Super Movie Monday – The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Part 1

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Five years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 came out to critical and fan disdain, Sony decided to release a new Spider-Man film. It’s easy to understand why they would take such a step; despite its critical drubbing, Spider-Man 3 made a pile of money. But they broke away from the Raimi/Maguire films and rebooted, in part because Raimi said he couldn’t deliver a satisfying number four on their deadline. I’m thinking it’s also because they were looking at marketing research numbers and wanted to skew a little younger.

Which makes sense because time was taking its toll. At the time that The Amazing Spider-Man came out, Tobey Maguire was on the wrong side of 35, not great for a character whose major appeal is his youth. So no matter how much loyalists loved him in the role and some still cry for a Tobey comeback,  Tobey Maguire (now over 40) will not be playing Peter Parker again unless they do a Spider-Man Beyond, with Maguire as a grizzled old Parker coaching a kid to take over the mantle of Spider-Man.

So they brought in director Marc Webb, a music video director who had done just one feature previously, with a new script from a story written by James Vanderbilt (who had also been one of the screenwriters of the aborted Spider-Man 4 movie). Alvin Sargent, credited screenwriter for Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and 3, also got a screenplay credit, as did Steve Kloves, who had just spent apparently half a lifetime writing scripts for ALL SEVEN Harry Potter films.

At first, it’s hard to tell just what’s supposed to be different, as the opening credits feature the same sort of 3-D animated flybys of spider webs that opened all three Raimi films. But then things take a decidedly different turn.

We see young Peter playing hide-and-seek with his dad (and in a nice bit of foreshadowing of this film’s villain, we see a toy dinosaur on the coffee table in the background of one shot). Peter discovers that his dad’s office has been broken into, which freaks Dad out so much that he grabs Mom and Peter (and an official-looking file that he stuffs into his briefcase) and flees the house, leaving Peter with Uncle Ben and Aunt May before disappearing into the night.

Fast-forward to now, with Peter Parker now a teenager (played a decidedly non-teenage Andrew Garfield, almost 30 when the movie came out).

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Peter is a skateboarding slacker, shy with girls, but not afraid to be brave when the situation demands it. When he sees mean jock Flash Thompson picking on a smaller kid, Peter draws Thompson’s ire onto himself by committing the unspeakable sin of using Flash’s given name, Eugene.

Flash beats Peter prettily mercilessly, until he is saved by the arrival of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who is tutoring Flash after school.

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She saves him, get it? It’s like backwards and feminist and shit. Gwen talks Flash down. He’s obviously intimidated by her, not just because she’s smart and pretty, but because (although it’s never mentioned in the film) she holds his sports eligibility in the palm of her hand. Later in class, Gwen flirts with Peter a little, which Peter thinks is cool, because he has been staring at her from afar (and taking pictures, which is jest a little stalkery).

After school, Peter returns home to Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and they have gone a little star-crazy on the casting with Martin Sheen and Sally Field, although I don’t mind that they’ve made Aunt May look a little younger. It may not be comics accurate, but I always thought the comic book Aunt May (and Rosemary Harris in the Raimi movies, as much as I love her) looked more like Peter’s grandmother than his aunt (then again, this is apparently based more on the comic book Ultimate Spider-Man, which I never read, so…).

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Peter manages to deflect their concern about his facial bruises with some help from a timely basement flood. In the process of rescuing stuff from the water, Peter finds his father’s briefcase, which includes this ominous security badge.

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So Peter’s dad wasn’t just some random office schlub, but a genetics researcher at Oscorp. And we know what species he was working on, because we saw a spider mounted under glass on his desk in the first scene. Also, Peter finds that secret file we saw his father shove into the briefcase earlier, hidden behind the lining of one section of the case.

Urgh, so many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I like the fact that we’re actually talking about Peter’s parents, who have been mostly treated as if they never existed over the course of the Spider-Man series (comics and movies). But on the other hand, I always side-eye attempts in the movies to tie everything together.

Uncle Ben comes in later to tell Peter that his father’s former co-worker, Dr. Curt Connors, might have some information on why Peter’s father left so suddenly. To the Internet! Peter learns that Connors is researching cross-species genetics, trying to eliminate all human weakness to create a master race, because that never goes wrong.

Peter goes to visit the Oscorp offices, featuring a giant holographic portrait of “Our Founder” Norman Osborn with the face almost completely in shadow which is not just the most sinister thing ever.

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Who would ever want to work here if they have to walk past that every day? They must have a great health plan, is all I’m saying.

Anyway, Peter is mistaken for an intern and is able to infiltrate a tour group led by… Gwen Stacy, which seems awfully convenient. Gwen is smart and all, but a high school student as the “head intern” on a cutting-edge science project? Wouldn’t that go to a college student, and even more, like a college senior rather than a high schooler? But it does let us meet Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose interest in Gwen may not be entirely about her brain, if you know what I mean. I mean, the script never goes there, but there’s a vibe in this first scene. Oh, and he only has one arm.

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Peter sneaks away from the tour group almost immediately after seeing a sketchy corporate dude with a file that bears the same special characters–Ø Ø–as the file in Peter’s father’s briefcase.

Which leads him to the “Biocable Development Unit” and this creepy room full of hundreds of spiders.

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While Peter is in the spider room, Sketchy Dude meets with Curt Connors and we learn that the secret purpose of the entire project is to save Norman Osborn from some unspecified condition. And time is apparently running out, because old Norman is in his last stages. Awfully convenient timing, given that the project was apparently started back before Peter’s dad left, and Dr. Connors has apparently never figured out the formula that Peter’s dad stole away in the ten-plus intervening years. How has this incompetent hack managed to keep his job all this time? Was he just a quota hire to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Back in the spider room, Peter stupidly twangs a web, which sets off an alarm and causes a dozen or more spiders to fall on him. He brushes them off and flees the lab before he’s caught, but he runs into Gwen on his way out, just in time to get bitten by one last spider he missed. His fake intern badge is confiscated and he is ejected from the building. He takes the subway home, and the spider bite is already affecting him. His senses and reflexes are heightened, and his hands randomly stick to things, like the shirt he rips off a pretty woman, leading to a fight with five or six dudes (the editing in the action scenes is often confusing) who all end up on the floor.

