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|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)||Ver 1.18 2023.04.29|
The Amazing Spider-man
Batman: The Movie
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While the above partial synopsis sounds very complex (and the plot quite rightly is!), the film is composed and presented so well that we never feel lost or confused. In fact, it is the opposite: the film thoroughly engages us, as we race against the protagonists to unscramble the clues that it gives us. The film is filled with a pantheon of antagonists, and it is a joy watching the detective personification of Batman scrambling to deduct not only the identity of the Riddler, but also that of the informant, and unearthing a startlingly deep and complex web of corruption in Gotham City in the process!
Paul Dano's portrayal of the Riddler is downright astounding. It is the polar opposite of Frank Gorshin's and Jim Carrey's versions that appeared in 1966's Batman and 1995's Batman Forever—and not someone to be written off or underestimated! The highlight of the film, however, is the way it uses the orphaning of Batman, Riddler, and Catwoman to both contrast how their different backgrounds affected them, but also how they all share a common origin and motivating factor, and are essentially "two" sides of the same coin.
While the film takes place in its own unique world, it wisely skips the "origin story" and gets right down to business. Due to that, this film could arguably take place immediately after Dir. Nolan's Batman Begins, as it is concurrently a story about an established Batman in addition to a Batman still struggling to find his ultimate role. This film also takes a cue from 2006's Casino Royale, where in its conclusion it pulls a screeching U-turn and starts up again for a truly climactic showdown that is both epically thrilling as well as alarmingly plausible! In many ways, I found The Batman to be more engaging, easier to follow, and more chilling than 2008's The Dark Knight—arguably the high point of Batman in film. This film is well worth it as it not only gets to the heart and soul of what Batman is about, it also introduces new aspects to the film interpretation of the character. A must see!
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.
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.
Hellboy is an interesting take on the superhero mythos. However, instead of supervillians, we get worshippers of the occult who use the powers of the supernatural (dare I say magic?) to attain their superhuman abilities. Instead of heroes in spandex, we get a group of mostly non-human creatures who rely on technology just as much as they do their strength or psychic powers, and are full of weaknesses—with the only 'omnipotent' power being played up essentially for laughs! One also gets the sense that the heroes would be more effective if they got their act together and cooperated with each other; something the antagonists have got down pat!
While Hellboy's journey and ultimate fateful decision are the apparent focus, the wonderful surprise of this film is that the vast majority of supporting characters are all also going through their own personal journeys. Perhaps the greatest aspect of this film is that even the minor supporting characters have been made memorable by being endowed with unique characteristics. The highlight of the film is John Hurt's performance as the older Bruttenholm. He successfully gives the performance a balance of vulnerability, authority, and concern—not only do we intrinsically feel his paternal love for his adopted son, but also deeply care for him as he heads to a tragic fate. Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is its deft balance between a serious, dramatic story and its comedy. While the comedy is not quite up there with Ghostbusters (this is first and foremost an action superhero film), it does have the same tone and shares a lot of the zany energy.
Hellboy II picks up almost where Hellboy lets off. However, unlike the first film, this one doesn't seem to be as epic, nor as tension filled. That's not to say that it doesn't have an equal number of memorable scenes. Perhaps it's down to the common adage: it's the villain that makes or breaks this kind of film. While the protagonists in this film are well motivated, there aren't as many, nor are they as quirkily fun as the ones in the first film. In some ways, I suspects that the enigmatic Angel of Death and the legless, chatty Bethmoora goblin that the team meets at the beginning of the third act would have made for more compelling protagonists.
That's not to say that the rest of the film isn't good. What I really enjoyed is seeing Hellboy and Liz's relationship moving forward—there's is not a perpetually frozen relationship á la Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Hellboy II also intriguingly shows them going through a very rough patch as they learn to live together; which is made all the worse because they have superpowers and at least one of them explosively loses control when upset. The highlight of the film is the Elemental Forest God. It is quite rare for an action scene to end with a note of sadness for the protagonist, as well as a sense of beauty and wonder that eclipses the titanic battle itself! Nevertheless, despite the film being a paler sequel, it also ends at an intriguing point that concludes the plot, but leaves the character story dangling. It's truly frustrating that they haven't made a sequel to finish the story!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.