Sketchley's Translations Main Index
By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com) Ver 1.15 2022.04.24

Superhero Film Reviews


The Amazing Spider-man

Batman: The Movie

Batman

Batman Returns

Batman Forever

Blade

Glass

Hellboy

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hulk

Iron Man

Mystery Men

Spider-Man

Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 3

Split

Unbreakable

The Amazing Spider-man

2 stars

Release date: 2012
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
Directed by: Marc Webb
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.01.19
Peter Parker lost his parents at a young age, and he lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. He's a socially awkward teen in high school, and is often bullied. One day, he learns that his father worked with Dr. Curt Conners at Oscorp in cross-species genetics. Peter sneaks into Oscorp, and is bitten by a genetically modified spider. He then develops spider-like abilities. After studying his father's work, Peter visits Conners, and gives him Peter's father's "decay rate algorithm"—the missing piece in Conners's experiments in regenerating limbs. Peter returns late, and he argues with uncle Ben. Peter leaves, and Ben follows, searching for him. However, when Ben attempts to stop a thief, he is killed. Peter then uses his new abilities to track down criminals matching Ben's killer's description. He fashions a mask and spandex suit and builds web-shooters attached to his wrists. However, he is distraught when he finds out that the police consider his Spider-Man alter-ego a vigilante and are trying to arrest him. When a violent giant humanoid reptile appears in the city, Peter begins to reevaluate what he is doing, and what he can do with his super abilities.

As well done as this film is, I can never shake off the nagging feeling that it's not the Sam Raimi Spider-Man. Aside from Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker being much more moodier and far less socially awkward than Tobey Maguire's, Dir. Marc Webb's take on Spider-Man is significantly darker—both literally and figuratively. The other big differences are the blindly quick transformation into Spider-Man after the spider bite, and the comparatively weak moral guidance from Uncle Ben and Aunt May. This isn't saying that Sally Field's and Martin Sheen's performances are bad, just that the script doesn't give them the same gravitas as Raimi gave Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris. While Martin's Uncle Ben is an idealized father figure, Sally's Aunt May comes across as eternally stressed and worried, with neither bequeathing as strong a moral compass as their Raimi counterparts did.

Criticisms aside, what I did enjoy is the digging into Peter's background. While it doesn't feel like Peter's parents' story fits with the Spider-Man mythos, I do appreciate that Dir. Webb attempted to address it and dwelve into it. I also really like how they attempted to keep the action realistic. One of the DVD's highlights is the making-of where they show the stuntman actually swinging on chains—say whatever you want about the CG, they accurately reproduced the way the stuntman's body swung about! Perhaps the one place where this film truly excels—compared to the Raimi interpretation—is the relationship between Peter and Gwen Stacy. It hits the right notes between desire, love, and teenager sensibilities and awkwardness. I think I would have enjoyed this film more if they had focused a bit more on that, as well as Peter's relationships with his aunt and uncle and the rest of the cast.

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Batman: The Movie

2 stars

Release date: 1966
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Directed by: Leslie H. Martinson
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.06.23
Batman and Robin receive a tip that Commodore Schmidlapp is in danger on his yacht, and launch a rescue mission in the Batcopter. When they are preparing to board the yacht, it mysteriously disappears, and Batman is dunked in the sea—where an explosives-laden shark attacks him. Back in Commissioner Gordon's office, they deduce that the whole situation was a trap set-up by The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and The Catwoman. Investigating the mystery of the disappearing yacht, Batman and Robin discover that it was a holographic projection, and that the four supervillains have already taken the real yacht and kidnapped Schmidlapp. They also learn that the villains have stolen the dehydrater weapon developed by Schmidlapp, and are planning to use it to turn the "United World Organization"'s security council into dust in a plot to take over the world!

Having been made between the first and second seasons of the 60's Batman TV series, this film not only uses all of the same actors (save one), it recaptures the zany, campy energy of that series. The movie has a similar modest budget, and feels more like an extended episode than a feature film. One of the film's strengths is that everything was done on camera while it was being filmed. Even though we get some kooky things like Batman punching an obviously rubber shark that's gnawing on his leg while he's dangling from a helicopter, we also get wonderful shots such as Batman and Robin sliding down a pole on a pier, climbing into the Batboat, accelerating away into the ocean, and the helicopter that's been shooting it turning and racing along to keep pace. Wow.

