Tuesday’s Reviews – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

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 It’s been 22 years since Jumanji, the film directed by Joe Johnston and based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book, was released. That film was groundbreaking in the 90s for its use of CGI and has become a much loved classic thanks to Robin Williams’ lead role. The original book isn’t exactly crammed with material to adapt but there was so much potential with the concept of a board game that came to life. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched the original film at this point but it always makes me feel like a kid again. I know it’s meant to be a kind of scary situation but I’ve always wanted to play this fucking game. I don’t care how many monkey’s destroy my kitchen or monsoons fill up my entire house with water. It looks really fun… and incredibly dangerous obviously. For a movie that has it’s fair share of flaws, it’s pretty damn perfect and has remained a classic even though it hasn’t really aged well. So the news that we were getting a new film was worrying. I know Hollywood likes to remake and reboot franchises these days but, surely, nobody would be stupid enough to try and remake the original? I mean Robin Williams made that film what it was so trying to make it without him would be suicide. However, the news that this would be more of a sequel than a remake was enough to get me a bit excited. Dropping the Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan into the jungle? Who wouldn’t want to see that even a little bit? Was I still annoyed that they were squeezing as much cash out of the original film as possible? Was I still worried that it was going to be a terrible mess? Was I concerned to see Karen Gillan dressed like Lara Croft despite it being 2017? Yes, yes, and hells yes! Did I care enough to not see it? Nah.

Top 10 Wen-sday: Top 10 Things I Thought After Watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

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In my Sunday Rundown a couple of weeks ago I promised to write about the Netflix Gilmore Girls reboot that week. That was mainly because I’d got my dates mixed up and thought this Top 10 Wen-sday was happening then. Still, in lieu of an actual review, which I figured would be both difficult, gushy, hyperbolic, and really fucking long, I’m setting down my strongest feelings regarding the new four episodes. I don’t know when I first got into Gilmore Girls but it was probably when I was 16. I instantly loved it and have rewatched every epsiode more times than I’d care to remember. So when it was announced that Netflix was bringing it back I was ecstatic. Of course, when I binge watched the new episodes as soon as possible I had a few questions. The most important being: WHY WAS THERE NO KIEFER SUTHERLAND CAMEO? I mean how hard would that have been? He’s on Netflix himself. They could have put it in his contract. What else is he doing? We need a Luke Danes/Kiefer Sutherland spin-off where they go fishing and discuss being shit at baseball. Desperately.

Ten: What is the point of the extended muscial sequence?

It went on too long, it wasn’t that funny, and it didn’t add to the story. This sequence basically sums up the vague feeling you get throughout the episodes (especially the second, third, fourth, etc. time through) that things were dragged out without reason. Random snippets appear for no reason other than to add time. If you can’t fill an hour and a half then don’t make a 90 minute episode. It’s that fucking simple.

Nine: Paris obsessing over Tristan is just absurd

After all this time? Fuck that. Paris is a strong woman who has spent the last few years making herself unstoppable. I get that the writers wanted to make her seem vulnerable and emotional behind the mask but this was a fucking shit way to do it. She wouldn’t have reacted to Tristan like this. She wouldn’t have even remembered him. There are plenty of ways to make Paris seem more human but this was just a disgusting one. It was out of character and worked against everything that had happened in previous seasons.

Eight: Emily’s story is perfect

It was always going to be sad to have reunion without Edward Herrmann playing Richard. He was a fabulous presence on the show and his chemistry with Kelly Bishop was amazing. I think the show tried hard to honour his memory but I think it could have gone futher. The funeral scene gave everyone a chance to grieve but it would have been nice for the 3 Gilmore girls to have a nice family goodbye. Sharing happy memories with each other. Still, Emily’s journey through spousal grief was both heartbreaking and enthralling. It felt so real and Kelly Bishop did a great job. I loved everything about Emily’s storyline and think, under the circumstances, that it was the best goodbye we could have wished for Emily.

 Seven: Why does Amy Sherman-Palladino keep dicking over Lane? 

Lane was always hard done by in the later seasons of the show. She never went to a great college and, aside from a small tour with her band, never saw anything but Stars Hollow. She married young and became a mother straight away. She should have been a rock and roll icon but she had to put her dreams on hold for her family. Which gives the message that women can’t have it all. The series ended with Zac being given the chance to go on tour with a huge band and Lane realising she couldn’t join him. It was her dream to go but she was left stuck at home and working in a diner. Then, years later, she’s still a mother and has to limit herself to band practice and playing drums at the secret bar. What the fuck did she ever do to you Amy? She could have been destined for great things. Why couldn’t she be a successful working mother? A great drummer and a caring mother? It’s bullshit.

 Six: Rory’s Gilmore Girls book narrative is JK Rowling epilogue levels of cringe

I mean a book about their relationship that Lorelai suggests should be called “Gilmore Girls” and not “the Gilmore Girls”. This whole plot line made me want to vomit. It’s supposed to be a cute in-joke but it’s just super cringey. It’s a cheap and awful way to give Rory’s professional life some purpose. It’s also not the ending for her career-wise that we’ve all been waiting for. One her first day at Chilton, Rory stated that she wanted to see things and write about that. This ending shows that she sees nothing but her own past. She deserved a brighter future.

Five: The wedding was perfection

It’s been a long time coming but A Year in the Life finally gave fans the moment they’ve all been waiting for. It took us a while to get there but we eventually got to see Lorelai marry the man she was supposed to be with. The wedding sequence was utterly beautiful and, I have to admit, the fact that it was set to ‘Reflecting Light’ (the song they danced to at Liz’s wedding) brought tears to my eyes. The whole set-up for the wedding was gorgeous and watching the family run through it at night was heart-warming. This moment was only marred by Lorelai’ s insanely uncharacteristic decision to “do Wild”. It’s not something she would have done. It was too selfish and cowardly a decision. I’m just glad she eventually saw sense.

Four: Lorelai’s beahviour at her father’s funeral is bullshit

The worst thing about the return of a much-loved show after any amount of time is the possibility that a character you know really well starts doing things that are out of character. One of the first pieces of information we got was the revelation that a drunken Lorelai started publicly shaming Richard at his wake. I know the two were never the closest of people and Lorelai was always critical of the way she was raised. However, there is nothing about the seasons that preceded this one that suggested that would be how she honoured her father. I mean the idea that at the spur of the moment she couldn’t think of one even remotely nice thing to say about him, even if it was just to please Emily, is fucking insane. I mean there were moments fro the previous seasons that would have worked. Like the time he helped her escape from a blind date Emiy set up or the time she took him shopping for stationary. The time he came to visit Stars Hollow and they had Chinese takeout. There were countless moments she could have picked. What she wouldn’t have done is stand there, in a drunken haze, and talk about how terrible a father he was. No matter what she thought about her childhood, Lorelai loved her father and, when all is said and done, she is still a Gilmore.

Three: The sequence with the Life and Death Brigade is fucking sensational

I mean just look at it. It’s fucking beautifully shot and is just so fun. The song, one of my favourites on the Across the Universe soundtrack, fits the action perfectly. As soon as I heard it I had one of my creative moments and imagined a whole film scenario in my head that was actually pretty similar. Everything about it was sensational. The signs alerting Rory to their presence. the gorilla masks, the smoke, the steampunk, the tango. I just loved every second of it. It captured the spirit of the group and showed that, even after all these years, people hadn’t really changed that much. Also, the Wizard of Oz ending was sheer perfection.

