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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

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers

Save the world, save the girl?

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Spider-Man

Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.

You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.

The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.

However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.

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Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.

There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.

Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.

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