Saturday, May 17, 2014

My 2014 Summer Movie Ventures #1

Written: May 16th-17th, 2014
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; very passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  For this post I've decided to go in a different direction, try something new.  Like most people I not only play video games but I also watch movies and TV programs from time to time, and many of those times were in the theatres.  I wanted to discuss my thoughts on the movies that I watch this summer and reflect my thoughts on them here, which is actually what I thought of doing last year but because I didn't finish writing my thoughts on all those that I saw in '13 which prevented me from going forward and submit it (in retrospect, I shouldn't have waited until the end of the summer to try to talk about the movies; fourteen movies is a lot during one season).  Well, I've decided that I'm just going to divulge my thoughts on the individual movie, one by one.  As I type this I've only seen one so far (soon to be two), but it's better to start off this way while I still remember it.  The first movie this summer was The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  But before I talk about that movie and how I felt about it, I'll give my brief thoughts on the trailers that played beforehand (in random order):
X-Men: Days of Future Past - With the exception of X-Men Origins: Wolverine I personally enjoyed all the movies that were about the X-Men and Wolverine.  It'll be interesting to see the First Class mutants and the present-day mutants together in this big venture.  Judging from the trailers it looks like it's going to be a big epic, which I hope it will be.  Also, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is always awesome, and I'm really looking forward to that.
Earth to Echo - It's very vague what the overall conflict behind the story is (the entity that's trying to go after the main protagonists), but judging from this trailer it sort of feels like E.T. the Extra Terrestrial meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind only seen through constant found footage.  The alien looks cute with its big eyes, but I think I'll wait until I hear more about it; when it got to the last moment I was like "Really?  Wow."  Who knows, maybe it'll be decent?
22 Jump Street - I've seen and liked all the movies that Team Lord/Miller directed (among them The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the predecessor 21 Jump Street), so I find it very exciting that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are teaming up once more as undercover cops.  The trailer was very funny too, and I hope the movie's really good and fun.
Annie (2014) - The play and all its adaptations is one of those cases of "love it or hate it" among people, but I personally like the story of little red haired orphan Annie, including the 1982 John Huston movie and the made for TV 1999 Disney version; I think it's a charming period piece with timeless musical numbers and good characters and story, but to each their own (also I have a fondness for both versions).  Fascinatingly they're updating the story for contemporary times, which is interesting.  If there is one caveat that I have with this version it's that Jamie Foxx isn't playing "Oliver Warbucks", he's playing "Benjamin Stacks".  I don't think it's a secret why the name rubs me the wrong way, it sounds a little demeaning and wrong to me.  But hey, I think that he might play a good father figure regardless; certainly Foxx will perform better there than he did in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but we'll get to that when we get to that.  Next!
A Million Ways to Die in the West - Gee, that's a mouthful.  I'm not really a Seth MacFarlane kind of guy, but the trailer looked very fun.  Also it's got lots of big names going for it; Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris.  I mean, this looks huge, but it also looks like it could fall on itself too.  I'd still like to watch it out of perverse curiosity, and the trailer was funny; I just hope this isn't another case of what happened with last year's The Lone Ranger by Gore Verbinski where the trailer deceived you into thinking it would be good (only to find out going in that it wasn't).  I did love that Doc Brown cameo in the end (that was hysterical), I hope they keep that in the movie.
Maleficent - This is another one that I'm interested in, if only for the fact that Maleficent is one of the best Disney villains of all time, and to see that a movie is dedicated to her is half-awesome and half-disconcerting.  We all know her fate in Sleeping Beauty (maybe they'll change it somewhat, seeing that they're giving it a darker flavor), and I have a feeling that we may find ourselves sometimes rooting for her and sometimes not.  And with all apologies to Elle Fanning, her Aurora does not look sixteen at all (least she doesn't look it to me).  It looks good, but I hope the story itself will be too; also Sharlto Copley (who played the batshit crazy bounty hunter Kruge from Elysium) is in it, and he's a fun actor to watch.  Still, I'll try to watch this with an open mind.  Also, first time directing gig for the man helming the movie, so we'll see how this goes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) - Hell no, I'm not watching this one, I've already made up my mind on it!  It's not the fact that Michael Bay is involved (though that doesn't really help) or the fact that Megan Fox is in it.  It's not the fact that they're rebooting the Turtles again (seriously, how many reboots does this thirty-year old series need?).  It's not the fact that it looks like it's going to be crap (which it likely will be) that's making me not watch this.  No, it's the turtles themselves that don't make me want to watch this one, and for good reason: they are CGI/motion captured/live action humanized turtles, and it looks absolutely disgusting to me personally (especially on the big screen).  I hope I don't watch this one.