Two: Logan Logan Logan

I’ve always been a Logan fan. I know his relationship with Rory wasn’t always great but he was much better for her than either Dean or Jess. Yes, yes, Jess fans. I know you’ll all be shouting at me that Jess changed over time and became the perfect man. I just don’t think all that shit he put her through when they were younger was too much to get passed. Now, I hear you continue to cry, her affair with Logan didn’t exactly go anywhere to prove that they are made for each other. It wasn’t ideal but there is undeniable passion and love between the two of them. I get that the creators were pushing the idea that Logan is Rory’s Christopher and Jess is her Luke. However, Logan was always good for Rory. He pushed Rory at a time when she was really discovering who she was and who she wanted to be. He helped her take risks and have some fun. He always believed she could make it and, after he really buckled down to work, became a great husband for her. Just look at all the times he came running to her aid without even thinking. Dean made her feel guilty and Jess just left without telling her. I think we know who the better boyfriend is. I like to think the pair will eventually settle down together and raise their baby as a happy couple. Just because Lorelai couldn’t find happiness with Christopher doesn’t mean Rory can’t end up with Logan.

One: Not enough Sookie

I know that Melissa McCarthy is one of the biggest comedy stars around now and barely had the time to do her tiny cameo. I understand that we’re lucky that we had that small glimpse of her. However, I don’t think Sookie’s absence was explained in the correct way. It just didn’t make sense for her character to abandon the inn that she dreamed of helping Lorelai create for years. It didn’t make sense for her to just leave like that. Also, what about Jackson and the kids? We see Jackson in Star’s Hollow so that means Sookie left her family for god knows how long. It’s just not right. There were plenty of other ways to have explained Sookie not being around. She could have gone on a year long retreat to Asia to learn all about some new cooking technique. Or taken the family on a food tour of Europe to bring back classic dishes to the Dragonfly. Fucking anything other than what actually happened. The shitty story that Amy came up with just meant Sookie’s eventual appearance was marred and, quite frankly, rubbish. I mean Melissa was fabulous as always and the multiple cake stuff was full of feels. However, the chemistry wasn’t there. It felt static and uncomfortable.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Ghostbusters (2016)

films, future potential., ghostbusters, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Paul Feig, reboot, review, women

It’s fair to say that the Ghostbusters reboot has had a lot to contend with before its release this month. As you may remember from way back in March I have been defending this film from people who dismissed it immediately. I wanted to see this film from the minute I saw the first trailer. It looked fun and I wasn’t melodramatic enough to believe that it was going to destroy the original just by existing. Although I can’t exactly describe what I was expecting to feel when I left the cinema but I certainly didn’t expect to end up having to question my sexuality solely thanks to Kate McKinnon. I mean I knew I loved the character from the trailers alone but that action sequence got me a little more hot and bothered than I would have thought. Holtzman is my everything at the moment. But getting away from my new found love/obsession for a moment, because it’s the healthy thing to do, I have to be honest that I didn’t come out of the film as happy as I assured the doubters that I would be.

Ghostbusters is not exactly a carbon copy of the 1984 original but the plot does owe a great deal to its predecessor. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is an uptight physics professor at Columbia University. Her track to tenure is put into jeopardy when an embarrassing book about the paranormal that she co-authored in her youth resurfaces on Amazon. She gets in contact with her old friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), to get the book removed before her bosses see it. Ultimately, both women lose their jobs in education, along with Abby’s co-worker Gillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). but they quickly find themselves involved in a real-life ghost hunt at a nearby haunted mansion. Erin is left having to admit that ghosts are real and the three women set-up shop above a Chinese takeaway. 
After another ghost sighting in the Subway, they are joined by subway worker and New York history buff Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). Whilst undertaking their research into the ghostly goings on in the city, the foursome decide that they should also use their knowledge to protect the citizens from the growing number of apparitions that are terrorising their lives. Of course, the group eventually realise that the increased activity is down to a bigger plot to unleash the dead on the world to crate havoc. Despite being branded as fakes, only the Ghostbusters can save the day and stop the end of the world. 
So, yeah, it’s a pretty familiar plot with a few modern and gender updates. I’m going to be honest, there was plenty that I liked about the film and there are jokes a plenty here. I mean the gags come thick and fast but that’s mainly because the narrative is so unimaginative. The villain of the piece barely registers here and, despite the fact a connection is attempted between him and our heroic team, he is never explored in any real detail. The whole end of the world thing is just a bit of a throw away here. With so much riding on this reboot, it deserved a better plot and a more in-depth villain. 
Although, that’s not to say that I hated everything about the plot. I think this film, more than the original (boy, is that a risky thing to say), properly introduces us the world of ghost-hunting. I enjoyed the scenes where Holtzmann introduced the team to their various proton-weaponry and helped them test it. Ultimately, these scenes were let down by shitty editing but it was certainly something I would have loved more of. Although, that might just be because it would have guaranteed more Holtzmann. Still, the plot is so reminiscent of the original that it carries the weight of that film on it’s already laden shoulders. 
Which is the major problem I find with the film. I realise that as a reboot of such a beloved film Paul Feig and co. wanted to show their respect to it. However, there is too much of a connection with the original Ghostbusters that you just couldn’t escape the feeling that you might as well watch that instead. The cameos and in-jokes, whilst fun in a certain way, just felt cheap and cheesy in the long run. They didn’t always work and I would have preferred the film without them. 
Still, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed the film and am keen to see it again. A lot of the cringey jokes from the trailers seemed to work in their original context and the four female leads work really well together. I think all characters need more development but there is an undeniable group chemistry that works well on screen. From my completely unbiased view (ahem), it is McKinnon who steals the show as the whacky and hilarious Holtzmann but Leslie Jones’ Patty is nowhere near as annoying and redundant as the trailers suggested. I would have loved more for McCarthy and Wiig, who seem destined to forever be stuck playing the same characters but in different outfits. However, there is definite potential there. 
The women are all funny and have a great sense of comic timing, which is good because the film is jam packed with jokes. Not all of them work completely but there is enough to keep everyone happy. I mean Andy Garcia’s Jaws mayor joke may just be one of the funniest things I have ever heard. So, if only for that, it’s worth a watch. The problem is, the film feels rushed and unfinished. It suffered from an identity crisis whilst it tried to cater to the kid crowd and still pleasing the, now grown-up, fans of the original. The script isn’t always very tight, the editing seems choppy in a lot of places and the CGI is much more Haunted Mansion than it should be. Even though I wanted to admit to loving this film I can’t deny that it’s not perfect. To be honest, it really should have been considering who was making it. 
However, I’m still an optimist at heart and I have to say that it’s got something about. It’s charming and silly. There is plenty of potential there for future films. Something which I definitely would like to see happen. Much like the American Office only really got watchable after it stopped trying to copy the English version, I think this reboot will really get off the ground when it gets out from the original’s shadow. No offence to Parks and Rec writer, Katie Dippold, but get a better writer in there and have a think about what tone is needed and we could be onto a winner. Ghostbusters wasn’t a good enough film to destroy the backlash the trailer received online but it was almost there. 
This film didn’t necessarily back-up my many arguments with coworkers about how good it looked. What it did, was show me how good it could be if it got the chance. It also told me that that there’s very little Kate McKinnon could ask me to do that I would say no to. I’m fucking hooked. 

