Tag: spider-man

Spider-Man: Far from Home


Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

If there was a “Spider-Man” picture that befits an overwhelming amount of special and visual effects, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is it considering the fact that the main antagonist, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), specializes in creating the most convincing illusions. But those searching for a compelling and mature narrative should look elsewhere, especially since this chapter is right on the heels of a certain character’s death who was particularly close to Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Instead, the material focuses on a more convenient route: Peter’s numerous struggles during a science trip across Europe to find the courage to tell MJ (Zendaya) he is interested in her romantically. An argument can be made that this installment, directed by Jon Watts, is a romantic comedy down to its marrow. Missed opportunities abound.

The school trip is forced and unfunny, interminable, a chore to sit through because the actors themselves look bored with what they’ve been handed. While Holland’s boyish charm is consistently on an eleven, matched by Zendaya’s effortless allure as the sarcastic romantic interest, even he is unable to save a tired screenplay from feeling fresh. There are two or three instances when Peter, finally, acknowledges the untimely death of the man he looked up to on several levels and these are the shining moments of the film because the emotions are raw, immediate. It feels right that the mourning must be purged somehow. On top of this, it shows that Holland is a dramatic performer first and foremost—that once he retires the Spider-Man suit, he can have a career with longevity. The writing is not equal to its lead’s obvious potential.

It is a shame, too, because the villain is still interesting this time around. In “Homecoming,” the audience is made to understand and empathize with the man behind the Vulture persona. Here, Mysterio has an excellent point when he claims that a person can be the smartest man or woman in the room but without flair or theatrics he or she is likely to be ignored. Qualifications and experience don’t matter next to someone else who is simply loud or obnoxious. If that isn’t a critique of our society in this day and age, I don’t know what is. This is a fascinating character because he desires what most people desire: to be seen, to be recognized, to be regarded as important. Gyllenhaal knows that he must ground a character whose actions may across as narcissistic and megalomaniacal.

The action sequences bored me. There is not a single one that pushed me to lean a little closer to the screen. Particularly uninspired is final showdown in London. Spider-Man finds himself attempting to destroy countless drones before any one of them gets a chance to shoot him. It is extremely frustrating to sit through because one gets the feeling that the screenwriters, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, have forgotten to show the viewers why the protagonist having to sift through hordes of small robots is actually interesting. There is fifteen to twenty minutes worth of acrobatics and every second feels empty. It is obvious, too, which shots are CGI. One isn’t required to try to be able to recognize them; maybe it’s because the filmmakers didn’t try either. I felt no weight or real danger during the action scenes. I looked at my watch twice.

Although not without its charms, it is clear “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is an inferior sequel. Just because Peter Parker is still a teenager does not mean that his story should remain light and silly. It can still offer funny moments of awkward teenagers simply trying to find themselves. And it should; it is highly appropriate in this version of Spider-Man. But the more daring and wiser choice would have been to tackle head-on the sadness our hero feels for losing a father-figure, a colleague, a mentor with whom he deeply respected. Learning to deal with loved ones who passed is a part of growing up, too.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Here is a superhero animated picture in which the action sequences are less interesting than the world and characters it creates. In the middle of it, I was so dazzled by both its visual and writing creativity that it made me wish more animated films, especially those targeted toward young children, worked hard to deliver high quality entertainment, not just another poop or fart joke, another tired pop culture reference or in-jokes. Those involved in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” could have relied on name recognition to rake in profit, and so it is all the more impressive that they actually offer the audience a special experience.

Right from its opening moments, the film is filled with personality, from the music playing in the background, the many colors and cultures of people going about their daily activities, to the attractive and thrilling style of animation employed that tells a story of several Spider-Man (-Men? -People?) and multiverses. Blink or tune out for a second or two and risk missing a reference to previous Spider-Man iterations. Its crackling energy is breathless. We feel the need to catch up to it.

The plot is told through the eyes of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a teenager from Brooklyn, New York who is about to start a new chapter in a private school he is not excited to attend. (He passed a test to gain entrance.) But he trudges on anyway because his parents (Luna Lauren Velez, Brian Tyree Henry) expect him to take the opportunity and make something of himself. A great admirer of Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), protector of New York City, it is to Miles’ great surprise that their paths cross one night which involves the masked hero attempting to prevent a team super villains from opening up portals to other dimensions. Needless to say, the endeavor leads in failure—with both tragic and hilarious results.