I probably missed one but those were the ones that I could think of at the top of my head.  And now, time for the movie!
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Director: Marc Webb | Rated: PG-13 | Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 | Length: 2h22m
Saw on May 4th
When Marc Webb rebooted New York's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man two summers ago it performed really well with critics but it has polarized countless viewers, in particular those who were very attached to Sam Raimi's trilogy which preceded Webb's movies.  People either loved the first The Amazing Spider-Man or they hated it, and personally I liked it a lot.  Though I can see why people had problems with it, including the fact that many elements in the first act were brought up in Raimi's first Spider-Man movie before (Peter Parker lives with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and receives spider-like prowess, he tests them out, Peter and Uncle Ben argue, Uncle Ben gets shot and killed, Peter becomes Spider-Man, Spider-Man tries to hunt down who killed his uncle, Peter learns that with great power comes great responsibility).  But there were several elements that distanced itself with the Raimi take, and it was a serious and more fun approach as well with a clever wit and script, in my opinion.  To each their own.
And now we start off this year's Summer movie season with the sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and if you thought the direct predecessor polarized viewers then this one is no different.  A part of me was looking forward to the movie, and a part of me felt hesitant too.  But once I went to see it at the end of the day I'm glad I watched it, though I can see why it's gotten a 53% at Rotten Tomatoes (the lowest score a Spider-Man film ever received, and the first that got a Rotten status).  It's got so many good elements but it's got so many issues as well.  It also doesn't help that it's come out exactly one month after the near-excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I can see how comparing the two features may not work in this movie's favor.
Years after the events of the first The Amazing Spider-Man Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), also known as Spider-Man, is battling evildoers protecting the city of New York, having just graduated from college with his love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).  Peter, wanting to be with her, is also keeping himself distant due to a promise he gave to her late father Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) to keep her safe because he loves her, resulting in an on-again/off-again relationship.  Meanwhile Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a socially inept employee at Oscorp, has a freak accident which turns him into Electro.  At the same time Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) has just returned to New York and inherited Oscorp after the passing of his father (Chris Cooper), trying to get ahold of himself due to an illness that is slowly killing him (until *spoiler*, he becomes the Green Goblin).  We find out what happened to Peter's parents and what their secret is; oh, and the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) is in it too.
So judging from that paragraph I just wrote you can see part of the problem with the movie: it's unfocused.  There are numerous cases of exposition which will be thrown at you, and unless you're familiar with the comics or the series (like I am) you're going to be lost and confused.  There's also the fact that there are too many villains, which is the same problem that plagued Spider-Man 3, and it makes me wonder if studio involvement was responsible (oh who am I kidding, of course it was!).  For the most part the movie will center on Electro, with Harry Osborn's Green Goblin and the Rhino sharing little screen time combined.  As unfocused as it is though, at least it's not painfully unfocused like Ridley Scott's Prometheus, thank God!
Andrew Garfield plays a very likable Peter Parker, for he's cool, clever, and engaging and when he dons the Spider-Man outfit he cracks jokes even as he battles criminals which is great.  It's different than Tobey Maguire's take on the role over a decade ago, but that's what makes it interesting and nice!  Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is a great character, and a fan favorite among fans of the series, for she'll help and use her knowledge when it counts.  The chemistry between the two really works, and the scenes when the two are together are some of the best in the movie, even though their relationship is on-and-off at times.  Dane DeHaan plays a very decent Harry Osborn, and I think I like his design more than James Franco's (must be the hairstyle), plus his quips were legitimately good; and Paul Giamatti plays a very enjoyable Rhino in the few minutes that he's onscreen.  Chris Cooper and Denis Leary serve as cameos, while Sally Field's Aunt May is still likable even though her role's been reduced here.  And then there's Jamie Foxx's Max Dillon.  Oh God,... Jamie Foxx.
First of all, he's a very good actor and he'll turn in a good performance every now and then... this isn't one of those times.  When we see him as Max Dillon, long before he becomes Electro, he plays the socially awkward comic relief and it's just silly (and it doesn't fit the tone of the movie).  Even his theme when the movie cuts to him is so ridiculous to take seriously (you'll have to hear it to believe it); in one moment he acts as if he's got a case of schizo talking out loud to nobody (as he engages in his obsessive fantasy; he even has a Walter Mitty moment at one point).  Comparisons of his Max Dillon were made to Richard Pryor's Gus Gorman from Superman III, and yeah, that's not far from the truth.  But here's the thing: Gus Gorman was a more dignified klutz/comic relief than Max Dillon was in this movie.  Give Pryor some credit, he was at least funny a couple times during that movie; Foxx not so much (I'm sorry to say this, but he's much worse here, embarrassing even).  And when he becomes Electro he's adorned in electrified cyan CGI with a fittingly raspy electrifying voice, later on designing his own outfit with lightning bolts on it (give the movie some credit, at least the design is less embarrassing than the original one in the comics), though some of the dialogue feels meh.  Oh well, at least Max Dillon/Electro doesn't have more screen time than Spider-Man does in a Spider-Man movie like Gus Gorman had more screen time than Superman in a Superman movie three decades ago.  Same sadly cannot be said for Dane DeHaan's and Paul Giamatti's villains.