TBT – Godzilla (2014)

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As some of you may remember, my, personal history with Godzilla hit a rocky patch when I first watched the disgusting Matthew Broderick film, as it did with many fans. So when it was announced that Monsters director Gareth Edwards was going to create a new one to be released in 2014 I couldn’t bring myself to be that excited by it. I’ve always loved classic Godzilla and will always be a little bit excited by the prospect of gigantic creatures beating the shit out of each other but I’d been hurt too badly to let this Kaiju back in my life. Until a guy I work with told me I had to and proceeded to bring his copy of the film in for me to borrow. I felt like I couldn’t really say now. So I did what I never thought I’d do. It sort of feels like taking back a cheating ex but never being able to get over the idea that he’ll cheat again.

After a short clip showing a nuclear blast and a mysterious scientific discovery, the action picks up in fictional town, Janjira, where the Nuclear Power Plant is experiencing unusual seismic activity. Engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is worried about a potential meltdown and sends in a team to investigate the reactor. The reactor is breached and the team, including Brody’s wife, perish whilst the plant is destroyed. 15 years later Brody and his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) discover the breach was caused by a huge, winged creature. A creature that has now woken up and is searching for his mate. Turns out the creature was also noticed by Godzilla who is now hunting down his competition. In order to get back to his family, Ford must take part in the operation to trap and destroy the monster threat.  Whilst humanity is doing all they can to prevent the new MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) from destroying everything in sight, the King of the Kaijus is planning his attack.

Godzilla is exactly the kind of film that we needed to get past the 90s abomination. Gareth Edwards’ epic blockbuster doesn’t feel anything like a huge blockbuster. The direction is restrained and he takes a more classical approach. Tension is built through suspense and, like Jaws put off showing the title character until late into the film. It is a world away from the 1998 film, which is something the fans and Godzilla himself really needed. We don’t actually see the titular monster in full until about an hour into the film but his presence is felt through small glimpses. It feels like both a great and a sad choice for Edwards to make. On the one hand, it is very artistic and dramatic. On the other, it limits the amount of monster fighting.

I prefer to focus on the positives and Edwards’ approach is visually stunning and does well at creating tension around it’s main feature. The scene of Godzilla’s first real reveal is just stunning: he appears into a foggy night sky before walking through an array of red Chinese lanterns. Turning to the camera he roars at the audience ensuring that his main entrance is unforgettable. It’s a really amazing scene. However, there is still a part of me that wishes Edwards had been a little less restrained and artistically minded. A part of me that wishes he’d just given us a little more Godzilla. Although, the slow reveal does at least stay faithful to the original.

Godzilla is, unlike its predecessor, heavily influenced by the original but it manages to feel fresh and exciting. The biggest influences, though, come from Steven Spielberg. This is almost like Edwards trying to make a Steven Spielberg Godzilla film and that’s not a bad thing. The film tries to show the human element behind the monster attack. Rather than trying to humanise Godzilla, like the 1998 one tried to, it brings emotional elements through the idea of absent fathers. Yes, it might not be perfectly executed but it acts as an emotional jumping off point between huge monster attacks.

Monster attacks that are, we have to admit, are the main reason we’re here. The coworker who let me borrow the film told me he wished there’d been more fighting, which is something I understand. However, there are moments within the latter half of the film that are just outstanding. Take the moment Godzilla first shows off his dragon-breath. Then take the second time. There might not be as much monster on monster action for a lot of hardcore fans but there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

Considering the pressure that Edwards was under to do justice to the classic and improve on the previous film, Godzilla is a remarkable film. It isn’t perfect but Edwards once again proves that he is a talented film-maker. The less is more approach isn’t in keeping with the blockbuster monster movies that we know now but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. With a few tweaks to the narrative and more dimension to the human element, this film would have been as astounding as its title character.

Batman v Superman: Battle of Who Could Care Less

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So earlier this month nerds from all over the world were flocking to San Diego Comic Con. Amidst all the usual cosplay and fangirling, the world was introduced to a whole host of new trailers to get excited about. A lot of them were exciting, like Suicide Squad which completely turned me around about the whole thing. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn? Fuck yes Jared Leto’s joker? Holy shit! Even Will Smith doesn’t seem like too abysmal. So yeah, it turns out I’m actually excited about what DC has to offer in a world dominated by Marvel films. Which, considering how I felt after Man of Steel really fucking shocked me. Of course, even after the super popular Batman v Superman panel that sent everyone crazy, I’m still not over the bitterness that surrounded my soul after watching Zack Snyder fuck with Superman. However, after I first saw the trailer I was weirdly excited about it. There are parts that look so good but… I hate Zack Snyder. I really don’t know what to think.

As you may recall, I was disappointed by Man of Steel. It amounted to little more than just destruction porn with Snyder’s limited saturation. It wasted it’s major villain without giving him anything to do. Russell Crowe was fucking awful. Whilst depicting one of the comic book world’s power couples, Lois and Clark have no fucking chemistry. And really, due to the fact that Superman’s origin has been done to death at this point, the narrative was just super uninspiring. Plus, Zack Snyder is just a one trick pony. He’s fucked up so many things at this point I don’t understand why he keeps being giving so many second chances.
So, my unwavering annoyance with Man of Steelhas meant that every time my idiot colleague keeps trying to get me excited about Batman v SupermanI just sort of fob him off with a non-committal nod. I wasn’t looking forward to a sequel after I saw it and I wasn’t looking forward to it when the teaser trailer came out. I mean whoever was paid to write “Tell me, do you bleed? You will” is the jammiest shit on the planet. If the script follows that line then we’re all fucking doomed. I’m still cringing now.
So, by April 2015 I was still resolute in my decision to not give a shit about this film. Then Comic Con happened. I didn’t pay much attention to anything that was said during the film’s panel but I had to give the newest trailer a watch. To my absolute horror, I was on the edge of my seat the entire fucking time. I was in a horrible position when I thought I’d have to eat my words and write an open apology to Zack Snyder for ever doubting him.
Then I watched it again… and again… and again. Just to check that it hadn’t been a fluke. I’ll be honest, the initial wave of euphoria had passed but there are some things about this film that genuinely excited me. Above all else, Batfleck is as fucking awesome as I always suspected that he would be. I love Ben Affleck more and more each year and his Batman looks absolutely amazing. Not only is he fucking huge nowadays but he looks more than comfortable in both the Bruce Wayne and Dark Knight role. I just hope Snyder gives him room to work.
So that’s one major plus point. The second: Jeremy Irons. Michael Caine’s Alfred was perhaps the most perfect imagining of Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler you could have asked for. I honestly didn’t think anyone could replace him. However, Jeremy Irons’ Alfred looks different; less passive and much more vocal. I’m always quite excited to see what Jeremy Irons has to offer and, since the trailer, I’m even more excited to see what he can do with such a well-known character. It could be the greatest thing since Michael Caine uttered the words “some men just want to watch the world burn”.
Then it became trickier to find things I was truly excited about. For every shot of Batfleck you are forced to suffer through Amy Adams spouting some awful cliché like “this means something, it’s all some people have, it all that gives them hope.” Urgh. She’s so much better than this shit. However, there are the usual tempting glimpses to distract you from that, of course: Robin’s old suit with the Joker’s scrawled message of doom on it, an underwater Aquaman reference, “You let your family die”, and that shot lifted straight from The Dark Knight Returns‘s cover. I even like the self-aware plot line concerning the consequences of Superman’s fight with Zod. Snyder’s hitting back at the critics of his last film and saying ‘I get it. They’re needs to be consequences.’ It’s just a little bit pointless when Batman and Superman are clearly going to face off in an equally if not more destructive showdown. I’m not saying that isn’t enough there to whet anyone’s appetite but how good is it actually going to be?
The trailer is, more than anything, exhausting. There is so much going on that doesn’t seem to fit naturally into the main narrative strand. We see Wonder Woman in the trailer and we know the other members of the Justice League are going to introduced in some form here. You, therefore, have to ask the question, can Snyder handle that much plot? Looking at Man of Steel, I’d say no. He shrugged off the narrative to make way for more explosions the first time round so giving him more storyline to fit in and more strands to pick up just seems to be asking for trouble. Either the film will be longer than Peter Jackson’s latest outputs or it just won’t make fucking sense.
To be honest, Snyder has always seemed like the wrong choice for these films. I’m not saying he’s awful. 300 was obviously good and Watchmenis the best adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel that we are likely to get. However, he doesn’t have a light enough touch or enough of an interest in the finer details to do the material justice. He’s a blow shit up in front of some green screen kind of guy.
Christopher Nolan has fucking ruined comic book movies for us now. He was a talented director that made comic book movies good films. You can’t just be heavy handed anymore. People give a shit these days. Considering Marvel have had such phenomenal success with their directorial choices lately, you would have thought Warner Bros. could have copied their strategy and gone off the beaten track for this one. But no, Zack Snyder is a bankable director. So he’s the guy we’ve got.