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The fight is actually pretty funny, with Peter constantly apologizing as his reflexes and strength act almost without his conscious control. This continues the next morning as he accidentally destroys the bathroom in the process of brushing his teeth (echoing a similar scene in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is not a movie you should be reminding people of, just saying). He ends up holed up in his room, flinching at every random noise, realizing this all came about because of that spider bite.

To the Internet! He researches spiders and spider bites, until he has to stop because his keyboard keys are all stuck to his fingers. Instead, he visits Dr. Connors at his home, where he finds out that Richard Parker (his father) is the one who bred the super-spiders.

Back at school, Flash Thompson is picking on another innocent victim when Peter decides to intervene. Only this time, Peter isn’t helpless, so he hits Flash where it hurts, by out-basketballing him in front of all his teammates and then knocking him down as he’s driving to the hole. This white man CAN jump.

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He shatters the backboard, and once again, the movie loses all credibility. Because instead of immediately being recruited for the basketball team, Peter is instead sent to the principal’s office, where he has to deal with a furious Uncle Ben. Uncle Ben tells him he has to pick up Aunt May that night.

Peter and Gwen have a cute moment where he kinda-sorta asks her out in a someday-maybe sort of way. Then he goes skateboarding and has a quick training montage where he learns to use his powers more fully. Then he is with Dr. Connors, where he gives him the formula that Peter’s dad apparently died to keep away from him. Way to go, Peter.

They test the formula on a computer-simulated rat, and it works perfectly in helping the three-legged virtual rat regrow its virtual missing limb, because no matter all the lip service about curing Norman Osborn’s Macguffinitis, we know it’s really about Dr. Connors’s missing arm. So they mix up the formula and give it to a real rat to see what happens.

Peter returns home to an even more furious Uncle Ben, because Peter forgot to pick up Aunt May. Wait, all that stuff happened on the same day? Uncle Ben chews out Peter and Peter blows right back up at him, where we learn the extent of the anger Peter usually keeps bottled up at his parents for abandoning him.

And this scene I love, because it’s raw and honest and gives Peter a reason to eventually go out and beat up on people. One place where the first Raimi Spider-Man stumbled was depicting the transition from shy, bookish Peter to masked-man-who-beats-up-on-criminals. We saw why he could do it with the guy who shot Uncle Ben, but why keep doing it? We get that here, and Garfield plays the hell out of it.

Oh, and speaking of Uncle Ben getting shot…

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Peter runs out of the house after the argument. Instead of the classic comics tale of Peter entering a contest to stay in the ring with a professional wrestler, Peter goes to a convenience store, where he gets in an argument with the cashier over the Take-a-Penny-Leave-a-Penny bin. It’s ridiculously petty, so you can understand Peter not caring much when the store gets robbed.

But then the crook runs into Uncle Ben, searching for Peter, and Uncle Ben is shot. While I kind of like the new version of Peter’s letting the thief get away, the way the shooting is staged isn’t as effective.

Peter is grief-stricken, so full of guilt and rage that even Flash Thompson feels sorry for him, which is a nice moment for his otherwise really one-note character. Peter has a copy of the police sketch of the crook, plus a description of the star tattoo on his wrist. One night as he’s walking down the street, he sees a girl in an alley arguing with a guy who might be the guy. So Peter goes up and starts punching him, which is when the dude’s friends come out to play.

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There’s a quick frantic battle between Peter, who at this point is just trying to get away in one piece, and all of these guys who seem to be almost as fast as he is, because no matter what wall he scales or how far he jumps, there always seems to be a guy or two right on his tail. The action choreography and editing are not top-notch in this movie, is my point.

Finally Peter manages to isolate the first guy on a rooftop and realize he doesn’t have the star tattoo. Then he falls through a roof and we finally get the pro-wrestling callback we didn’t have earlier in his origin story. As the gang members are yelling that they know his face, Peter looks up and sees this.

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So now Peter Parker must become El Hombre Araña!

Be here next week to see him in an Amazing Grudge Match in Part 2 of our recap.

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New Video Posted: A Sinister Theory

New Hero Go Home Presents… video posted to my Youtube channel today, Superman Returns: A Sinister Theory. This is the third entry in my unofficial Superman month of videos. Next week will be something I call The Superman Continuum, and then we’re off of Superman (slightly) for a video I’m currently calling Superman/Batman: Criss-Cross.

Why all the Superman stuff all at once? Two reasons. Number one, I figured that with Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier this year and Justice League on its way that Superman might draw some attention to the channel. And second, doing a lot of Superman videos all at once might save me a little work, by letting me reuse clips from one video in one or two others (which has happened, although I don’t know how much work it actually saved).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please share.

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Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 3, Part 3

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Wrapping up our three-part in-depth look at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. When we left off, Peter and Harry had just had a knock-down, drag-out fight which ended with Harry blowed up real good with his own grenade.

And as I said last time, the movie is surprisingly not horrible at this point. The Uncle Ben retcon is horrible and unnecessary, Mary Jane has spent the movie being insipid, and there are so many sub-plots that none of them get fleshed out beyond nodding toward cliches.

But Peter and Harry have an interesting dynamic, the special effects are good, and the emotional baseline of the story works pretty well. And the next scene is pretty decent.