The film has a wonderful first half that skips along at a brisk pace. The last half of the film, however, tends to overstay its welcome, and could've been tighter—the 60's Batman series definitely worked best in the shorter 30 minute episode format. Also, due to its target audience, the film frustratingly never lets Bruce Wayne do anything more than waltz with Kitka (the Catwoman in disguise), and that's despite snuggling in the back seat of a carriage and being invited up to her apartment so she can "get into something more comfortable"! Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is the intense, manic energy exhibited by Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, and Lee Meriwether, who respectively play The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and The Catwoman. Their energy not only effectively counterbalances with the composed demeanour of the movie's heroes, coupled with the cockeyed camera angles, it also captures the youthful energy of the 60's.

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Batman

2.5 stars

Release date: 1989
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Directed by: Tim Burton
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.07.28
Gotham City is overrun with crime. However, there is a new fear in the street thugs: a vigilante called "Batman". Photojournalist Vicki Vale comes to Gotham and teams up with reporter Alexander Knox to investigate that masked vigilante. Concurrently, as the city approaches its bicentennial, the mayor orders district attorney Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon to crack down on crime and make the city safer. Mob boss Carl Grissom, sensing the police action, sends his second in command Jack Napier to raid Ajax Chemicals to destroy the evidence of the crimes they run through that business front. However, Napier doesn't know he is walking into a trap as Grissom wants him dead for sleeping with his mistress. However, Batman intervenes and Napier accidentally falls into a vat of chemicals. Unbeknownst to everyone, Napier survives in a heavily disfigured form, and is reborn as the sociopathic Joker, who proceeds to take over Grissom's crime operations.

The 1989 Batman film is an origin story of sorts—while it sidesteps the transformation from traumatized boy to masked vigilante, it delivers us a fully formed hero just starting out on his journey. The first two-thirds of the film are quite interesting and fun, as it gives us a new and different take on the Batman mythos and the people behind it. However, despite dir. Tim Burton's usual strength of delivering us well developed characters, the Bruce Wayne/Batman character is oddly underdeveloped. Nevertheless, it adds an air of mystery to the film, with Bruce Wayne being presented rather enigmatically.

The highlight of the film is Jack Nicholson's Joker. He fully commits to the role, and gives a dazzling, over the top performance. That he is just as artistic as he is a homicidal maniac is a refreshing twist on the character. In some ways, his grim-dark "art" is the most Tim Burton-esque parts of the film. However, the drawback of the film is the era that it was made in. Kim Basinger is a wonderful actress, but her character Vicki Vale is written as the standard damsel in distress who can only scream before being rescued. Which is a disappointment, as Vale is presented as someone willing to take extreme risks in war-zones to get the pictures that tell the real story. One would think that Vale would be more adept at doing something to get herself out of the sticky situations she finds herself in the film. The other odd choice in the movie is the music by Prince. It's hard to say if they add or detract to the film, but coupled with everything else—such as the dark, overwhelming depiction of Gotham City—it definitely gives the movie a very unique flavour.

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Batman Returns

3 stars

Release date: 1992
Written by: Daniel Waters
Directed by: Tim Burton
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.08.10
On Christmas eve during a tree lighting ceremony, the mayor and millionaire-philanthropist Max Shreck are attacked by a gang disguised as circus performers. Max is abducted and taken to the gang's leader: a deformed man going by the name "Penguin". Penguin blackmails Max into helping him come out into the public eye—by staging a kidnapping of the mayor's baby, and "rescuing" him. Meanwhile, Shreck's secretary Selina Kyle discovers secret files about his plans to take control of the city's power supply. He pushes her out a window to silence her. However, she survives the fall and takes up the supervillian Catwoman persona. As Max tries to rope Bruce Wayne into his scheme, Bruce meets Selina. He also encounters her alter ego, and both sides of his persona are attracted to her. However, Max starts putting on the pressure to push through his schemes, and it turns out that the Penguin has a hidden agenda to extra revenge on the city's elite for being abandoned by his parents 33 years earlier. The wildcard is Catwoman, who having momentarily teamed up with Penguin, is really only after revenge on Max, and frowns on the Penguin's murderous actions.

Batman Returns is much more thought provoking than its predecessor. Of all the villains, Max Shreck is the most undeniably blackhearted. Chillingly, he is also the one most likely to exist in reality. Catwoman and Penguin both have their dark streaks, but are presented much more sympathetically, as victims of tragedy and with some semblance of honour and loyalty to their respective groups. Sadly, Bruce Wayne/Batman is underused, and doesn't get much development, if any at all.