To answer the original quandary of this post, the Batman v Superman trailer didn’t get me excited about that movie. Mostly because the whole film is just a shameless trailer for the Justice League movie. What it did succeed in doing was getting me super pumped up for more Batfleck. Seriously, Warner Bros. just need to admit that Superman has been a no go area after Christopher Reeve’s era. What we want is more Batman, more Affleck and less fucking Snyder. 

Man of Steel (2013)

Amy Adams, Christopher Nolan, comic book, DC, meh, origin story, reboot, review, Russell Crowe, Superman, Zack Snyder

I work with a guy who is a fairly huge fan of Superman so I have had to contend with his excitement concerning Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel since its production was announced. With the release of every new trailer I was met with a gushing report of how it was set to be the best film ever made and, in the past few weeks, have been continually asked when the inevitable Blu-Ray release is. This is all very well and good but I found it difficult to match his excitement. As a child I loved the Christopher Reeve films and was a fan of the ‘I’m sure it was cool in the 90s’ Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. However, as a superhero, I never really responded to Kal-El in the same way I did with other forces of good. The reason for this is simple: his parents. Clark, as an alien who receives strength from the Sun, has an immense advantage over other heroes. He isn’t making the same kind of sacrifice as people like Batman, Iron Man or Spider-Man. He also never seemed as easy to engage with as a character. He’s a bit too cheesy (yes I realise talking about cheesiness in terms of any superhero is somewhat ridiculous) in an All-American hero kind of way. It’s grating and, when he’s riding around on his insanely high horse, it’s difficult to see him let alone connect with him as a character. If I had to pick an almost indestructible, God-like alien for a friend it’d be Thor no question. He seems fun in a Nordic way, has a nifty hammer and is all beardy. Plus, his human form is a doctor whilst Clark Kent runs around playing a famous journalist. It’s all a bit too narcissistic for me. So by the time I finally got round to watching this supposed masterpiece I had my expectations set to ‘not stunned’.


There was a definite sense that Superman needed a revival that would breathe new life into the man in red and blue. There was room to bring Kal-El in line with the current trend for comic-book movies and have him grow up that little bit. If that meant roughening up the edges then director Zack Snyder and producer (and script contributor) Christopher Nolan weren’t going to take the softly softly approach. Nolan and Snyder aren’t exactly your typical film partnership and there is a sense that this film is battling with its two different attitudes. On the one hand it is the dark and moody tale of a man who must fight against his Kryptonian nature and his human sensibilities: who must pick between the destiny set-out for him by his dead biological father and the careful path his adoptive human father would have him follow. On the other, it is a fast, loud and brash tale of destruction and violence that would have even Michael Bay wondering “is this a bit much?”: in other words hard-core explosion porn. It is Nolan’s style that ends up suffering and the last hour or so ends up being mainly about Kal and his Kryptonian buddies destroying everything they come across.

To be quite honest, excessive lens flare aside, I have no real problem with the visuals. I love Snyder’s muted tones and can even get behind the weirdly mechanical and very Star Trekian landscape of Krypton. Then we have the spectacular action sequences which, had there not been so many needless examples, would have got my inner twelve year old boy jumping for joy. Cinematographer Amir Mokri does of good job of ensuring that, no matter how crazy things get, it is still fairly easy to keep track of what’s going on. It’s just a shame that throughout the 2.5 hour running time there is an underlying sense that the destruction on screen is just senseless and self-indulgent. Man of Steel was intended to make an impact and, whether or not it aids the plot, it definitely introduces itself in a way you can’t ignore. It also provides a good foundation for the future as the final twenty minutes or so gives us a glimpse at a fully-fledged Superman film and suggests that, provided more depth is given to the main characters, any sequels will only boost this franchise. 
Despite the reboot, the narrative isn’t too ‘out there’ and all of the key points to Superman’s origin are present and correct. The all too familiar tale begins on Krypton where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is helping his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) give birth to their first child Kal-El. Their planet is unstable and beyond redemption so Jor-El convinces his wife to send their newborn to a distant planet in the hope that he can help build a new and better Krypton. We quickly skip 33 years to find Clark taking on a series of false identities and moving on whenever he feels the need to expose his powers (whether that’s to save innocent people or just teach a bully a lesson). Through a series of flashbacks we see some of his childhood with his loving and protective Earth parents Jonathan (a sensitive and considered performance from Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane bringing as much emotion as possible to a limited role). Jonathan nervously awaits the day that the world finds out about his son and the terrible consequences that would have on his life. This has shaped the way Clark has grown up and has, as a result, shied away from making any kind of connections and resenting being unable to help people or dole out justice.
Thankfully he soon gets the chance to work out this deep-seated resentment when a worthwhile opponent enters his new life. General Zod, who we first meet attempting to stop baby Kal making his escape, has followed him to Earth in the attempt to create a new Krypton on top of the ashes of humanity. Whilst finally making his presence known to the wary Americans, Clark must decide whether his loyalties lie with his old life or his new. Although, even this conflict is fairly short-lived as, thanks to the ghostly appearances by the Hamlet Snr-esque, British Jor-El (seriously why is he British yet General Zod and co. are American?), it is very obvious that Kal isn’t going to let his new home world be destroyed before his very eyes. Even the potential fear he has about humanity’s reaction to him comes to nothing when he intimidates members of the government and the army simply by breaking apart his handcuffs. Unfortunately for Henry Cavill, all that is needed to play our hero is dashing good looks and a dimple in the middle of his square jaw. I can’t even tell is Cavill is a good actor or not because the role required him to do nothing but wear a tight-fitting, leather onsie.
With the removal of the Clark Kent/Superman divide in this reboot, there is even less of a human side to everyone’s favourite Kryptonian. With the Christopher Reeves films the Clark Kent side of his personality gave Kal-El a humble, infallible nature. It was Clark Kent who was the likeable one whilst Superman was just too good to be true. Getting rid of the split means that Kal-El is simply your better and that creates an inevitable gulf between you. Cavill is all business here and remains stiff and pretty unemotional throughout. In fact the only thing in this film that takes itself more seriously than Clark is the film itself. As is happens I counted one joke in the entire thing (where Zod throw Clark into a ‘no accidents in 106 days’ sign only for the 1 and 6 to fall off). Yes this brief visual gag made me chuckle but as statistics go it’s pretty bleak.
This wouldn’t matter so much if there was a distraction from the bleakness and suffering within the romance between Clark and confident journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The pair first meet in the arctic and somehow fall in love. I say somehow as I genuinely don’t know how the relationship developed: one minute Lane is tracking down Kent to expose him as the mysterious alien to them being in love. I get it on her part (he is beautiful) but I can only assume that Clark responds because Lois is the only human besides his parents that he spends more than a few minutes talking to. God knows there is no real chemistry between Cavill and Adams. Let’s face it, they’re no Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Although, ignoring this massive oversight, I was a fan of the new independent Lois Lane. She’s become more than the easily deceived and swooning Lois to an investigative reporter who easily works out Kal’s identity. Also, this gets rid of the annoying ‘do I love Clark or do I love Superman’ conflict that Lois is always finding herself in. Gone is the sassiness we are used to but instead of smart and cynical modern interpretation. It’s exactly what the original super-wife needed and deserved to be in this modern age.
I have seen a great deal of praise for Michael Shannon’s General Zod and it is simply perplexing.  I found Zod to be a rather flaccid and bland for a super villain. He doesn’t even manage to be more interesting than his second-in-command Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who, as it turns out, is both terrifying, physically intimidating, and offered much better dialogue than her superior officer. I don’t blame Shannon for this because his part as the character of Zod is pretty much relegated to two-dimensional bad guy status. Aside from a few hints that his heart is in the right place, the General is only ever called upon to yell clichéd extracts from the super-villain handbook or reel off ridiculously archaic speeches about revenge. Although he does get more chance to create a name for himself than the rest of the supporting cast. Take Lois’ boss at the Daily Planet Perry White (played by the reliable and earring-ed Laurence Fishburne). White exists only to occasionally warn Lois about her honesty before he and two of his colleagues become trapped as Zod’s magical destruction machine starts tearing shit up. This is obviously supposed to create an emotionally tense situation but we know so little of these characters (in the context of this film at least) to give a damn whether they live or die. There is a real sense that a lot of Man of Steel relies on the pre-existing knowledge of this universe to avoid any pesky explanations littering up the narrative.  That would mean less time to blow shit up after all.
Had Man of Steelcome out pre-Nolan then I have no doubt that I could perhaps understand those hailing is as the best comic book movie of all time. It’s not the worst film of its kind. Hell as a sci-fi film it has a fair few things for it: it’s huge, melodramatic and visually impressive. However, we have all come to expect a bit more from out superheroes. There isn’t the great characterisation witnessed in Iron Man, the wit and humour of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers or the gritty realism and intelligence of Nolan’s Batman-trilogy. Certainly Snyder’s film has super to spare. However, after the promises laid down by the title, I would have preferred to see a bit more of the man.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