Credit to screenwriters Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman for making the correct choice to write Miles as an active character. It would have been easier—and boring—to paint him as a passive, wide-eyed observer who just so happens to stumble upon wonderful discoveries and adventure. Although the central protagonist faces a group of Spider-Man eventually, his lack of experience and youth are told from the perspective of potential rather than a hindrance. When he fails, we can laugh at his lack of physical prowess and knowledge of being a superhero, but there is not one moment when we feel annoyed by him or think that he is a waste of space, especially when standing next to his more impressive counterparts.

The results of dimensions colliding is interesting, but I felt it could have been played with further. For instance, there is Spider-Man Noir and he comes from a universe of black-and-white, constant rain, mobsters, and subterfuge. It might have been funnier if elements of this world had been fused into Miles’ Brooklyn neighborhood. The melding of vastly different style of animation could have been spellbinding. Another version of Spider-Man came from the future. I wished the people in Miles’ universe had had a chance to interact with and react to the bizarre happenings of late.

Despite all the noise, incredible technologies, and rambunctious confrontations, the heart of the story is tethered to the teenager who wishes to find purpose. The adventure is a metaphor for the trials and tribulations many young people go through before they come to realize that what they have to offer, big or small, is good enough. A life-affirming film, it offers a message to its target audience: It is good to be alive and make a difference.

Spider-Man: Homecoming


Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

The decision not to tell yet another origins story benefits Jon Watts’ “Spider-Man: Homecoming” immensely because it takes away significant portions of what we expect from a typical arc involving Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider and having to discover his powers. Instead, the plot revolves around a tyro superhero so willing to be a part of The Avengers that he forgets he is still a kid just making his way through high school. Thus, an intriguing portrait of Spider-Man is created, one that is grounded in reality yet without sacrificing the required highly energetic and entertaining action pieces.

Two performers are cast perfectly in their respective roles. The first is Michael Keaton, playing a man named Adrian Toomes, owner of a salvage company who chooses to create weapons out of alien technology. Because Toomes is in fact the antagonist to our friendly neighborhood superhero, it is easy and convenient to label him as a villain. I believe he is more than that. I think Toomes represents the Average Joe, a businessman who is willing to do what it takes to provide for his family. So, to me, he is not a villain. And that is what makes the character fascinating. Keaton plays Toomes smart and with such humanity that when one looks into those eyes, one realizes he can be anybody’s uncle simply leading a business operation.

The second is Tom Holland, portraying a fifteen-year-old boy from Queens, New York who just so happens to be Spider-Man. I enjoyed and admired Holland’s decision to play the character as Peter Parker first and Spider-Man second—even though the plot revolves around an obsession to prove to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that he should be a part of the Avengers. Casting a performer who excels most in dramatic roles is the correct decision because pulling off both comedy and drama, sometimes simultaneously, can be very tricky. Notice how he sells the more serious scenes during the latter half, particularly one that unfolds in a tension-filled car on the way to the Homecoming dance. Holland fits the role like a glove. It will be difficult to imagine someone else in this role for years to come.

It offers memorable action scenes, whether it be atop great metropolitan heights in broad daylight or a night chase around the suburban New York neighborhood. These sequences not only command energy but also range. In action pictures, it is so important for each confrontation to look and feel different from one another. It prevents us from feeling bored. Superior actions films tend to have a commonality: the audience feeling the need to catch up to it rather than it struggling to catch up to our expectations. Clearly, this film falls in the former group with occasional surprises to spare.

Its weakness comes in the form of writing when it comes to Peter’s peers, with the exception of Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter’s best friend and partner in crime. The romantic angle between Peter and Liz (Laura Harrier) is not as effective as it should have been since there is rarely opportunity for us to get to know Peter’s crush. In fact, I found Liz to be quite nondescript. Although it is obvious that Michelle (Zendaya) really likes Peter, even though she is pretty much invisible to him, aside from a few sarcastic one-liners, the screenplay fails to create at least a marginally well-rounded character, especially when it hints that Michelle will have a bigger role in the sequel.

