leads to Thor and Jane being reunited, Malekith resurfacing, and Thor setting off on a perilous journey to save the earth.

I think Chris Hemsworth allows Thor to be the most charming Avenger, even if I’m more fond of the sarcastic wit RDJ brings to Iron Man. I like the comic relief in these Marvel blockbuster movies, and Kat Dennings is the main source – and Stellan Skarsgård gets some of the biggest laughs, after being relieved from Loki’s mind manipulations. Speaking of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), his role is a bit more complicated this time around because he is the unpredictable wild card here. He is also the main source of comic relief on Asgard. Natalie Portman is still as beautiful as ever and remains one of my favourite actresses working today – and I love it when she reminds me of that. She embraces the heartbreak of being away from Thor from so long, and also the awkwardness of not being able to tell people. One more comment on the cast: It’s great to see Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“The Bourne Identity,” “TV’s Lost”) as Malekith’s main henchman, as a tough-as-nails Kursed dark elf.

Some of the wars that happen are a cool change of pace from the first film because more take place in the nine realms rather than on Earth, with the exclusion of the final battle, which is both entertaining and a bit distracting, and you’ll see what I mean when you see it. The distracting part makes it a bit goofier than I might have enjoyed – but it’s still entertaining. I like the Cambridge University setting, because if that was really true damage to the school, I’m sure students will be happy to have a few weeks off from repairs! The other landscapes are really awesome, and there are some really cool weapons used by the Dark Elves I’d like to use. Especially in a video game. Please?

With all the comic relief and simple story, the film has a lighter tone than one’s average comic book adaptation. It still has a good cast and the brotherhood relationship between Thor and Loki is an interesting one because they want to trust each other but they really can’t because Loki is always up to no good, or so it seems. Thor is a noble character who puts the world’s needs, and Jane’s needs before his own. But he doesn’t really have to worry about himself because he has that awesome hammer. This is an entertaining ride, so hop on if it sounds like your type of movie, and if you like humour in your action films. It’s a summer blockbuster treat for the winter months!

Score75/100