cowboy, fucking awful, fucking magic horse, Johnny Depp, reboot, review, television, terrible, Wild West

Just a few months ago, Quentin Tarantino was showing us exactly how you can update the old Western for a modern audience. However, it would show questionable parenting skills if you happily took your 10 year old with you to enjoy the bloody revenge saga. So this can only mean there is a gap in the market for a good, old fashioned family friendly narrative set in the Wild West, right? Well maybe but even if audiences were crying out for a new cowboy hero it certainly can’t have been the Lone Ranger. The original radio series started in 1933 and the television show was popular in the 50s. Not exactly the typical Disney demographic. Nobody has been patiently waiting for this character to get a new outing and, quite frankly, it was always going to be difficult to translate it for a modern world. This isn’t like getting the same freedom you would making a film out of a pirate theme park ride. With something like the Lone Ranger you are forced to stick to certain traditions… even the questionably racist ones. You have to ask who exactly were Disney creating this film for.

Although the answer to that is painfully obvious: Johnny Depp. After director Gore Verbinski put the idea into his head that he could play the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick there was no stopping him. We sat on the sidelines of a production full of drama with its apparently limitless budget, expanding schedule and almost free reign for one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. It’s a horrible example of everything that’s wrong with the industry: throwing money, CGI and big names together with the aim to make nothing more than a bucket load of cash. I’ll admit there was always a part of me that hoped this film would fail as it might start a chain of events to change all that. It is with only a slight amount of joy that it seems my wish was granted. The Lone Rangerwas torn apart by critics and opened to disappointing numbers in America. So have audiences simply fallen out of love with Johnny Depp or was it that the Lone Ranger, unlike other recent rebooted franchises, simply has no place in the heart of a modern audience?

The Lone Ranger, in the current cinematic tradition of origin stories, sets out to provide an insight into the histories of John Reid (played by Armie Hammer), the Texas lawyer who is about to become better known as the heroic Lone Ranger, and his devoted sidekick, Tonto. This back-story is clumsily placed within a framing narrative that takes place years later in 1933 as a young Lone Ranger fan is touring a museum in San Francisco. He wanders through the various Wild West exhibits before stopping to look at a dummy portraying ‘The Noble Savage in His Natural Habitat’. This dummy comes to life before his very eyes and, after orchestrating a swap to get his hands on the boy’s bag of nuts, reveals himself to be none other than Tonto (Johnny Depp in really terrible old man make-up). The elderly Tonto goes on to explain how he came to meet the Lone Ranger and, in doing so, reveal the story of the man behind the mask. This narrative, whilst not terrible, is probably fairly unnecessary. It adds little to film aside from the reference to 1933 and the year the radio series was first broadcast. If anything it just raises more questions. I mean what is Tonto doing there anyway? Am I meant to believe that a museum in San Francisco would hire the ex-sidekick of a legendary defender of justice to simply stand still for hours? Or is the director suggesting that they actually have possession of a magic Tonto mannequin? In reality the framing narrative is a way of giving Tonto more of a pivotal role and ensuring that the proceeding 36 hours of film (oh sorry was it actually only 149 minutes?) is as much (if not more) about the second fiddle as it is about the masked horseman himself.
As unnecessary as it may be, I don’t wish to suggest that this framing device is to blame for the painfully long running time. Really it adds as little to the length of the film as it does to anything else. No, the main problem is the same thing that was to blame for the messy production: self indulgence. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a big budget blockbuster that has such an inflated sense of self importance before. Verbinski can discuss as many of his cinematic influences as he wishes but, the fact is, this film takes far too long to get to where it’s going. It is always nice in an action packed blockbuster to have quieter moments to regroup and calm everything down but Verbinski is so keen to give his audiences time to breath that you could easily believe he’s found a way to make every second last for at least 2 minutes.
Then again this sedate storytelling would be less of a chore to sit through if we were dealing with a leading pair that had any kind of on screen chemistry. At times it feels as though Hammer and Depp were making two different films and, in an effort to create a final product, the two were simply stuck together during post-production. On the one hand, you have Hammer getting very little to do except talk about how much he loves the law, wear a mask, ride a horse, and do stupid things so Tonto can admonish him all the time. For a film that steals his name for its title, the Lone Ranger is quite clearly an after thought. Even the vaguely interesting moments, like his brother’s death and his love for his sister-in-law, are not given as much focus as they deserve. I’ve seen a fair amount of criticism for Hammer but I think he does the best he can with the material he was given. No longer the brilliant hero but instead something functional and horribly predictable.
There was never any point in pretending that this film was ever going to be primarily concerned with the man it should have been about. This was Depp’s show and he was the only one that mattered. Perhaps if Verbinski had gone down the Eddie Murphy route Depp could have played every character and the Lone Ranger would have ended up with more to do? To give him his dues, Depp is pretty strong in the role and provides a great deal of the films humour. Although, no matter how many comparisons you make to Tonto and Buster Keaton to distract people it will always be slightly uncomfortable to think that Depp is playing a Native American. He can bring up any number of Native American ancestors to justify it and discuss wanting his performance to bring about some form of justice as much as he wants. The fact remains that watching Johnny Depp parading around doing his best Captain Jack style performance whilst wearing a dead bird on his head and speaking in broken pidgin English doesn’t feel quite right. I understand that Depp has worked (I was initially going to write hard here but thought that statement was a bit too bold) to make Tonto a well-rounded character and give him a back-story of his own, which is a fantastic idea in theory. Making Tonto the driving force and brains behind the double act is a interesting idea but to suggest that Depp’s performance will erase years of misrepresentation is insanity. Coincidentally ‘insanity’ is also the answer to the question ‘how exactly does Depp flesh out the character?’ I can already feel the old wounds healing nicely.
This is a film that, like its co-stars, just doesn’t gel. It’s pretty schizophrenic to be honest. At times it tries to be the typical Disney children’s film full of immature humour and horses appearing in trees (seriously what were they thinking when it came to that fucking horse?). The next moment focuses on a man ripping out and eating the heart of his nemesis. So what is this film? Is it a big budget family film, a dark and gruesome tale of life in the Wild West, a romance or is it a campaign to fight the wrongs done to Native Americans? Well why bother deciding on just one theme when you can cram it all in together. This film changes tone quicker than the guy Katy Perry was singing about in Hot n Coldchanges his mind for fucks sake. It tries to master everything yet barely succeeds in establishing a single idea. Forever fighting against itself and never quite reaching anything it strives to be for fear of pushing it too far away from everything else.
With a shorter running time and a much clearer focus I’m almost certain that this film would have been given a warmer welcome by both critics and audiences alike. For there are some things to actually get excited about here. The rest of the cast come across fairly well during the rare moments when Depp ceases to be the main focus on screen. Helen Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, and William Fichtner are all given a small amount of space to show their considerable talents but they, like the criminally underused Ruth Wilson, deserved to get more material to really get to grips with their characters.
On top of this, the film is as beautiful to watch as you would expect a film that has had so much money thrown at it to be. The backdrop is the most pure and traditional Western setting and becomes a key character in its own right. It’s amazing and the design is just exquisite. Added to that are some rather exciting action sequences including not one but two train showdowns. If you ignore some of the more questionable computer generated moments (for example the rooftop ride of the masked avenger on horseback which stood out as some of the worst CGI around at the moment) the final chase, set to Hans Zimmer’s reworking of The William Tell Overture, is pretty darn good. If Verbinski had focused on more moments like this instead of padding out the story with excess detail and history this film would have been the ideal Summer blockbuster.