The highlight of the film is Tim Burton's vision. Unlike the preceding Batman, this film feels like a Burton film. The nightmarish abandoned zoo and "Hallowe'en at Christmas time" are especially Burton-esque. On the other hand, Penguin's army of missile equipped (and mind controlled?) penguins proves to be a bit too unbelievable, and ends up turning a serious story on its head in the final act. It's a shame, as the well-told story is an excellent satire on evil moguls manipulating the system to elect politicians helpful to their exploitative schemes. In some ways, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman—who steals every scene she appears in—comes out as the true hero of the film, in a Dirty Harry kind of way.

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Batman Forever

1.5 stars

Release date: 1995
Written by: Joel Schumacher
Directed by: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.08.16
Two-Face uses a bank robbery to lure out and capture Batman, and get rid of him once and for all. While his scheme fails, Batman meets Chase Meridian, a criminal psychologist that Commissioner Gordon brought to the city to help defeat Two-Face, and the two are mutually attracted to each other. The next day, Bruce Wayne is approached by scientist Edward Nygma when Bruce visits the R&D section of his business, and Edward proposes an invention that can send TV signals directly into someone's brain. Bruce, concerned about the implications of such a device, rejects it. In a rage, Edward kills his supervisor, stages his own suicide, and—inspired by Two-Face—begins turning into the villain The Riddler. When The Riddler perfects his invention for extracting information from people's brains, he approaches Two-Face, and proposes that they join forces in order to get rid of Batman and take over Gotham City.

Schumacher's Batman Forever is an abrupt change from Burton's films. While it is infinitely more colourful and a lot less grim-dark, it has also lost a lot of the subtext present in the earlier films. In short: what you see is what you get, and the film doesn't seem to be alluding to anything, or be about anything more than what's on screen at any given time. The film also tries to revive the campiness of the 60's Batman TV series and movie, but it doesn't work with the much more serious presentation, and especially all the guns used by Two-face and his minions. In some ways Jim Carrey manages to pull it off, however there are many scenes where he goes too far.

Perhaps the most off-putting aspect of the film is the inexplicable tilted camera angles. They seem to be used for stylistic effect or to cram more visuals onto the screen, but they come across as distracting, and make one wonder if this entire Batman universe has gone bonkers. The dialogue from Chase to Bruce/Batman is also unrealistically direct—perhaps this is the kind of material where the bad connotations of "comic book movie" come from? Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is the focus on Bruce's faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth. Michael Gough had far less material to work with in the first two films, but made an impression nonetheless. So, it's a joy to see more of the character, and a bit of a closer look at his relationship with Bruce through the newly orphaned Dick Grayson storyline. All in all, it isn't the worst entry in the franchise, but it's disappointing as it dropped the subtext and the overall story arc that the Burton films were heading in.

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Blade

3 stars

Release date: 1998
Written by: David S. Goyer
Directed by: Stephen Norrington
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.08.17
Blade is a human-vampire hybrid who hunts vampires. He raids a vampire nightclub owned by Deacon Frost. As he's dealing with Quinn—one of Deacon's minions—the police arrive. Blade escapes, and the police take the presumed-dead Quinn to the hospital. Quinn revives, attacks Dr. Curtis Webb, and escapes when Blade shows up to finish him off. As he's leaving, Blade is overcome with memories of his dead mother, and decides to take Curtis back to his safe house and attempt to cure her of the vampire infection. While she is recovering, Deacon sets his plan to usurp the authoritarian rule of the pure-blood vampire elders over second-class not naturally-born vampires like himself, and incite a war between humans and vampires. The key to his success is the human-vampire hybrid blood in Blade!

Blade is a thought provoking film. It puts a fresh spin on vampires, reimagines what they are and what weaknesses they have, and comes up with a slew of new ways to defeat them. It's also a superhero movie without being a "superhero movie". Perhaps that's because the Blade character is presented as an antihero, who 'saves' people by killing vampires, and steals to cover the costs of his operation—as most of his weapons are made of silver, one thinks he spends as much time stealing as he does hunting vampires!

The highlight of the film is its visual style. While the choice to use sped-up film speeds in certain sequences is a bit head-scratching, it adds to the overall feeling of not being in the world that we know. Nevertheless, there are a lot of elements that showed up in the following year's The Matrix, making one wonders how much this movie influenced the stylistic choices of The Wachowski's film.