Regardless, there is plenty to be enjoyed in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” It is paced well, the central characters are worth exploring, the action sequences are impressive with the ability to surprise, and it knows how to have fun with (and make fun of) our protagonist with or without the Spidey suit. Imagine if it had taken more time and effort to iron out details regarding how different teenagers can be complex, difficult, and fascinating. I’d wager this installment could have been among the best in the series.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

If I could put a finger on the pulse of what is essentially wrong with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” directed by Marc Webb, it would be the bloated, lacking in priority, and distractingly syrupy-cute screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner. The experience of watching the picture is like swimming through cotton candy: delicious visually and initially full of verve but as it attempts to come off compelling or moving, a lack of real substance is revealed on our taste buds.

The first mistake is the execution of the relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). While it is critical that the material explores the struggle between the two young lovers trying to stay together, it does not mean that Peter’s relationship with everyone else should be left on the sidelines to rot. Notice the lack of impact of the most important scene between Peter and Aunt May (Sally Field). It is a turning point in the film because the conversation reveals a certain perception about Peter’s father. However, it does not work because there is a lack of a convincing build-up of elements that will eventually push Aunt May to reveal what she has been keeping a secret for most of her beloved nephew’s life.

A similar problem lies in the friendship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). If one is feeling generous, one can claim that there are only two scenes that hint at the depth of Peter and Harry’s relationship. The dialogue mentions that the two have been good friends since they were kids but the screenplay does not do an adequate job in convincing us of the connection. One or two scenes that shows the lighter side of their friendship is not a big enough canvass for us to appreciate the eventual betrayal and the ultimate ruination of what they share. It does not help that their rivalry takes center stage in the latter half—when it is too late and most underwhelming. Still, I liked the overall chemistry between Garfield and DeHaan.

The action sequences are executed and edited with a lot of energy but I was left unimpressed most of the time. I enjoyed watching Spider-Man soaring through the sky with the aid of his powerful web (and releasing joyous hollering) but when colorful beams of electricity begin to take over most of the shot, the frames turn to an eyesore, like looking at a very busy cartoon aimed toward really young children. This made me wonder if choosing Electro (Jamie Foxx), referred to Max Dillon prior to his tragic transformation, as the central villain was a good idea.

First, the electrical engineer’s admiration-obsession over Spider-Man is not milked for all its worth. I caught my mind referring back to Jim Carrey’s portrayal of The Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever.” By comparison, the latter performer has done a much better job in conveying a creepy mad obsession. Second, Electro’s story—the man who often feels ignored, under appreciated, and powerless—is not written in such a way that underlines his humanity in a genuine way. There is a reliance on showing quirks and behavior but not enough psychology. As a result, the villain is not really all that interesting. He glows but there is not much going on inside.

More discerning viewers will recognize that the heart of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a young man’s quest to get to the root of his father’s secret. It is most unfortunate that the writers were not aware of this. If they were, they would have given our protagonist more substantial things to do—more specifically, a lot less mawkish scenes with his high school sweetheart and more investigation of what Oscorp Industries is really capable of and how far those in charge are willing to go with their scientists’ experiments and discoveries to remain a billion-dollar company.

The Amazing Spider-Man


The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Raised by Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) like their biological son, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has had no closure when his parents never came back for him since the night their house had been broken into. While inspecting a leak in the basement, Peter finds his father’s briefcase which contains scientific research and a picture of Peter’s father with Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), the leading scientist of cross-species genetics in Oscorp. Hoping to learn more about his parents’ whereabouts, Peter sneaks into the building and ends up in a room full of mutated spiders.

“The Amazing Spider-Man,” based on the screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, is a mostly rousing entertainment with its roots firmly attached to its heart, but it is at times hindered by computer graphics so sleek, so willing to awe us with its technical wizardry, that it ends up looking too much like a cartoon. The picture excels in showing us Peter as a boy up until he learns to adapt to his new spider-like abilities. Especially with the latter, the emotional heft of the material is neither too light nor melodramatic; there is an overall joyous feeling in his discovery that maybe being different isn’t so bad.