So all in all not quite the horrible mess that I was hoping for but there is no doubt that this film is really far from perfection. An overly long, confused and egotisticalfilm whose impressive backdrop and allusions to the past are not enough to push a mediocre narrative out of the shadows. If a film’s basic function is to entertain then The Lone Ranger, despite a selection of impressive set pieces and performances, doesn’t always manage to deliver let alone surpass this primary aim. Whilst I’m still unconvinced that The Lone Rangerneeded to be made, this film has suggested that in the hands of better film-makers the source material could have been crafted into a Western feast for all the family to enjoy.

Dark Shadows (2012)

Chloe Grace Moretz, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, reboot, review, television, Tim Burton, witch

“Hey, have you heard? Tim Burton and Johnny Depp did another film together.”

“Not again.  This bromance is getting out of control. If they like each other so much why don’t they finally just get it on and leave us all in peace.”
“I think he’s already married to that actress who always turns up in his movies.”
“Of course he bloody is. Who can even remember how many films the two of them have made together anymore?!”
Of course, dear reader, we all know that the number of Depp/Burton collaborations to date is, in fact, eight (the number he made starring his wife is a slightly less obsessive 6). The latest being Burton’s big screen version of the cult gothic soap opera of the 60s and 70s, Dark Shadows. I was incredibly excited to see this film (even if it did take me about 7 months to actually get round to it). Not because of the connection with the show (as a child of the 80s/90s I only became aware of it thanks to this film) but because I unashamedly adore Tim Burton. Yes that’s right, dear friends, I am Murdocal and I’m a Burton-holic. I’ve started to discover a growing number of people who are quick to criticise his gothic genius and I simply don’t understand it. I realise that some of his films have missed the mark of late but, like Woody Allen, I remain loyal and naively go into every new Burton film believing it will be his best. So, like a child heading to bed on Christmas Eve, I sat down to watch full of an innocent hope that a distinctively dressed man would deliver the present I’d been dreaming of.

And there was so much potential. The trailer suggested this would be a dark, vampire-based comedy with an amazing cast and fantastic Burton-esque visuals. He cites the television series as one his first major inspirations and the film is full of opportunities for Burton to work his magic and pay homage. Opening in 18th Century Maine where Barnabas Collins, the only son of a family of fishing tycoons, spurns the affection of Angelique (Eva Green) who, unfortunately, turns out to be not only pissed off but also a witch. Needless to say she vows revenge on Barnabas and sets about ruining his life. Once his parents are out of the way she brings about the demise of the true object of his affection, Josette (Bella Heathcote). As a final insult to injury she prevents Barnabas from following his love to the afterlife by turning him into a vampire and burying him in a crate for 200 years. As opening sequences go, this sets the audience up for a great ride. The gothic styling is perfect and the performances by Depp and Green are exaggerated but on target with the necessary sensibility.