The main drawbacks of Blade are the dated CG animation, and that the intensity of the minimalistic storyline never lets off the gas. Perhaps if there was more to the plot or if there were more tension-breaking scenes interwoven into the story—à la the tour de force of Aliens or Three Kings—the film wouldn't wear out its welcome by the final act. Nevertheless, the film stylistically paints an interesting tapestry and renews or reimagines vampires and vampire hunter tropes. While it's a bit excessively bloody at times, the film is well worth it for a glimpse at something that came oh-so-close to greatness.

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Glass

2.5 stars

Release date: 2019
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.04.24
3 weeks after the events in Split, The Horde has kidnapped 4 high school cheerleaders. One of his multiple personalities casually informs them that they are sacrificial victims for The Beast. David Dunn is now the owner/operator of a store selling home security systems, and his superhero alter-ego goes by the alias The Overseer. He learns of The Horde, and tracks him to the abandoned factory where he is holding the cheerleaders hostage. The Overseer frees the cheerleaders, and then engages The Horde in battle. The fight is cut short when heavily armed police officers intervene. They are led by Dr. Ellie Staple, who not only has a device that can reset which personality is in control of The Horde, but also knows a surprising amount about The Overseer, starting with his real name. The Horde is captured, and David surrenders. They are taken to and held in separate rooms in a psychiatric hospital under Ellie's care. Elijah Price, AKA Mr. Glass is also held in the facility, and Ellie is doing a really effective job at convincing them that they are suffering from delusions of grandeur and don't have superpowers. However, Mr. Glass is more active than anyone suspects—able to freely come and go from his locked room—and has his own plans for The Horde.

When things in Glass get rolling, it is a great film. However, there are many times when it feels like it is spinning its tires aimlessly. In the early sections, it also stays focused far too long on only one or two of the main characters—to the extent that the title character all but disappears for the first third of the film. While it's true that a drugged up, catatonic Elijah Price doesn't make for compelling viewing, it's a missed opportunity that his true self isn't revealed until late in the movie.

One of the things that made Unbreakable so great was that Mr. Glass was the talkative foil to the stoic and mostly mute David Dunn. The Glass character was also part of the genius of Unbreakable, as he provided a deconstruction of the superhero mythos, and framed it in a new light. Comics are not even mentioned until the climax of Glass, and there isn't really a fresh perspective from them until the very end.

Despite its flaws in not reestablishing the characters—almost making this film the literal 3rd act of a larger screenplay—and the disappearance of one of them at the beginning, the movie is a great psychological analysis. Where Unbreakable and Split asked probing questions about the hidden potential in people, Glass goes in the opposite direction and applies logic and reason to explain away what initially appears to be a superpower. However, the film doesn't grab the viewer with the same amount of slowly-but-steadily increasing tension like its predecessors. The twist ending (that all Dir. Shyamalan films seem to possess) doesn't have the same shocking punch that it does in Unbreakable and Split. Nevertheless, it was great seeing the aftereffects of the preceding movies on there respective characters, and the growth and development even in the secondary characters: David's son Joseph and The Horde's victim Casey Cooke in particular. It's just too bad that the film doesn't unleash the title character much earlier in the story.

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Hellboy

stars

Release date:
Written by:
Directed by:
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming soon!
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Hellboy II: The Golden Army

stars

Release date:
Written by:
Directed by:
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming soon!
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Hulk

3 stars

Release date: 2003
Written by: James Schamus, Michael France, John Turman
Directed by: Ang Lee
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.09.20
David Banner is a genetics researcher on a military base trying to develop a way for humans to self-repair injuries. When General Ross forbids human research, David begins experimenting on himself. He passes those genetic modifications to his son, Bruce Banner. When Ross finds out about the human experimentation, he fires David. In revenge, David blows up his lab, attempts to murder his son, and accidentally kills his wife. Bruce is put into foster care—believing both his parents are dead—and eventually becomes a scientist working at the Berkley Lab in studies that are intriguingly similar to his father's research. One day, an experiment goes awry, and Bruce is exposed to a lethal dose of gamma radiation while saving a fellow researcher. However, instead of dying, it activates his long-dormant genetic modifications, and not only does Bruce heal old and new injuries, he starts changing into a gigantic, muscular version of himself whenever he gets angry. As he also goes out of control in that form, it's not long until the police and military are after him.

Hulk is an intriguing film. Instead of focusing on mindless action—which would be oh so easy with this particular character—Dir. Ang Lee has chosen to focus on the issues in the Hulk's story, such as genetic experimentation, misuse of scientific research, and people who were emotionally damaged in their childhood. Due to that, we get a wonderful anti-superhero film that plays more like a drama than an action flick.