Peter, having seen the latest Daily Bugle which features a picture of black-suited Spider-Man on the cover in front of the bank Sandman robbed, goes to the Bugle to confront Eddie Brock, who has just won the competition and landed the staff photographer job. Peter reveals to Robbie and Jonah that Eddie actually ‘shopped in a photo of Spider-Man that Peter had taken and recolored his suit to black.

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Once again, for all his clownishness, we see for just a second that J. Jonah Jameson actually has some journalistic ethics and is a serious person at heart.

Thus Eddie is destroyed, earning Peter his undying enmity, and by the way, not only is Eddie’s journalistic career over, but so is the part of the movie that is any good whatsoever. The rest of the movie is a descent into horribility that must be experienced more than described, but I will do my best.

Now we begin the infamous Evil Douchebag Montage, in which Peter (with the black suit on under his clothes) is strutting down the street to the strains of James Brown’s “Drive That Funky Soul,” finger-gunning every woman in sight. It’s a very uncomfortable sequence; the German word for my feeling in this sequence (and I think most of the people watching) is fremdschämen, feeling embarrassed for someone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t feel embarrassed for themselves.

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This sequence has its apologists, who mainly say that this is Peter acting in the way he thinks a cool badass would act, and because Peter is a dork, his idea of a cool badass is also by definition dorky, thus the fremdschämen. This may in fact be the explanation, but I don’t think it’s an artistic choice that works. I think it’s a failed attempt to hang onto audience sympathy for Peter after showing him doing some authentically dark things: blowing up his best friend and killing (as far as he knows) Flint Marko. It’s an attempt at a takeback, saying look, Evil Peter isn’t really evil. He may try to be bad, but he’s a failure at it.

But not only does that attempted takeback feel clumsy in and of itself, it’s also badly executed. The shots in this montage seem to have been meant to build in a certain order, but got out of whack in the editing process. First, we see Peter talking to Dr. Connors on the phone, who is concerned about how the symbiote feeds off of aggression (to which I can only say, “Welcome to the party, pal!”). As Dr. Connors is talking, Ursula is feeding Peter cookies as he orders her around, and it seems like her crush is back in full force.

Then we get the strutting and finger-gunning with women on the street looking at him like a freak, intercut with Peter flirting heavily with Betty, to the point that she’s about to make out with him right there in the office. Jonah shuts that down, but Peter offers him new shots of black-suit Spider-Man, that show Spidey beating crooks down far more thoroughly than before, and when Jonah asks him what he wants, he confidently says he’ll take the staff job.

And I should add that the scene before the montage, where Peter sees the headline, we see women in the street looking at him admiringly. So at first, Bad Peter is also Hot Peter. This is reinforced with Ursula worshipfully feeding him cookies and fetching him milk. But then we get this weird pair of shots that show women grimacing at him from the front (who is this weirdo finger-gunning at me?), with a reverse angle of women ADMIRING him from behind, followed by Betty nearly jamming her tongue down his throat, followed by more women treating him like he’s toxic.

And I think the initial idea of the sequence was that it gets worse over time, that when Peter first lets himself run with his dark side, some women find it hot, but the further he goes, the worse he gets. But the shots aren’t shown in that order, so you start looking for more explanations, like is it all in his head? Does he think women are turned on by him, but they’re really turned off? No, because the angles are backwards. Does the suit itself exert some kind of mind control on the women he flirts with? Maybe, but it’s never discussed.  It’s just the viewer’s mind trying to find rational ways to reconcile contradictory data before giving up and saying, “Okay, this just sucks and there’s no good explanation for it.”

Urgh. I’ve spent way too much time trying to explain that mess, so let’s move on. Turns out Flint Marko’s not dead, it just took him a while to reconstitute.

So next Peter takes Gwen Stacy to the jazz club where Mary Jane is working (and once again, Bryce Dallas Howard is in one of the weight camouflage outfits that just draws attention to what they’re trying to distract from). Mary Jane gets up to sing, and Peter somehow manages to start playing the piano, totally distracting from Mary Jane’s performance. And suddenly, it’s a musical… again.

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And once again, it’s confusing, because last we saw, everybody who encountered Evil Peter seemed to think he was a total idiot. But now when he gets up and starts dancing through the club, with Gwen joining in for part of it, everybody seems to love it (lending validity to that mind control theory I totally just made up?). Gwen totally doesn’t understand that Peter’s just using her to hurt MJ until the dance is over. Gwen runs out, devastated.

Peter then confronts Mary Jane, but for what purpose, we never find out, because the manager and bouncers suddenly decide to throw Peter out. And as he’s wiping the floor with them, Mary Jane decides to get in the middle of it, with the predictable result that Peter knocks her to the floor.

That seems to sober him up, because he decides to get rid of the black suit once and for all. But once again, we get one of these weirdly random moments where stuff just happens the way it does because the plot needs for it to happen. In the comics, Peter goes to a church bell tower to get rid of the symbiote because Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, who has been studying the symbiote (the way Dr. Connors has in the movie), tells him the symbiote can be weakened by loud sounds. Peter chooses the bell tower strategically.

In the movie, Peter chooses the bell tower just because it happens to be close by. He discovers the thing’s weakness quite by accident.

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Also randomly, Eddie Brock just happens to be in the same church, praying for God to kill Peter. When he hears the bell ringing, he goes into the base of the bell tower to see what’s up (not any of the other people we see in the church, just him, conveniently), where two things happen. He sees Peter getting rid of the black suit (thus learning his secret identity), and he gets covered in the goop himself, becoming Venom.

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We have finally been introduced to the final villain of the piece, and the movie is now 3/4ths done. Not much time to flesh out this plotline, is there?