Harry Osborn gets into the movie around thirty-forty minutes in, and he'll begin as a victim who'll try to deviate from his father's role and try to get his normal life back until he gradually loses his sanity and goodness due to the lethal illness that he's got and becoming the Green Goblin... a full fifteen minutes before the movie ends (the design for this version: yikes!  It is crazy!).  The Rhino, who starts off as Aleksei Sytsevich, only appears during one of the beginning portions of the movie and during the end, which is a shame because Paul Giamatti's hamminess to the role made him enjoyable (and the Rhino suit at the end looks awesome).  A lot of the time though we'll be focusing on Jamie Foxx's role, and you'll be yearning for the others as soon as he's on screen.  If they shared equal screen time that would've been great, but as it is it just wasn't meant to be.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks really great and colorful, and the production designs look near flawless.  It's almost like watching a comic book come to life (heh, based on a comic book), and it's very pleasing for the eyes.  The visual effects are very good too, in particular the web slinging, the electricity effects that abound whenever Electro's around, and the slow-mo moments look very cool (I didn't see it in 3D, though I heard that its implementation is not bad).  The red in Spider-Man's suit and the cyan from Electro really pops out at you.  While I admit that I miss James Horner's music from the first Marc Webb-featured Spider-Man flick, I did get a kick out of Hans Zimmer's work for this installment (especially the epic-sounding supercharged Spidey theme with the trumpets blaring) as I thought that his cues fit perfectly for the film... well, most of them (Max Dillon's theme being the exception).  The script is witty and clever, and when the moments were funny they were genuinely funny.
So why was I hesitant to watch it then?  Well, if you're familiar with the comics there is a shocking moment which is very heartbreaking that I honestly was hoping against hope would not happen in this movie.  But, it's inevitable, and despite the shock at first it's a very emotional and well-done scene, and I think this is the closest that I cried during a Spider-Man movie (that scene still haunts me almost two weeks after I've seen it).  A lot of you will already recognize what I'm referring to, but for those that have not seen it I'm trying to sound as vague as possibly can so that I don't end up spoiling it for you.
Okay, so despite the exposition that's tossed at you from time to time, the fact that the narrative is a little disjointed, the bad shaky cam during one of the first scenes, the fact that there are too many villains, Jamie Foxx doing a not-so good Max Dillon/Electro (in my opinion), and the fact that it's uneven at times, did that prevent my enjoyment of the movie in general?  Not really.  I still liked it, and it was better than I thought it was going to be.  Many times the wit made the movie fun for me, and it worked to such a degree.  It's also nice to see that Felicia Hardy is in the movie as one of Oscorp's employees.  I mean, it is Felicia Hardy, right?  They didn't say her last name, but I assumed that it must've been her... Webb wouldn't just create a minor character that shares the first name as a key character in the comics, would he?  Because if that's the case, then that would be pretty stupid.  I can't be the only one that thought of that.  Also, Stan Lee cameos are always a blast, no matter how brief they are.
There is even a clip during the credits that shows an event from X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Ooooh, would this be connected with Spider-Man in any way, or was it just a freebie scene from that movie?  Because either way, I'm okay with that.  What's pretty neat is how each movie starring the webhead gets even longer, with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 being the longest entry so far at a hundred forty two minutes.  For the most part I had a fun time watching this movie, and I had a more fun time watching this near-two and a half-hour long movie than I did Man of Steel or Gore Verbinski's freakin' The Lone Ranger personally (I like the former a little, I hate the latter a lot).  It's not as great as the first The Amazing Spider-Man, in my opinion, but its heart is definitely in the right place and it is not a bad way to start this year's summer.
If you're a Spider-Man fan you might enjoy this movie for its fun colorful action and clever and well-written wit.  If you're looking for the best Spider-Man movie, you may have to look elsewhere.  If you liked the predecessor you might like this one too.  If you didn't like the first rebooted movie then this won't change your mind.  If you're looking for a sort-of equivalent to Superman III in terms of tone, this movie will be interesting to you.  Just try not to compare it to Sam Raimi's trilogy and you might have a good time (who knows?).  Honestly, I'm glad I watched it, and I wouldn't mind watching it again when it comes out.  =)
Final Rating:
( >'.')>TO EACH THEIR OWN<('.'< )

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