Due to the limits of CG at the time, Dir. Lee has chosen to cloak a lot of the action in shadows and darkness. While this works in Hulk's earliest appearance as his true form is slowly revealed, it also means that a couple of the later action scenes are too dark to clearly see what is going on. While this is annoying in Hulk's battle with the mutant dogs, it is frustrating in the final climactic battle, where his opponent is also nebulously imaged at best. Nevertheless, the movie is still a must see, as Dir. Lee has succeeded in figuring out how to get split-screen techniques to work in a feature film. While it can be exhausting keeping up with multiple moving screens about moving things, it is well worth the effort as it is not only reminiscent of the comic book format, but it can be exhilarating as foreground and background interact and reveal each other.

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Iron Man

1.5 stars

Release date: 2008
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.05.15 (revised: 2021.11.21)
Tony Stark is a genius inventor who inherited Stark Industries, a defence contractor, from his late father at a young age. Obadiah Stone managed the company while Stark completed school and arguably still manages the company as Stark is anything but responsible. Shortly after demonstrating a new missile system to the US military in Afghanistan, Stark is captured by a terrorist group. He was seriously injured, and is nursed back to help by Yinsen, a fellow captive. The terrorists demand that Stark make them the same missile that he came to Afghanistan to demonstrate using the Stark Industries' weapons that they are surprisingly well equipped with. Stark comes up with an escape plan, and enlists Yinsen's aid in helping him build a suit of powered armour to force their way out of the terrorists' camp, destroy his company's weapons in their possession, and prevent any more from falling into their hands!

This film is quite topical, and if you overlook Stark's ability to seemingly invent and produce all manner of new technologies at the drop of a hat, it is a surprisingly non-super-powered superhero movie! The film has a lot of fun characterization, and is quickly paced. The flip side of that, however, is that there is no sense of the passage of time, giving the impression that things that ought to take weeks or months are impossibly produced in days or even hours!

Even though the film introduces some dark places and topics, it doesn't really delve into them like a great movie does, preferring to keep the truly nasty stuff at arms length and off screen. Nevertheless, I did like the non-traditional take on a superhero by having Iron Man not living in a big, skyscraper filled city, and rescuing truly helpless people in a war torn central Asian country from the real bad guys of our age—terrorist thugs—in a scene that truly makes the film. Alas, I didn't like how the movie portrayed the global situation in war-torn Afghanistan as "America: the world's police". What about the other 40+ countries in the allied coalition? Let alone a token nod to the local authorities that they are taking military action in their sovereign territory?

Nevertheless, the highlight of this movie is the A-list actors. They bring a lot to their respective portrayals of the characters, elevating this movie above the standard comic-book flick. Ultimately, however, that is all that this movie amounts to—it doesn't engage the viewer much beyond the visceral spectacle, and doesn't spend the time digging into the effects of the trauma of having been a hostage and how that drives Stark to be a better person, let alone a hero.

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Mystery Men

3 stars

Release date: 1999
Written by: Neil Cuthbert
Directed by: Kinka Usher
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.03.21
Would-be superheroes Mr. Furious, the Shoveler, and the Blue Raja attempt to save a party at a retirement home from being robbed by the Red Eyes, a better organized team of criminals, and are foiled in the attempt. In steps Captain Amazing, Champion City's star superhero, who saves the day. While the would-be superheroes head to their favourite diner to lick their wounds, Captain Amazing has to come to terms with being too successful in fighting crime—he's starting to lose corporate sponsors!

Captain Amazing decides to get the supervillian Casanova Frankenstein—his greatest opponent—released from the insane asylum, to recapture interest in his exploits, and to keep his corporate sponsors from abandoning him. However, his plan backfires, and Captain Amazing is easily outwitted and captured by Casanova, who is preparing to release a lethal weapon on Champion City. The would-be superheroes stumble upon Casanova's allies, Tony P and the Disco Boys, and learn of Captain Amazing's capture. Realizing that they are seriously outclassed after being beaten to a pulp by the Disco Boys, they set out to find new allies and build a superhero team strong enough to take on Casanova and his cohorts.

This is a charming, witty film about the other guys, the superhero underdogs with questionable superpowers, who rise to the occasion. Due to that, it is an enjoyable ride that pokes fun at the occasional preposterousness of the superhero genre. They all have their flaws and warts (some literally as well as figuratively) and are prone to bickering with each other, but all have their hearts in the right place. This film is less about what it takes to be a superhero, and more about persevering against all odds for something that you believe in. There are times were you question the sanity of the protagonists—and by extension the mindset of any superhero—but that only highlights how much they have grown and improved by the time they get their act together in the climactic showdown in Casanova's mansion.