Peter sulks in his apartment and gets a pep talk from Aunt May. This scene seems to exist only to allow for some separation between Venom’s creation and the moment he finds Sandman in an alley, where they decide to team up to kill Peter. The visual look of Venom is very much in keeping with the comics, but he has Topher Grace’s voice, so there’s no real menace here.

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After another quick filler scene, we see Venom kidnap Mary Jane and we’re into the climax. Television news reports show Mary Jane trapped in a cab that has been webbed up twenty stories next to a building under construction. It’s efficient exposition, but also incredibly clumsy (and contrary to what I said before, the news reports do actually name Marko “the Sandman”).

Peter sees the news reports and puts on his old red-and-blue uniform. Before going after Mary Jane, he stops by Harry’s penthouse to recruit his help. Turns out Harry wasn’t killed by the grenade, but horribly scarred on one side of his face. Or I should say, he has facial scars carefully calibrated to make sure he can still retain our sympathy–damaged, but not too damaged.

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Peter tries to convince Harry to help him rescue MJ, but Harry sends him away.

After Peter leaves, Butler Bernard enters and tells Harry that the wounds on his father’s dead body confirm that he had been killed by his own glider, and therefore Peter is innocent. The way it’s written, it seems as if Bernard was always in on Norman Osborn’s secret (he can identify wounds received from the glider, for instance). He’s like the evil version of Batman’s Alfred or something, not the doddering old fool he’s always appeared to be. Still, it’s not a very convincing speech, clumsily written with no real proof in it, and the delivery is barely competent. In fact, Bernard–who has been in all three movies–has always been played by a man who seems barely able to deliver dialogue at all.

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Because you remember how I’ve mentioned in the previous movie recaps that Raimi likes to give minor roles to family members of cast and crew? Well, turns out that Bernard is played by one of those. The actor’s name is John Paxton, and he is the father of Bill Paxton, who starred in Raimi’s A Simple Plan. John Paxton had his first role for Raimi in that film, and has since appeared in at least five other Raimi films. He’s a horrible actor, but Raimi seems to feel a loyalty toward him such that he keeps casting him.

So Peter heads to the construction site, which just happens to be located in Uncanny Valley.

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Look, I can understand being confident in your digital doubles, and I have seen how they can make for more exciting and dynamic superhero action sequences. But for whatever reason, either the long takes they work on here or just the fact that they were rushing to finish a climax nobody was particularly excited to work on, the effects just don’t convince.

Venom and Sandman double-team Spidey, with the predictable result that he ends up pretty much helpless between the two of them, Venom holding him down while Sandman beats him to death. Remember this image, because I’ll be referring back to it in a bit.

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Of course, the day is saved by the arrival of Harry and his Goblin tech, yada-yada-yada. There’s some wisecracking and some teamwork and the cameos you expect from (this time) Sam Raimi’s kids. The whole thing ends up with Sandman being destroyed by Goblin bombs and Venom being destroyed by loud clanging sounds… and a Goblin bomb.

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Happy endings all around, except for the fact that (as foreshadowed earlier) Harry ends up fatally wounded in the confrontation. Oh, and Sandman isn’t actually dead.

He and Peter have a final moment where Marko says he is sorry for killing Uncle Ben and Peter forgives him. And then he blows away.

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And I get that they’re trying to end on a grace note, giving Sandman a kind of redemption and Peter a chance to let go of the vengeance in his heart, but holy God, nothing in this entire Sandman plotline works. From the very first moments where he’s justifying his crimes to his wife (“I’m not a bad person. I’ve just had bad luck.”), the unspecified medical condition his daughter has, the unspecified experiment that “kills” him, the unspeakable retcon of Uncle Ben’s death, to this final moment of forgiveness just minutes after that moment above where Sandman was BEATING PETER TO DEATH, I just don’t buy any of it.

And the worst part of it is, there are hints of what could have been a really good story in there. Thomas Haden Church is better in the role than I thought he’d be, and the whole idea of a pile of sand animated by the ghost of a man with only one overriding goal–to save his daughter–makes me really want this to be better every time I rewatch it. It’s just that all of the Venom and Vengeance stuff forced in (apparently by studio decree) makes the whole thing into an overstuffed muddle, with an emotional throughline that doesn’t just not work for me, but comes close to offending me with the insincere manipulations it goes through.

And maybe the worst thing of all is the way it happens right before Harry’s big death scene, because I’ve still got such a bad taste in my mouth from the Sandman bullshit that it poisons what should be a very affecting moment, the culmination of three films’ worth of development.

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There’s some wordless grief at Harry’s funeral (well wordless other than Peter’s narration), where not only are Peter and Mary Jane and Aunt May and Bernard present, but also classmate Flash Thompson (last seen getting his ass kicked by  Peter in the high school hallway way back in the first film) and Captain Stacy and Gwen, for some reason.

Final scene: Mary Jane is singing in the club where she still works (“I’m Through With Love”), and Peter walks up. Mary Jane stops in mid-lyric (does she ever sing a song all the way though in this club?). Peter holds out his hand. Mary Jane takes it. They embrace and begin to dance.

But neither of them seems particularly happy about it. They haven’t actually worked out any of the issues that drove them apart in the first place. It’s a weirdly grief-stricken and bitter ending, two people stuck together because neither seems to have anyplace else to go. What an awful way to end a trilogy that was so good just one film earlier. Not only does this film end badly, but it seems to drain away all of the goodwill from the earlier films and exhaust any character development possibilities for Peter and Mary Jane in the process. I really don’t want to follow Peter any further on this path.

Which may be why it’s just as well that Sony ended up rebooting the franchise instead of going forward with the Spider-Man 4 they were developing. But given the fan reaction to the reboot, maybe not.

But that’s next week.

