As a big time Hollywood director, Sam Raimi gets his fair share of mail. That probably explains why he didn’t get the memo telling him that blockbuster sequels are supposed to get worse with each installment, not better. Even with the Sony hype machine set into overdrive and the high expectations of a rabid fan base, Raimi and his cast have outdone themselves to deliver a second sequel that cements Spider-Man as the greatest comic book movie franchise of all time.
Yet the usually lethal symptoms of ‘trilogy-itis’ couldn’t be more obvious if they were accompanied by a blonde bombshell carrying a neon sign. Bigger cast, bigger scope, three villains (a cardinal sin usually) and a special effects budget larger than the GNP of small nations, it’s all there. But what stops Spider-Man 3 from falling into the cursed company of lamentable third acts like Matrix Revolutions and T3 is the steady hand of Raimi as he deftly sidesteps the pitfalls of the blockbuster sequel to ensure that character and story remain in the foreground over CGI wizardry.
Spider-Man 3 picks up where its predecessor left off; Peter Parker (Maguire) finally seems to have come to terms with his responsibilities as Spider-Man and has even become the golden boy of New York City, while his relationship with long-time sweetheart Mary Jane (Dunst) has deepened. But when revelations regarding the true murderer of his beloved Uncle Ben come to light, Peter is sent into a downward spiral as his rage and anger threaten to consume him. To make matters worse, a living alien substance that feeds off dark feelings attaches itself to our nerdy hero with frightening and hilarious results.
Unlike most movie trilogies where the third film is usually scraping the bottom of an empty barrel, Spider-Man 3 never feels like it’s just been tacked on to the series as a quick money spinning operation. The fact that all of the original cast and crew have stuck around prevents the film from feeling disjointed and unnecessary. Even the extras return for a third time to help weave Spider-Man 3 into the fabric of the first two films.
Once again, JK Simmons steals the show as the combustible publisher J. Jonah Jameson while regular cameo stars Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi get their moment in the sun. Spider-Man 3 is a culmination of several storylines that have been brewing since the original film. The main beneficiary of this serialized storytelling is Harry Osborn, played superbly by a haunted James Franco. As Pete’s best friend and his greatest enemy, Harry struggles to find a balance between his love for his friend and his desperate desire to attain the love and respect of his dead father Norman, the original Green Goblin who was killed in a battle with Spider-Man. After building slowly in the previous two films, it’s great to see Harry’s tragic plight elevated to the foreground and it’s paid off magnificently.
The award for most visually stunning villain undoubtedly goes to Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman and the computer boffins behind the scenes. The Sandman is an awe-inspiring monstrosity that threatens to devour the city whole, while the appearance Venom in the final act is ferocious and terrifying. Raimi had to be persuaded into using Venom, who is loved and loathed by fans in equal measure, but he uses him to great effect as a living symbol of the darkness Spider-Man allowed himself to embrace.
Raimi proves himself to be a master when it comes to delivering kinetic action scenes. From the first fight between the new Green Goblin and Peter as they race through the city to the massive final confrontation between the four protagonists, the stakes are raised higher and higher leaving the audience gasping for breath. Each action sequence out does the previous one and raises the bar substantially higher for the competition.
The film is the ultimate Hollywood blockbuster. It provides the prerequisite high-octane drama, but more than that it’s grounded by an engrossing story with compelling characters and a hero wracked by his inner turmoil. With a fourth Spidey film already a cast-iron certainty, don’t be surprised if Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire choose to step aside and let someone else take the franchise in a new direction. These three films stand together as one epic and complete superhero masterpiece and anything that comes next would surely struggle to live up to the original trilogy.
Spider-Man 3 is a monumental achievement. An action flick with a heart and a brain, it satisfyingly concludes what has been a fantastic series of films. If only all comic book movies could treat its audience with such intelligence and wit. Bravo.
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, James Franco
Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers
Save the world, save the girl?
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
Film Review: Murder Mystery
Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.
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.