The highlight of the film is Geoffry Rush as Casanova (how did they hire him for the movie!?!) He brings the film a much needed gravitas, and plays the supervillain almost straight—despite the character being described as insane by the film! Also, like all great comedy films, the director stood back and let the actors improvise on set. Due to that, the film is up there with such greats as Ghostbusters where the grand scale and special effects don't overwhelm the characters, and the comedy feels fresh. Alas, unlike Ghosbusters, the pacing of this film is a bit off at times. A shame, as despite its comedic elements, the film treats its characters and the superhero genre as respectfully as the following year's X-men.

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Spider-Man

3 stars

Release date: 2002
Written by: David Koepp
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.12.18 (revised 2021.12.07)
As Peter Parker's parents died at a young age, he lives with his uncle and aunt. He is also a social outcast at his high school—even the school bus driver won't stop for him on the way to school! His only friend is Harry Osborn, the son of the CEO of Oscorp: Norman Osborn. On a field trip to a science lab in a university, Peter is bitten by a genetically-altered spider that the lab has been experimenting with. He then begins developing spider-like superhuman abilities. Initially, Peter uses his new-found powers to attempt to raise cash to buy a car to impress Mare Jane Watson, the girl-next-door that he is smitten with. However, he quickly learns the dangers that go along with those powers, and vows to use them solely to fight crime. Concurrently, Oscorp is facing bankruptcy as their latest weapon for the US armed forces, a chemically enhanced super soldier, is a dud due to the unfortunate side effect of madness and insanity. Out of desperation, Norman submits himself to the chemical, and what results is the Green Goblin: Spider-Man's nemesis!

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is, at its heart, a tragedy. This film doesn't gloss over Peter Parker's pains—they are, after all, what defines Spider-man. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle implication that the title character's loss of his parents and adoption by his aunt and uncle at a young age plays into his willingness to risk life and limb to help strangers. It's a testament to how well the character was developed in the comics.

If ever there is a movie with the right casting, this is it. Tobey Maguire gets the notes just right in this film, and we truly feel his character's joys and sorrows. Although Peter is the protagonist in this film, it is the pantheon of supporting characters that really make it a success. Even Willem Dafoe is excellent as the antagonist—when he's allowed to show his face outside of the Green Goblin suit, that is. That suit's mask is the weakest point of this film. Thankfully, the movie isn't made or broken by it!

The highlight of the film is the depiction of the transformation of Peter Parker from nerd to hero. It is especially satisfying to see him pummel the school bully. The film also depicts Peter's and Mary Jane's struggles to find their way in the world after graduating; a smart choice that elevates this film into something greater than a summer blockbuster. And despite some unrealistic CG, it is great fun seeing Spider-Man come to grips with his new powers—a journey that is ongoing at the conclusion of the film. And what an ending! Not a cliffhanger, but close enough.

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Spider-Man 2

4 stars

Release date: 2004
Written by: Alvin Sargent
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.12.31
Peter Parker is struggling to balance his life. He's exhausted from constantly fighting crime, unable to keep up with his classes at university, lost his job because he's always late, behind on his apartment's rent, and estranged from his love interest Mary Jane Watson and best friend Harry Osborn—not to mention that his aunt May is facing eviction. It's no surprise that Peter suffers temporary but reoccurring losses of his powers, which usually happens when he's swinging high above the city streets! Harry, who is now head of Oscorp's scientific research division, is sponsoring Otto Octavius, who is developing a fusion power source. Harry introduces Peter to Otto, who befriends Peter. However, during a public demonstration, the fusion reactor destabilizes, goes critical, and in the ensuing mayhem, kills Otto's wife. Having lost everything he holds dear, Otto decides to retry his experiment on a larger scale, and turns to crime to fund his experiment. Concurrently, Mary Jane becomes engaged to an astronaut, which is the last straw for Peter, who has an emotional breakdown. He soon quits being Spider-Man and attempts to return to normal life.