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New Video Posted – More Time Trouble

The third video in my new “Hero Go Home Presents…” series is up on Youtube now. This is the first video I’ve made using Da Vinci Resolve, which is giving me more professional results than my previous software. Enjoy the 720p goodness!

Oh, and you might like the content of the video as well, talking about the passage of time in Superman 3. Next week continues Superman Month with a sinister theory.

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Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 3, Part 2

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Continuing our in-depth recap of Spider-Man 3 from 2007, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and directed by Sam Raimi. Last time, everything was going well for Spidey. Peter was dating the girl of his dreams, doing well in school, and New York was in love with Spider-Man, so much so that they were throwing a ceremony in his honor, culminating with giving him the key to the city.

Before the ceremony begins, we get a couple of nicely parallel scenes. Eddie Brock uses his Daily Bugle press credentials as an excuse to shoot some pictures of Gwen Stacy, and it turns out that they are not in fact dating or anywhere close to getting married, as he has been telling people. They had coffee one night, which Brock has apparently turned into an obsession.

Meanwhile, Peter uses his Daily Bugle press credentials as an excuse to shoot some pictures of Mary Jane (and not incidentally, some of the pro-Spider-Man banners behind her as well). She is still upset about being fired, but gets pissed at Peter because he doesn’t understand how she feels. Of course, she has never told him she got fired, but that’s no excuse. Rather than telepathically sense her problems, he tells her they won’t care about that bad review the next day (when he plans to propose, presumably), and then he goes off to get ready for his big entrance.

Meanwhile, a couple of cops spot escaped convict Flint Marko on the street and chase him. He ducks behind a sand truck and disappears. They assume he’s hiding in the sand, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re right, sort of.

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The cops shoot at the giant sand beast, and the bullets actually seem to hurt him for some reason. He transforms into a giant cloud of sand and blows away up the street.

Back at the ceremony, Harry runs into Mary Jane and they talk. They have an easy chemistry that she doesn’t have with Peter. In fact, seeing this, that whole “Harry dating MJ” sub-plot from the first film that seemed to come from out of nowhere and then disappeared without a trace now makes more sense. Also, Harry’s left eye is droopy, I’m guessing from the head wound. I don’t know if this is just the way James Franco looks and I never noticed before, or if this is something he’s doing as part of his performance (looks awfully natural, if so), or if this is some kind of make-up or digital effect, but whatever it is, it really helps sell the whole personality-change-from-a-head-wound plot.

Their conversation is interrupted by Gwen Stacy, who stands at the podium and gives a glowing introduction of Spider-Man as a guy who risks his life to save people and asks for nothing in return, after which Spidey swings in and high-fives some people in the crowd and shows off. He lowers himself down on a webline, hanging upside down, and when people in the crowd yell for a kiss, he tells Gwen to “Lay one on me.” And this happens.

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Which pisses Mary Jane off, because the upside-down kiss was their thing, their iconic moment from the first film. And as ridiculous as I think the rest of MJ’s plotline in this movie is, I kind of feel for her right here. Especially since, as we know now and MJ will learn later, Peter knows Gwen in a friendly, maybe-flirty way. Mary Jane runs away in a huff.

She doesn’t miss anything, because the crowd in the park is suddenly panicked by a mysterious sand storm which blows through. Elsewhere, an armored truck is transporting money when the sand cloud attacks and coalesces into Marko again. But Spider-Man has followed the mysterious phenomenon and now that he has a bad guy to fight, he leaps into action, for all the good it does him.

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As you will learn by the end of Part 3 of this recap, I hate pretty much everything about the Sandman plotline in this film, but one thing I have to admit: visually, their take on Sandman and his powers is a note-perfect adaptation of Ditko’s original vision of the character.

And this is no small thing. Because as a comics fan, I had spent 40+ years resigned to the fact that I would never see anything close to an accurate translation of comics to screen, because number one, Hollywood would constantly be trying to make the costumes and powers more realistic and down-to-earth (unless they were going for parody, in which case they would do a very accurate, but cheaply-made version of said costume), and number two, the realities of movie budgets and the limitations of special effects technology made it literally impossible. Until it suddenly wasn’t.

Their fight doesn’t last long. In the end, Spider-Man saves the lives of the armored car drivers, but Sandman (who is never identified by this name in the movie, but I’ll keep using it anyway) gets away. Without the money he was trying to steal, which means he will try again soon.

So now comes the night of the big proposal. Peter arrives at the restaurant, and here’s our old friend Bruce Campbell doing yet another cameo role completely unrelated to his previous two. It’s a funny bit (I especially like the way he blows a whistle to have someone deliver him a pen, nestled on a pillow carried on a silver tray–that’s some pen).

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Now bear with me for a second while I get fan-wonky. One thing Sam Raimi did absolutely right in building his Spider-Man universe was to set up  a number of potential future adversaries in his movies, planting seeds that could be used later (one reason why the reboot was an ill-considered idea). The obvious ones, you probably know: setting up Harry’s revenge arc in Spider-Man 3 at the end of the first film and letting it simmer over the course of the second. and introducing Dylan Baker’s Dr. Curt Connors as Peter’s science teacher (name-checked in the first film, shown on screen in 2 and 3).

But there are more. Venom’s character, Eddie Brock, is name-checked in the first film (when someone refers to “Eddie” being unable to get a photo of Spider-Man). Granted, this was probably just an Easter egg, but still. Also, the series not only contains the antagonistic relationship with J. Jonah Jameson that launched several villains in the comics series (the Scorpion and the Spider-Slayer robots, for instance), but also Jonah’s astronaut son John Jameson, who battled Spider-Man a few times with powers picked up on his space journeys and eventually became Man-Wolf.