The pacing is quick and to the point, almost deceptively too simple, but it remains highly watchable due to the fiendish charm of Garfield as the conflicted young adult underneath the Spider-Man costume. Garfield seems to fit the role because he is believable as someone who is bullied by a jock (Chris Zylka) as well as a person who oozes an aura of intelligence, keeps to himself most of the time, a sort of outcast with excellent taste, his wall sporting geek-chic to retro-cool.

With the addition of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter’s eventual romantic interest, it is interesting and surprising that the picture manages to balance Peter’s lives as a teenager, as a son on a quest to find justice and closure, and as Spider-Man who feels responsible for protecting his community, from petty criminals to diabolical villains like The Lizard who wishes to turn New Yorkers into reptiles.

After the villain is introduced, however, it is the point when the visual effects becomes the star which is not always appropriate. When the camera focuses on The Lizard, the visuals are effective—a mix of wonder and horror at the sheer size and ugliness of the thing. The computer graphics forces us to appreciate the creature, from its greenish slimy skin to its firm muscles that could easily crush a car, that our superhero will inevitably face.

However, when Spider-Man and The Lizard engage in close combat, while still visually arresting due to the amount of destruction created around them, I began to wonder what percentage of the images on screen is created using a computer. I almost had to snap out of that thought and remind myself that Spider-Man is in danger. In other words, the action isn’t quite an enveloping experience on a visceral level. We only get to fully appreciate that the man behind the mask is human when blood and bruises are shown after a fight. It shouldn’t be this way.

“The Amazing Spider-Man,” directed by Marc Webb, is not without unique touches such as leaving us off-guard with its early revelations of secret identities. However, the screenplay could have been much leaner by excising a handful of scenes in the middle portion that disrupt much of its flow thereby making room for its themes to feel more vibrant and fulfilling.

Drag Me to Hell


Drag Me to Hell (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Originally, I was going to give this film a three-star rating but the more I think about it, the more I found myself liking/loving it. Every time I think of certain scenes (and there are definitely memorable scenes abound), I can’t help but have this smile on my face. Directed by Sam Raimi (“Spider-man” and “Evil Dead” series), “Drag Me to Hell” has more than enough energy to balance comedy with pure terror; it’s not afraid to look unrealistic and corny at times which I really admired. This film’s story thrives on simplicity: Alison Lohman (“Delirious,” “Matchstick Men,” “White Oleander”) wants to prove herself to her wealthy boyfriend’s (Justin Long) mother that she’s more than just a simple farm girl with a thick Southern accent (which she desperately hides via self-taught voice lessons). She figures that one of the ways to do so is to get a promotion in a bank where she works by impressing her boss (David Paymer) and beating out her enthusiastic–and sometimes ethically corrupt–co-worker (Reggie Lee). So when a gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) asks Lohman for a third extension for her bank loan, Lohman lies to the old lady and tells her that there’s nothing she can do. The gypsy woman kneels and begs to no avail and she decides to cast a curse on Lohman. And what a rollercoaster a curse it is.

What I love about this film is its ability to take risks. Sometimes the horror scenes may look like they’re cheesy or that they should be from a midnight B-movie but one should realize that it’s all purposeful. Raimi wants to communicate to his fans, especially of the “Evil Dead” series, that he’s still got it after all these years and just because he’s directed big-budget Hollywood movies, it doesn’t mean that he’s above using tried-and-true elements like wind and loud noises to scare his audiences. But “Drag Me to Hell” is not just about showing the movement of the wind and deafening loud noises. There’s a certain craft imbedded in those elements (such as perfect comedic or horrific timing) that separates it from other uninspired and recent American horror pictures. Another thing that I loved about this movie is that it’s disgusting but the disgust doesn’t mainly involve blood or guts. You name it, this film has it: bugs being swallowed and regurgitated, animal sacrifices, possession, psychics, destroying corpses, green saliva, mucus, nosebleeds… Listing those scenes brings back a lot of images in my head; as disgusting as they are, I would definitely pay to see them again. Lastly, the thing I liked about this picture was that it took the time to establish its characters. For me to ultimately care for a lead character, I have to know what is at stake–why they actively choose to overcome certain challenges (of course, other than the prospect of death itself). Because sometimes a character does the things she does not for herself but for other people, which adds complexity to the story. In here, I completely bought that Lohman and Long are happy together even though they come from completely different backgrounds. And that relationship is often challenged by the supernatural that’s unfolding before their eyes.