Spider-Man 2 picks up almost right where the first film ends, with Peter Parker struggling to carve out his place in the world. It also highlights why Peter Parker/Spider-Man is so well liked: he's essentially a normal person, facing normal, relatable problems. Yes, he has super powers and fights crime, but that's neither the heart and soul of the movie, nor its primary focus. When the action happens, it is well composed—acting, special & visual effects, choreography, and camera work—however, more often than not, it sometimes feels like it gets in the way of the real story being told: Peter's herculean effort to overcome his personal problems. As mentioned in my review of Spider-Man, the casting is spot on, and Spider-Man 2 continues the trend. Ultimately, Dir. Sam Raimi has presented us a fully-developed world with even the supporting characters being not only rounded out, but also given opportunities to evolve.

The highlight of the film is the villain: Doctor Octopus. Not because of his super powers or the way he uses them (which are top notch), but because of his carefully crafted development and evolution that creates a highly sympathetic character. Alfred Molina gives a stellar, nuanced performance as an obsessed, and then troubled man who isn't necessarily always fully in control of himself. Overall, the film perfectly balances all its elements, giving them all equal weight. While some outcomes are expected or anticipated, there are some pivotal, emotional scenes that come from surprisingly unexpected places. In addition to picking up the story threads where Spider-Man left them, this film also brings back Cliff Roberson (Uncle Ben) and Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn) in key scenes that set up key developments in this film, as well as setting up developments in its sequel. It's amazing that the filmmakers could resist the urge to tack on a 'to be continued' at the end!

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Spider-Man 3

2 stars

Release date: 2007
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.01.10
Peter Parker has sorted out his life. Things are going so well, that he is not only attending Mary Jane Watson's performances, but is keeping up with university studies and work. He is also planning to ask Mary Jane to marry him. Things are also going well for her, as she has just made her Broadway debut. Harry Osborn, however, knows that Peter is Spider-Man, and seeks to avenge his father's death. He uses his father's performance-enhancing gas on himself and fights Peter, getting knocked out and developing partial amnesia in the battle. Concurrently, Mary Jane loses her job. As Peter is riding high and has become rather full of himself, she doesn't tell him and he doesn't notice her misfortune. Things go so well for Peter that Spider-Man is given a festival to honour him for saving Gwen Stacy, the NYPD Captain's daughter. To please the crowd, he lets her kiss him, which angers Mary Jane. The Sandman—a man who has the ability to control sand and reform his body with it—appears and robs an armoured truck. Spider-Man attempts to stop him, but is easily defeated. Subsequently, Peter and aunt May are informed that uncle Ben's real killer is Flint Marko, the man who became Sandman. Later that day, while Peter is waiting for the Sandman to reappear so he can fight him, an extraterrestrial symbiote that has been following Peter latches onto him, and assimilates his Spider-Man suit. Waking up, Peter finds that his suit is coloured black, and that his powers are enhanced. However, he fails to notice that darker aspects of his personality have also emerged.

This film picks up were Spider-Man 2 let off. However, unlike the second film, this one is all plot from the get-go. It's not until the middle act that the film takes a step back and starts to resemble the preceding two films. Which is a shame, as by that time the damage is done. Harry's quest to avenge his father doesn't gain any emotional resonance because we're not shown why or how it deeply effects him. Sandman's actor Thomas Haden Church is only allowed to give meaningful stares, as he isn't give the dialogue to describe how he feels about being turned into the Sandman—let alone how his family feels about it, or how his robbing banks will help his sick daughter. The movie introduces the Venom symbiote and then promptly forgets about it. Even after reintroducing it, the film keeps forgetting that the symbiote has a mind of its own. And then there's Eddie Brock, who comes across as merely a petty and spiteful brat.

This time, the visual effects are really obvious—while Spider-Man has always had a tendency to be gravity defying, this film pushes beyond the limits of believability in a number of scenes. Nevertheless, the heart and soul of the film is the sense of family and friendship. The highlight is aunt May's unwavering belief in the good in people, as well as the friends Peter, Mary Jane, and Harry looking out for and after each other no matter what hardships they face, or what the state of their relationships with each other are at a given time. The film also ends on an ambiguous note: have Peter and Mary Jane reconciled? Can they reconcile? Will they? It's a shame that Dir. Raimi wasn't able to conclude their story or the ramifications of the events in this film, but it is thought-provokingly enigmatic.