So could we suppose (just for the sake of argument) that all of these lookalike characters Peter keeps encountering are actually non-unrelated? Could they in fact be… clones? Given that clones have figured prominently (and infamously) in Spider-Man’s comics history, could all of these Bruces be setting up a potential Cinematic Clone Saga? Food for thought.

Anyway, back to the story. Peter’s plan is to have the waiter bring champagne in a glass with the ring in it, and is rehearsing not so much how he’ll pop the question, but how he’ll react to Mary Jane’s obvious joy at being asked, when Mary Jane arrives, pissed off because she’s had to walk to the restaurant past front-page photos of Spider-Man kissing Gwen Stacy. It doesn’t help her mood when Gwen stops by the table and MJ finds out that they are friends. And of course, she STILL doesn’t tell Peter that she got fired from her Broadway show, leading Peter to prattle cluelessly about how he also has trouble handling all the fame and success coming his way. At least until MJ storms out.

And now we finally come to it: the moment when the movie decides to flush itself down the toilet. Up to now, the movie hasn’t been all that bad. A little aimless, with some deliberately bad characterization of Peter and MJ to stir up drama, and some silly cliches like head-wound-induced amnesia and an unspecified medical condition leading Sandman to steal money to help his daughter. But the actors are still basically appealing and Raimi has been doing his best to maintain the balance between Spider-Angst and Spider-Fun.

But now Peter, anxiously waiting for a call from Mary Jane, gets a call from the cops instead. Turns out the guy who shot Uncle Ben in the first movie wasn’t the guy who shot Uncle Ben. There was a second gunman who did the actual shooting, and the guy on the grassy knoll was… FLINT MARKO!

Now, I react especially badly to this, because it’s a pet peeve of mine, the whole “This time it’s personal because the dude killed the hero’s father” thing. I think it’s unnecessary, and I think it assumes the audience are a bunch of amoral idiots who can’t relate to a hero with actual, you know, principles. Nope, principles aren’t enough. We have to make it a vendetta, so the audience will care or something. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Tim Burton’s Batman, and now Spider-Man 3. They all piss me off.

I understand why they do it here; they need for Peter’s pursuit of Marko to be intense and personal in order to drive the Venom storyline, and they’ve gone to the MJ-in-danger well a few times already (and will again before the end). But instead of making me empathize with Peter’s rage or worry for Peter’s emotional health, it just makes me mad AT THE MOVIE and drop out of any emotional stakes I had in the outcome of the story, SINCE IF THEY COULD PULL THE RUG OUT WITH UNCLE BEN’S DEATH, THEY COULD DO IT WITH ANYTHING.

I don’t mean to shout, but I think it’s an important point. So many times, on so many subjects, people assume that if you don’t agree, you don’t understand. It is possible to understand why something was done, and even empathize with the reasons, and still think it was the wrong way to go.

So Mary Jane visits Peter to see if he’s okay, and he is obsessively listening to the police scanner and doesn’t have time for any of her “Me-me-me” drama right now. She says that she and Aunt May are worried about him, and there’s a great moment where she asks him to turn off the scanner and he gives her this, “You have forfeited the right to tell me what to do” look before turning it down–slightly.

Mary Jane gives another line that foreshadows the ending when she says, “Everybody needs help sometimes, Peter,” which is just twisting the knife in the wound. Because Alvin Sargent, the credited screenwriter returning from Spider-Man 2, is doing all sorts of technically competent and even cool things, but they’re in service to a story that is broken in very large ways that make the film’s failure feel even worse, less a failure than a betrayal.

Peter goes to bed with the scanner on, has nightmares about Flint Marko shooting Uncle Ben, and the black goo that we had almost forgotten about comes crawling out, once again looking like a grasping clawed hand sometimes. And then this happens.

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Peter’s suit has turned black. And it apparently feels awesome.

This black suit is a little more low-key than the version from the comics, which was not just a dark monochrome version of Spider-Man’s regular suit. Once again, I understand why they did it, and it does have its cool aspects, but it’s a little drab compared to the comics suit or the upcoming Venom.

Peter takes a sample of the black stuff to Dr. Connors, who is worried about its symbiotic tendencies. He warns Peter not to let any of it touch him. As if.

Peter returns home and hears on the scanner about a mysterious sandstorm. He decides to suit up, and suddenly he has two costumes, one normal one and the new black one (I thought the black costume was his old one with the black goo covering it, but suddenly’ it’s like Peter now had a spare costume all along). He suits up in the black one, smashes Eddie Brock’s camera when Eddie tries to take a picture of him in it, and then descends into the sewers/subway tunnels to confront the Sandman.

They have a brutal fight in which Spider-Man appears much more savage than we’ve seen him previously.

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Peter once again separates Marko from the money before apparently killing him by washing him away with a flood of water from a burst water main.

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I do like the way Peter reacts to Marko’s apparent death by simply saying “Good riddance.” This fight really sells the seductive power of the black suit way more than the infamous bits coming up.

So Peter returns home, but notices in his reflection in a store window that he suddenly has Hitler hair, then when he arrives at his building, he yells at landlord Ditkovich (hounding him for rent as always) to “fix this damn door!” His uncontrollable anger scares Peter so much that he hides the black costume away in his closet… but he doesn’t get rid of it.

The next day, Peter tells Aunt May that Spider-Man killed Flint Marko and is surprised when she isn’t happy at the news. Mary Jane, meanwhile, goes back to waiting tables at a jazz club that’s looking for a “waitress/singer.” Depressed, she considers calling Peter, but calls old boyfriend Harry instead. We see where this is going.

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MJ and Harry make omelets and dance the twist, culminating in a kiss that sends MJ running away. An upset Harry starts to drink and suddenly, his father’s ghost begins speaking to him and he gets all his memories back and remembers why he hates Peter. Because MJ’s kisses are magic, and we need to do something radical to get this plot moving again.