The mood changes once a strange twist of fate releases Barnabas from his grave and into the bright and confusing world of the 1970s. Much of the humour depends on the oft seen ‘fish out of water’ trope as Barnabas gets used to his modern setting. For his part, Depp plays the vampire at odds with himself remarkably well. And who would expect anything else? If there’s one person who knows exactly how to bring the Burton it’s Depp. That he happens to be a fan of the original series also helps. His own Barnabas is a charming and often amusing creature who finds himself dealing with a world he could never have dreamed of.
As a central character you couldn’t really ask for better but it is still not enough to bring together the many plot strands that demand our attention. Unfortunately, it’s a simple case of too many plots spoil the broth: Barnabas’ mission to revitalise the family business; his romance with the new governess (significantly also played by Heathcote); bringing together his crumbling family; and his connection with their live-in psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter). All of these stories are given some time to introduce themselves before being dropped into cinematic oblivion. The mysterious governess who is set up to be a character of major significance is absent for much of the plot and is never given the chance to explore the part she has to play in the grand scheme of things.
The remains of the Collins family are portrayed by an array of big names but, again, they are never given the chance to show off their collected talent. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the head of the family but, for the most part, you can’t help but feel that she is just going through the motion.  As are Johnny Lee Miller, in his role as her sleazy brother, and Helena Bonham Carter, playing the quirky Dr Hoffman, who both float through their roles in a truly forgettable manner.
 There is a slight ray of sunshine thanks to the Collins family’s very own wild-child daughter, played by one of the few teenagers I don’t automatically detest and fear, Chloë Grace Moretz. (Before I go on, I have to admit that I both love Moretz and am utterly jealous of her. At 9 years my junior, she is already better presented, more grown-up and has a greater understanding of how clothes work than I ever will. Bloody youths.) She very much embraces her 70s teenager with her dreamy/stoned demeanour being broken up by moments of rage and brattiness. She is funny in a dark, sarcastic and slightly emo way and is my favourite character in the whole film. Although once again, Seth Grahame-Smith’s script doesn’t give her, or the equally compelling Gulliver McGrath, the chance to get to grips with the character. They are awkwardly shoehorned into the action when it is necessary and then forgotten about when it all becomes a bit of a hassle.  
What is worse than this hodgepodge of storylines, horribly edited down and squashed together to fit into a more audience friendly 113 minute running time, is the almost schizophrenic tone of the whole thing. The opening sequence is reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow in its gothic and, at times, gruesome brilliance but this is brushed aside to bring in a light-hearted comedic melodrama about a vampire from the 1700s failing to understand television and lava lamps (lol). Then we suddenly go back to a much more serious, dark film about killer vampires and murderous witches. It is a film that doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be and the writer/director combo never quite tie together the comedy, horror, family drama and Gothic romance into a complete picture. This being the main problem with trying to edit down an entire television series into one 2 hour film: having to get across all of the information you need to and creating a complete and exciting story. It is never quite achieved but there are certain moments of brilliance within each of the separate factions.
A brilliance that is mirrored in the films visuals. The thing you can rely on with Tim Burton is to make a visually beautiful film. The sets are fantastically put together and the styling is mesmerising. The fantastic Collins manor has been lovingly created with great attention to detail and is worthy of all the praise that Barnabas includes in his return speech. The vampire himself is a triumph of costume and make-up. With Depp channelling his best Nosferatu complete with pale white face and nails with the handy ability to dig grooves in a wooden floor, Barnabas is in keeping with the traditional Burton style of quirky and partly creepy outsider. Also witnessed in the terrifying Angelique who is decently played by Eva Green, despite her ridiculous accent (unless I’m mistaken and that is actually a great example of an American accent). Green clearly had a great time whilst playing the witch scorned and provides a slight breath of fresh air in the midst of a group of actors who don’t really seem to realise they are in the middle of filming.
So this may not be the film that I had hoped for when I saw the trailer all those months ago but, you know what, it wasn’t bad. (To quote Peter Bradshaw, as I so often do nowadays, it was “whelming.”)  In no way does it come close to Burton at his best but, if you look hard enough, you can certainly find a great deal more in his repertoire that is inferior. There is a lot to like in this film but you can’t help but get the impression that, initially, there was a lot more. Are we viewing the director’s labour of love that simply got out of hand and suffered in order to see a release? I can understand completely. In my second year of university I wrote an essay that ended up being double the word limit. In a mad attempt to cut it down I’m pretty sure my sentences stopped making grammatical sense. So it’s ok Tim. I’ve been there… and do you know what? I still have faith. 

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Andrew Garfield, comic book, Emma Stone, Marvel, origin story, reboot, review, Spider-Man

2012 was, without a doubt, the year of the comic book movie. Back in April Avengers Assemble brought together some of Marvel’s biggest names in a fantastic (though not without its flaws) group effort that paves the way for a potentially epic franchise. It was the year that Christopher Nolan fanboys had been waiting for with the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the disappointing end to his Dark Knight trilogy. In between these two highly anticipated releases came the reboot of Spider-Man. After three increasingly terrible Toby Maguire fronted films it was down to Marc Webb (who I assume was approached mainly based on the suitability of his name) to try and breathe new life into the well-known origin story of everyone’s favourite web-slinging geek. Considering it had only been five years since Spider-Man 3 brought an end to the Maguire/Sam Raimi relationship, the question on many people’s lips was “is this really necessary?” From the initial announcement of the reboot back in 2010 the internet came together to denounce the film with the expected mix of hyperbole, hysteria and CAPS LOCK. It’s safe to say, there was an awful lot at stake here.

The end result? Marc Webb’s follow-up film to his hugely successful (500) Days of Summer is in no way close to the painful travesty that the internet feared but neither does it seem like a totally fresh reboot to a dwindling franchise. Thankfully, in my opinion at least, it stays away from the exceedingly dark and complex style of Nolan’s Batman Begins. We are instead faced with scenes very familiar to anyone who watched Raimi’s film but with another of Peter Parker’s leading ladies and a different green villain. The film is neither a stand-out nor an utter abomination. The plot doesn’t quite hold up and the action sequences are not the slickest we’ve ever been treated to but, it is important to remember, Webb’s focus for his opening is the characters themselves. The only reason this film doesn’t fall apart under the weight of its own insignificance is the incredibly strong performances on display, especially from the likeable leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.


Since the release of Spider-Man in 2002 the role of geeks in popular culture has changed somewhat. It is computer programmers that run the world and the science nerds of The Big Bang Theory who get all the women. Garfield’s Parker is an updated and slightly cooler young man than Toby Maguire’s version of our hero. He understands science, has epic skateboard skillz and has enough of a badass attitude to skate through the halls of his High School after being told not to. Oooh. The Peter Parker for the 2010s is basically a mix of The Big Bang Theory’s Leonard and Seth Cohen from The OCbut with Andrew Garfield’s charm and great hair. Don’t let the hair fool you though, Peter is still as much of an outsider as he ever was. Although, not enough of an outsider that the stunning Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) never notices him. It doesn’t completely add up to the person we are used to seeing. He isn’t the socially awkward, science-loving loner. He is confident enough to step in to help another kid being bullied at the hands of Flash and openly flirt with Gwen. As much as it may pain me to type it, I have to admit that Toby Maguire was actually a more convincing portrayal of this character. Although it is still not that simple because I find that Garfield is a more likeable character. He is cheeky, sarcastic and just enough of a dick. No matter how awful and bratty our hero got during the course of this film I found that I liked him. The only reason for this I can see is Garfield’s talented performance.

Garfield is helped along the way thanks to a superb supporting cast and his new leading lady. Stone’s Gwen Stacey is a great improvement on Kirsten Dunst’s bland Mary-Jane. She is feisty and intelligent and, like all good crime-fighting widows, doesn’t hesitate to get stuck in when it comes to stopping evil. There is no doubt that the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is outstanding. The two leads tiptoe into their romance brilliantly and, despite a few moments where it looks like Garfield has descended into Hugh Grant-esque bumbling, it is lovely to watch them nervously pursue each other. My only concern stems from the fact that both Stone and Garfield are pushing the limits of the acceptable age limit for actors to be able to play teenagers. Perhaps it would have been better if this film had not been a reboot but simply a new direction? 

After all, there really is no getting away from the fact that this film is an origin story. There is very little room to manoeuvre with the story of how Parker becomes super: geeky guy, spider, bite, bingo. Therefore, this all seems a little bit too familiar and tired. That isn’t to say that Webb doesn’t pull it off well. There are some enjoyable scenes where we see Spidey getting to grips with his powers through several moments of slapstick comedy. We also have a fairly satisfying, if slightly aggressive, Revenge of the Nerdsstyle humiliation of bully Flash. Parker isn’t infallible and makes mistakes. It’s refreshing to have a superhero origin story that takes a more comic and laid-back approach and doesn’t give our new hero some kind of autopilot when it comes to crime fighting. Although this would have meant we could avoid the ridiculous rehash of Uncle Ben’s “with great power” speech. Is it just me that can hear the writers madly searching for a synonym for ‘responsibility’?  