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Split

4 stars

Release date: 2016
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.04.11
Claire Benoit is having a birthday party at the mall, and has invited all her classmates in art class. She even invited Casey Cooke—a withdrawn girl who always seems to be getting detention—out of sympathy. Claire's father offers Casey a ride home with them and Claire's friend Marcia when no one comes to pick up Casey at the end of the party. The three girls settle into the car as their father puts the leftovers into the trunk. The man who enters and sits in the driver's seat, however, is not Claire's father. He quickly knocks the girls unconscious with a sprayed substance, and drives off. Reviving, the girls find themselves locked in a room with no windows. The man, identified as Barry, takes Marcia out of the room, demanding she dance for him. They soon return when Marcia wets herself, and Barry leaves gagging and retching. Later, the girls overhear a woman talking with Barry, and bang on the door yelling for help. The same man enters, but he looks and behaves feminine, and refers to himself as Patricia and that she has protected them against Barry. Soon, the man with the persona of a 9-year-old attempts to make friends with the girls. The girls are very alarmed by this bizarre turn in their kidnapping. Both Casey and Marcia attempt to escape, and try to enlist Claire's help. However, Claire is frustratingly passive, and only willing to tell them when she hears something helpful. The alarming thing is that both Patricia and Barry believe that the girls are to be saved for 'The Beast'.

Without a doubt, Split is an acting tour de force by James McAvoy. He performs not 2 or 3 distinct characters, but at least 8 of the purported 24 distinct personalities in the Dennis/Patricia body. While that alone is an astounding achievement, it is mind-blowing seeing him effortlessly transition between the roles in the same shot! I went into this film 'cold', having avoided all the trailers and so on, and thoroughly enjoyed how the film steadily and assuredly established the principal characters, and then continued introducing more and more distinct personalities in the Dennis/Patricia body. The film is thoroughly grounded in reality, and as the kidnapped girls uncover more and more of the truth behind their captivity, so does the viewer.

The actresses also manifest stellar performances. I really liked the scene where Betty Buckley (playing a therapist) having realized how much danger she is in from Dennis/Patricia, quickly attempts to defuse the situation while fighting back tears of fright! The movie is also respectful with the girls, as they all never give up trying to escape, albeit in their own respectively unique ways. The sequence at the very end of the film also brings goosebumps when one realizes that the musical theme of this film has gradually morphed into the theme from one of Dir. Shyamalan's earlier films. This is a great film from beginning to end, and truly earns its horror credentials.

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Unbreakable

4 stars

Release date: 2000
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.03.25
David Dunn is a football stadium security guard. He is returning home after a trip to New York on Eastrail 177, which derails and crashes at high speed on his return trip. Waking up in the hospital, everyone is shocked that he is not only the only survivor, but that he is completely uninjured. After a memorial service for the victims, Dunn finds a note on his car asking if he has ever been ill, and directing him to an art gallery run by comic book expert Elijah Price. Realizing that he has never been sick, Dunn meets Price, who says that he suffers from brittle bone disease. Price explains his personal theory that his frailty must be matched by someone at the other end of the spectrum who cannot be "broken". Dunn is unsettled, and leaves. Price's theory, though, continues to worm away in Dunn's mind. Dunn's son Joseph believes his father is a superhero, but Dunn insists that he is an ordinary man. However, when Dunn starts to notice things—such as being told that he's never been sick or is able to bench press weights far above his expectations—he is inexplicably drawn to Price and to explore his apparently supernatural abilities.

Unbreakable is a thought provoking examination and deconstruction of comic book heroes and villains. However, the film invests so much in developing its characters, that even without the superhero angle, it is a thought-provoking examination of a man down on his luck, and near the end of a broken marriage. Because of its quiet approach and steady development of a normal man in a normal world, when the supposed superheroic abilities appear, they are infinitely more amazing than when greater powers appear in a typical superhero movie. As the film is grounded so strongly in reality, perhaps its greatest feat is that it appears to be completely plausible. While the hero's abilities are enviable, the crimes of the villain are also all the more chilling and scary.

This is a film of quiet subtlety, filled with small clues, signs, and omens. Both Bruce Willis (Dunn) and Samuel L. Jackson (Price) reign their performances in, and it pays dividends. It gives the impression that the success of the hero lives or dies based on the help of bystanders. The other great strength of the film is the enthralling and sublime acting of Robin Wright Penn (Dunn's wife), Spencer Treat Clark (Dunn's son), and Charlayne Woodard (Price's mother). While Dunn's family relationships are undone and shaken up by his experiences, Price's remains strong.

This film grabbed me in the opening sequence set in a department store, and didn't let go until the very end. In some ways, the ending is too restrained, as there isn't a big showdown. On the other hand it is extremely cathartic in its quiet resolution—just like real life can do at times. One feels for both the protagonist and antagonist, as when they gain their respective epiphanies, they lose something valuable in the process.

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