When Mary Jane gets back to her apartment, Harry–now in his New Goblin attire–slams her up against the wall and tells her to follow his orders if she wants Peter to live.

Next day, Mary Jane calls Peter (and Ursula, landlord Ditkovich’s daughter who seems to have such a hopeless crush on Peter, is totally on Team MJ for some reason). Mary Jane asks Peter to meet her in the park, where she tells him they’re through because she’s in love with someone else.

Heartbreak! Peter meets Harry at a place called Esposito Coffee (calling back to Mike Esposito, longtime Spider-Man inker in the comics), where they commiserate over MJ’s sudden departure, before Harry breaks the news that he is the other man Mary Jane is in love with. It doesn’t help that the reasons he gives for why she was dissatisfied with her relationship with Peter are all the actual reasons–he was never there for her, he didn’t even know she was fired. Peter stumbles out into the street, dazed. Harry’s happy.

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Revenge is a dish best served with pie.

Peter looks back to see Harry toss him a wink, and suddenly he realizes the truth: Harry’s memory is back. He rushes home to put on the black suit before confronting Harry in his apartment. Harry and Peter have a savage fight, which ends up with Harry lying helpless at Peter’s mercy. Maguire and Franco really sell this confrontation, and Maguire is especially good as Peter coldly tells Harry that his father never loved him, was in fact ashamed of him, and then taunts his weakness before walking away. Harry takes the opportunity to lob a Goblin grenade at Peter’s back, but Peter senses it and slings it right back.

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Harry is caught in the explosion. Peter doesn’t look back. He’s got a new, evil future to look forward to.

We’re now about two-thirds of the way through, and the movie, with the exception of that hideous Uncle Ben retcon, is still not all that bad. It’s weak, but not awful. But awful is coming very, very soon.

Which is to say next week, in our final installment. See you then.

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New Youtube Video up: Superman the Movie

My second Youtube video is up today. This one is about Superman the Movie. If you’ve read my Super Movie Monday recap of the movie, this video won’t necessarily present any new information, but I think the video format does allow you to see the material presented in context  and in what I hope is an entertaining way.

Here’s the link:

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Super Movie Monday: Spider-Man 3, Part 1

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Continuing our look at the Spider-Man films of Sam Raimi. Third films have bad reputations. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock wasn’t horrible, but felt inconsequential after The Wrath of Khan, and also took back the powerful ending of that film. Alien3 also undid the hard-won ending the main characters of Aliens had earned and went downhill from there. Superman 3 and Batman Forever represented major changes in tone for the series that didn’t sit well with audiences, and the less said about X-Men: The Last Stand, the better.

But Spider-Man 3 stands apart from these other films. In all of the above cases, the fall in quality seemed to be attributable in large part to major changes in personnel, either in front of or behind the camera. All of the above films had different directors from previous films in the series, with the exception of Superman 3, which went through a major structural change to accommodate the casting of a major box-office star in Richard Pryor.

Spider-Man 3, though, was made by almost the exact same team that created the earlier films. Same director, same producers, same screenwriter (one of them, anyway), same cast members in the major roles. It’s not as if they had suddenly forgotten how to make a good movie, nor could you say they didn’t get the characters or understand the appeal. Spider-Man 2 had emphatically proven just the opposite.

So why is Spider-Man 3 considered such a misfire, and how did it get that way? Let’s go through the movie carefully and see if we can find the answers.

The opening credits give a little foreshadowing of what’s to come. Instead of seeing webs against a red background, this time, the background is black, and we see the webs getting covered in some kind of sinister black goo as we see video clips of the previous films played out in the spaces between web strands like reflections in shards of glass caught in the webbing.

One point in Spider-Man 3‘s favor. It tries to tell a different kind of story about Spider-Man this time. Unlike the previous two films, which have opened by depicting how miserable Peter Parker is in various ways, in this film he starts out on a high note. After resolving his problems with Mary Jane Watson and defeating Doctor Octopus, everything now seems to be going Peter’s way. He and Mary Jane are happy together, and the city loves Spider-Man. Peter is doing well in school (shown once again in Dr. Connors’s class, and how much does it suck for Dylan Baker that he never got to take his turn in the villain chair as the Lizard?) and has a new admirer in fellow student Gwen Stacy.

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Mary Jane is doing well herself, starring in a new show just opening on Broadway. And suddenly, it’s a musical.

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MJ is radiant on stage, and Peter is obviously loving every second of it. Also in the audience is Harry Osborn, splitting his attention between Peter and Mary Jane on stage. After the show, Mary Jane keeps asking Peter if she was really good. The applause wasn’t loud enough. Peter does his best to reassure her.

Later, he and Mary Jane are in the woods, lying in a web strung between the trees and watching falling stars. Mary Jane keeps saying “Tell me you love me.” Damn, she is really insecure. This does not bode well.

What bodes even less well: the meteor that lands nearby that releases a glob of black goo that crawls forward with groping tendrils like grasping fingers.

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It attaches to the back of Peter’s moped as he and MJ drive away. Of course, given that this thing landed during a meteor shower, how many of these things might have landed around the world?

Meanwhile, escaped convict Flint Marko (a really jacked Thomas Haden Church) creeps through alleyways and climbs in through an apartment window where a little girl is sleeping. This is Marko’s daughter, and she is sick from an unspecified condition. Marko changes out of his convict coveralls and into the classic Sandman garb from the comics.

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Marko’s ex-wife tells him he has to go, but before he leaves, his daughter, now awake, gives him a locket with her picture.

Peter goes to see his Aunt May in her new apartment (the one she said she was moving into in the last movie) and tells her that he is going to propose to Mary Jane. Aunt May gives him a little lecture about how husbands have to put their wives before themselves, then gives Peter her wedding ring to give to MJ.

