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Film Review: Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2 is the great example of how the words and colors of comic books can become on-screen reality. It is as entertaining as it is smart, engaging as it is affecting, and enjoyable as it is successful

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While box-office numbers are certainly indicative of a movie’s success with the masses, they were never one to judge a movie’s imaginative appeal- until now. What could easily be this year’s biggest summer spectacle is far more than what we normally equate with the sunny days of cinema. And with director Sam Raimi at the helm once again (surrounded by a familiar writing/production team), Spider-Man 2 has set new precedence in comic book adaptations; bursting free from the camp that others of its kind often languish in while scaling heights no forerunner (including its own) has ever scaled before.

What immediately sets the sequel apart from the 2002 release are the lush physical and emotional environments Raimi explores to great success. With much of the rudimentary characters and interactions established in the first, Spider-Man 2 delves into much deeper territory- most involving our seemingly reluctant, introspective superhero Peter Parker (Maguire). A few years after his first evolution into your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Parker wrestles more than ever with the complexities of his responsibilities. As wisely conveyed by Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibilities” – some of which heavily burden Parker’s everyday life. He can’t keep a decent job, he struggles greatly with his studies, and worst of all, his love for Mary Jane Watson (Dunst) remains deeply hidden from her.

The constant struggle between his superhero duties and his attempts to lead a somewhat ordinary life becomes a telling quality; one of the reasons why Raimi’s two adaptations have far exceeded those before them. Unlike many previous superhero incarnations that are often excruciatingly infallible, Raimi’s Spider-Man is as human as the struggling Peter Parker. In displaying the common weaknesses, a certain gap is bridged between the screen and the audience- we are convinced that there is a great deal of humanity behind the mask, and perhaps through these weaknesses we find a common bond. A kind of realism that became the staple of many Marvel comic characters – while they are blessed (or cursed) with superhuman ability, their human side never seems to wane, and much of the conflict arises not between hero and villain, but between the hero and the person within.

And thankfully Raimi spends the time to explore the struggles of both Parker and Spider-Man; because much of the movie’s conflict, like many instances in the comic books, stems from Parker’s own struggle to justify his cause as superhero. Is it worth scarifying a life to be a hero? How much can he take from those who constantly chastise Spider-Man as a villain? (This of course, comes from Daily Bugle chief J. Jonah Jameson) And with the constant to-and-fro between these issues, Parker has to decide just how important this responsibility is. It’s all very riveting, and we haven’t even begun exploring the many intricacies of the villains.

Like those who fight for the cause of good, those out for evil in the Marvel universe are not all too dissimilar to their counterparts. In the case of Spider-Man’s latest adversary, this is very much the case; the corruption of the human spirit will undoubtedly change the person, but deep down somewhere there still harbors certain good. Well-natured scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (Molina) is irreversibly altered when attempting to harness fusion energy, resulting into his transformation into Doctor Octopus (or in this case, simply “Doc Ock”) and the apparent destruction of his long-labored project. He in turn rampages through the streets of New York causing havoc. And in his quest to rebuild the venture, he runs into the one person determined to identify the man behind Spider-Man: Harry Osborn (Franco). Still bitter about the loss of his father, Osborn’s unyielding desire to unmask the hero is where much of the true physical conflict begins.

Thanks to a hefty amount of CGI, the battles smash their way from skyscraper to skyscraper, on top of speeding trains, through the walls of buildings and the skies in between- all rich with the energy and excitement of thundering booms and the swift swaying of the wind. It all seamlessly transpires, making for some of the most exhilarating (and wholly comprehensible) coming together of good and evil.

It is important to note that the computer generated portions have been improved for the most part. My biggest complaint about the first was that Spider-Man looked and felt a little hokey plunking from building to building in rather awkward, gangly motions. And while it still isn’t quite perfect, the movements of flight and fight transitions much better with the live action this time around.

Nonetheless, the most important qualities of the movie are close to flawless. A compelling storyline is bolstered by characters that are given room to flourish with individuality and interesting dialogue. From a seemingly small role in Aunt May (who is an important aspect to Parker’s inner struggles), to J. Jonah Jameson, they are all important to the central characters and how they ultimately end the day. Then there is of course, Mary Jane herself- who perhaps is the principal reason for Spider-Man’s good and bad days. Dunst’s character is a certain veil of life, an unknowing beacon of hope for an entire population who depend greatly on one superhero. Watson goes through the movie with the same struggles as Parker- lost in love she does not quite understand while fighting for answers she cannot obtain. And it is easy to lose one’s self in this tangled web between her life and Parker’s. Raimi does ever so well to juggle this heartache throughout the movie; cresting perhaps in a scene where Watson shares an inverted kiss with her current boyfriend- hoping to recapture that one long lost kiss.

With such depth in all the characters and a thoroughly enriching tale to wrap them around, Spider-Man 2 is the great example of how the words and colors of comic books can become on-screen reality. It is as entertaining as it is smart, engaging as it is affecting, and enjoyable as it is successful; bringing to life the kind of imagination that spellbinds entire generations, and for that quality alone, we cannot ask for more.

SPIDER-MAN 2
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina
Distributed by: Sony Pictures

Film Reviews

Film Review: It Chapter Two

The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans

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The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.

It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.

The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material). 

It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.

The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.

As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.

Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.

It Chapter Two is in cinemas now

IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw

If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion

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Hobbs and Shaw

It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.

When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.

Vanessa Kirby
Vanessa Kirby is one of the highlights of Hobbs & Shaw

Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.

The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.

In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.

HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes

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