As for the film’s negatives, I do not have much to say because I enjoyed it that much. However, I would have liked to have seen more of Justin Long. I know he can do horror mixed with comedy really well (such as in “Jeepers Creepers) so I thought he was going to be more than just the boyfriend who offers unconditional positive regard (Yes, that term is purposeful because his character is a Psychology professor). Lastly, I think it needed at least three more genuinely scary scenes with no comedy involved. Most of the scenes are a mix of the two genres so it would have been nicer to have alternatives. I also could’ve used more psychology talk; I loved the heated exchange between Long’s character and the fortuneteller (Dileep Rao) regarding theories from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung about science and religion. As a Psychology student (partly), it was that much more enjoyable because I engaged with it. Regardless, these are minor flaws that I really had to think about so that’s a good sign.

“Drag Me to Hell” is not your typical horror movie. For one, it does not involve stupid, sexually-charged teenagers running around a deserted hallway as they try to escape from a serial killer, or cellphones/videotapes that have ghosts in them. It’s about how one decision that we initially thought others would notice and commend us for turns out to be the decision that ultimately shatters our lives. It’s been a really long time since I’ve enjoyed a first-rate PG-13 horror flick so watching this film was truly refreshing. I can only wish that Raimi would make another horrorfest (maybe take inspiration from those comedy-drama intersecting storylines?) because I could feel his passion through the lens. And yes, just in case you’re wondering, the title is very literal.

Watchmen


Watchmen (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

We all know the fact that people complain whenever a film doesn’t stick closely to its source material. Well, “Watchmen” remains very loyal to its graphic novel–with a few tweaks here and there so the audiences will be able to relate more with the politics it tries to tackle. I never thought I would ever read a review (like the one from Entertainment Weekly) that complains about a picture sticking too closely to its source. It seems like some critics just find a way to complain about something (no matter how ridiculous it sounds) to sound insightful so it’s hard for me to take that specific review seriously.

“Watchmen” may be about two hours and forty minutes long but Zack Snyder (who directed the 2004 version of the cult classic “Dawn of the Dead” and the highly overrated “300”) directs the movie so astutely, it doesn’t feel like it’s that long. I was particularly impressed with the way the film started: it goes over the Minutemen of the 1940’s in about ten minutes during the opening credits and then it takes us to its current setting which tells the audiences how different their successors have become. The death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in the hands of an unknown murderer sets up a series of events that results upon the reunion of five other superheroes: Rorschach (played brilliantly and hilariously by Jackie Earle Haley), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). Unlike most superhero movies, the six of them are atypical in such a way that they are nihilistic, not afraid to hurt or kill, and each of them can be placed in various areas of the moral spectrum. They do not necessarily have a common goal initially but their beliefs and methods of acquiring information are often at odds with each other. A typical villain is not necessary because their own selves are ultimately their worst enemies. Though some can argue that there is a “big bad” in the film, to me, nuclear weapons and politicians’ hunger for power are the driving forces that force the characters to choose the morally gray path.

Each superhero is featured in one way or another so the audiences get an idea on what makes the characters tick (pun intended). In a way, we eventually learn to see them as regular human beings with real problems instead of gods that can jump in at any time and save the world. In fact, I can only remember one or two scenes when the characters decided to do a good dead just because they are superheroes. Although at times, the dialogue may sound a bit cheesy, especially the romantic scenes between Wilson and Akerman, the film provides a great balance between seriousness and humor. I also liked the fact that the sex scenes look realistic (as opposed to other superhero flicks) and the filmmakers weren’t afraid to show certain body parts from both genders. Usually, films like this tend to objectify women’s bodies but I didn’t get that feeling here. In my opinion, this is lightyears better than “300” because of its rich moral ambiguity and ability to genuinely entertain. Those who expect a typical superhero film may be disappointed but those who want to see something different should be impressed. “Watchmen” is a breath of fresh air from the likes of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Spider-man.” Along with “Coraline” and “The International,” this is one of those few movies of early 2009 that is worth watching in the cinema; it also should be remembered as the year progresses.