In a decidedly Nolan-esque turn, family skeletons are brought out of the closet thanks to the brief inclusion of Peter’s parents; most importantly his father, acclaimed scientist Richard Parker. Young Petey is packed up in the middle of the night and left with his aunt and uncle (played by the wonderful but criminally underused Sally Fields and Martin Sheen). It is the discovery of his father’s briefcase and hidden research notes years later that leads him to the laboratory of Dr Curt Connors, Richard’s one-armed ex-research partner. Here he is exposed to a whole new world of scientific experimentation and that life-changing bite. After a few teenage strops and door slamming, Peter is faced with the death of his beloved Uncle Ben and the guilt of deciding not to act to prevent it. The loss is the push needed to start his second-life and attempt to track down all criminals with a similar description to his uncle’s killer. I know there are people who criticised this plot strand but I enjoyed it. It would have been nice if it hadn’t been dropped half-way through the film and just forgotten about. In an ideal world Spidey would have continued to track down his nemesis only to discover that his future lay in heroics rather than revenge.

Of course, the more exciting route is, in a weird nod to Frankenstein, to give Peter the information that inadvertently gives life to his first supervillain, the Lizard, and feel compelled to destroy his monstrous creation. Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors is a man who dreams of gaining the reptilian ability to regrow his lost limb. His obsession drives his research and his untested serum brings forth a horrific mutant who quickly becomes distracted by his sudden, desperate need to bring forth a new superhuman race. Ifans is a wonderful actor but the character of Dr Connors doesn’t give him enough room to bring his own personality to the table. Any depth that there could have been in the character is removed given his straight change from desperate scientist to a giant lizard out to cause some havoc. The whole plot is rushed and the character remains pretty 2-dimensional. He is used, along with Parker’s parents, to allow the writers to start to create an air of mystery and darkness around the Oscorp Corporation and the unseen Norman Osborn. Like so many bland origin stories, The Amazing Spider-Man was created to open the way for the franchise’s future.

This film had a great amount of potential with a top quality cast and an incredibly likeable leading man. However, it was simply going over much travelled ground and lazily preparing for future films. It is by no means the terrible film that most of the internet community would have you believe but nor is it the great film it deserved to be. It is a stepping stone for the future but was rushed and unconsidered.  The plot is sloppy and there are several glaring holes in the plot. The characters are not given the introduction that they deserve or are utterly wasted. I, for one, would have liked to see a more fleshed out Captain Stacy and a much more satisfactory death (if that was even necessary in the opening film). It was an unavoidable fact that the internet was never going to approve of this film no matter what the final piece looked like but don’t believe the naysayers completely. This film is good. It is by no means amazing but still a very enjoyable ride. My overall message to Marc Webb then: (in the words of Gwen Stacy herself) “I thought it was great what you did out there. Stupid, but great.”

X-Men: First Class (2011)

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It is undeniable that comic book movies have come a long way since their early days. Tim Burton’s Batman(1989) gave us a dark tale starring the Dark Knight that was stylistically very similar to the original comics. His two Batman movies introduced us to a gothic world and gave us just enough danger, humour and excitement to make it ok to be a bit of a geek. Bryan Singer’s original X-Men (2000) showed us that superhero movies could be all round good films and Spider-Man (2002) made them smash hits with cinemagoers. Lastly, with Batman Begins and more recently The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan gave us an intelligent, grown-up and very dark look into the world of costumed crusaders. Comic book movies were no longer just for fans of the original source material. They became hits with movie fans as a whole. Gone are the days of the simplistic and silly Batman of the 1960s, audiences want something clever, exciting and just a little bit terrifying.

Talking of the 60s, X-Men First Class takes us back to this most swinging of eras and puts us in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Called upon by the FBI, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) must bring together a group of young mutants to help stop former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw, (a familiarly terrible Kevin Bacon) from bringing about World War Three. Whilst I liked the idea of giving the mutants a non-superhero threat, I think this was the wrong film to introduce us to the idea. There was far too much going on and, in the long run, many plot lines feel rushed and never quite reach their mark.
This film needed a simpler plot in order to ensure the mutants themselves were the major focus. Instead, we have to contend with new faces; the tension between America and Russia; Nazi Germany and the subsequent revenge plot; problems in the CIA; Kevin Bacon’s gang; and an unnecessary and frustrating romance between Charles and Rose Byrne’s CIA agent. This romantic plot only goes to suggest that it is impossible to make a film that doesn’t rely on love to keep the audience engrossed. Well bollocks. I can see no real benefit for it; well, aside from the infamous line “Gentlemen, this is why the CIA is no place for a woman.” A statement which, during both of my in-cinema viewings, caused the people around me to gasp in disgust (to be honest, as soon as Moira mentioned being part of the CIA I was sceptical about the historical accuracy of this plot point).
However, the scenes where Charles trains his new recruits were enjoyable to watch. James McAvoy is a great talent and is able to bring us a fresh perspective to a role that will always truly belong to Patrick Stewart. On top of this, it gives us the unintentionally hilarious moment of bromance between McAvoy and Fassbender when the two shed a manly tear over Magneto’s long forgotten memory. It’s a beautiful moment I’m sure you’ll agree. Although, for the most part, the chemistry between these two great actors is awesome. The films finest moments are the ones where these two are free to explore their characters and the relationship they once shared. Unfortunately, these key moments are over much too quickly and each new mutant is given an unjustly small amount of time to find their inner strength.
Magneto is the only character to get an considerable back-story and, because of this, it is his storyline that leads to one of the most interesting aspects of the film. After seeing snippets of his childhood, we return to his life story once the young Erik has grown up into Michael Fassbender and he’s really, really pissed off. What follows is a revenge plot that sees Erik get all Quantum of Solace on us and torture and kill everyone who gets in his way. Yes, he’s like an angry James Bond with the ability to manipulate metal running through Russia to seek vengeance. Why the fuck wasn’t that the entire film?
Obviously there was a great pressure to release this for a certain point and the film ends up feeling as though it is lacking cohesion. The film relies heavily on special effects but, whilst they were much better than those on show in The Green Lantern (released around the same time), it is nowhere near as impressive as it could have been. I mean what the fuck happened with Beast? We live in an age of great possibilities when it comes to computer graphics so I have to ask who decided to make Beast look like a cheap university student’s fancy-dress outfit?
Most frustrating of all is Fassbender’s accent throughout the entire film. If someone decided to start a drinking game where you have to take a shot every time he slips into his Irish brogue it would have descended into utter mayhem halfway through the 2 hour running time. I have to question the decision to forgo ADR just to ensure the film was released that little bit quicker. The whole film ends up looking quite amateurish and messy, which is an utter shame.
Although, I have to admit that the script is, for the most part, well-written and entertaining. Vaughan brings a fresh feeling to this seemingly washed-out franchise. His film is action packed, fun and thoughtful: he manages to breath new life into familiar characters and helps the lesser known cast members to flourish. Especially the rising star Jennifer Lawrence who makes a decent job of trying to recreate the character of Mystique. She even managed to bring conviction to the disappointingly flat underlying message about remaining true to yourself. (‘Mutant and Proud’ never quite seems to get off it’s feet and the film seems a little self-conscious about what it is trying to teach its audience.)

As we saw from Kick Ass, Vaughan knows how to put together a good fight sequence and the large action sequences are pretty spectacular. Unlike Singer’s films, Vaughan has created an X-Men film that is not afraid to show itself to be a comic book movie. It may have been far from perfect but we are so much closer to the level that Bryan Singer introduced us to back in 2000. There is certainly enough on show here to keep both fans of the comics and newer audiences alike satisfied. Thankfully, it leaves us with the impression that a sequel, if given the deserved amount of time and care, will be a wonderful addition to this newly awoken franchise.