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As Peter is driving home, he is attacked by Harry Osborn, who has redesigned all of his father’s old Green Goblin equipment into a more modern look.

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Stupid Harry Osborn who needed Peter’s help to get through high school is now genius inventor. Losing your parents makes you smarter. Who knew? (Okay, you could argue that it was the Goblin serum injections that made him smarter, but still…)

He smashes Peter into and through various buildings and windows, and Peter is too stunned to fight back, until he loses the ring.

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Sam Raimi and the visual effects team, this time headed by Scott Stokdyk instead of John Dykstra, pull out all the stops to make the fight frenetic and visually interesting. Extreme speed ramping, abrupt changes in direction as virtual stunt doubles knock each other all over the screen, action so fast you can barely follow it. It’s an exciting fight, but for me, it’s a little too much.

Peter fights back, and his agility and experience win out. Harry is knocked off his hoverboard thing and hits his head as he falls to the ground far below. Peter tries to wake Harry up, and when he is non-responsive, Peter carries him to the hospital.

After a quick bit of foreshadowing with police captain Stacy, who happens to be Gwen’s father, we see Flint Marko being pursued across a marsh. He comes up against a chain link fence and punches out a dog (no animals were harmed in the making of this picture; the dog is a puppet that is mentioned in the end credits).

Flint Marko scales the fence, which happens to be some kind of nuclear test facility. Marko falls into a sand pit just as they’re conducting some kind of unspecified experiment (there’s a lot of unspecified stuff in this movie: unidentified alien goo, unidentified disease, unexplained experiment). Anyway, whatever the experiment is intended to do, what it actually does is disintegrate Flint Marko.

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Meanwhile, in a totally non-cliched turn of events, Harry’s head bump has given him FREAKIN’ AMNESIA! Are you kidding me? This was already a cliche when they did it in Gilligan’s Island in 1965, for cripes sake. On the other hand, Harry and Peter are friends again. Yay for amnesia! Oh, and also, foreshadowing when Harry says he would give his life for Peter and Mary Jane.

The next morning, the sand in the pit where Flint Marko died begins to move on its own and takes on a humanoid shape. It finds the locker from Marko’s daughter and forms itself into Flint Marko. The Sandman is born!

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Peter is planning his proposal when MJ comes by his apartment. She has been singled out as awful in the reviews of her show. Peter tries to be sympathetic, but makes it all about him, and Mary Jane is disgusted. Even worse, an emergency call comes over the police scanner; there’s an out of control crane on a skyscraper downtown. And although Tobey Maguire is not the most complex actor, I love the deer-in-the-headlights look he gets when he realizes that an honest-to-goodness disaster is intruding on MJ’s drama, and he knows that he will probably pay the price for pointing it out.

Turns out that the crane disaster is happening in a building adjoining the location of a model shoot. Hey, look, Gwen Stacy is a model, too. How does Peter Parker attract all the models?

As Gwen is hanging from a smashed-out office in dire peril, her father is on the street coordinating a cordon to keep people out of the area, where he meets young Daily Bugle photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace).

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Brock mentions to Cpt. Stacy that he is dating Gwen, who loses her precarious hold and falls to her death, or at least, she would have died if Spider-Man hadn’t arrived just in time to save her.

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And speaking of Gwen, Bryce Dallas Howard was apparently pregnant during the filming and gaining weight. You don’t see it so much in this shot, but the filmmakers try to hide it by giving her these awful mid-calf flumpfy skirts that just make her look weirdly off-balance. Her outfits just scream “We’re trying to hide something” instead of “This is just the kind of stuff Gwen likes to wear.”

And now we finally get to see the return of J. Jonah Jameson. J.K. Simmons is still having all kinds of fun in the role. This time, there’s a gag running through the scene that involves his intercom, which apparently has a buzzer that has been retro-fitted from a jackhammer, because his entire desk rumbles and shakes when it buzzes.

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What makes it funnier is that JJJ can’t lose his temper because of his blood pressure. Of all the things from this series that I won’t miss with the MCU Spider-Man, Simmons’s Jonah is the one I will miss unreservedly.

Eddie Brock has pictures of Spider-Man to sell. He flirts with Betty, who apparently doesn’t like him at all, and then tries to sell the pics to Jonah just before Peter arrives to do the same thing. Peter’s pics are from an impressive angle, having been taken via his usual method of webbing the camera high up on a building someplace and then having it take timed exposures as he goes through his paces. Not surprisingly, Brock’s photos are better pictures, so Eddie makes the sale. He announces that he what he really wants is a staff job, because there’s a girl he plans to marry and he needs the steady income.

Which reminds Peter that there’s a girl he wants to marry, so he could use a steady income, too. Just so happens that there’s a staff job open, so JJJ announces a competition: whoever brings him a picture of Spider-Man doing something illegal will get the job. Peter apparently doesn’t want the job that badly, because if he did, he could win it in a second. Not condoning illegal activity, just saying Peter’s in the driver’s seat on this one, and he doesn’t do anything with it.

Peter heads out into the street, where he sees a notice that Spider-Man is going to receive the key to the city. And next to him, a random old man says, “I guess one person can make a difference.”

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Stan Lee cameo. Achievement unlocked.

Peter goes to visit Harry, and Bernard is back for another film. I have more to say about him, but I’m saving it for Part 3. Harry and Peter reminisce about things Harry barely remembers while Peter feels guilty about things Harry doesn’t remember at all. But when an ill-thrown basketball nearly shatters an expensive vase, Harry demonstrates that he still has freaky-fast Goblin-serum-enhanced reflexes.

Mary Jane goes to the theater where she works and walks in on someone else rehearsing her role. Turns out, it wasn’t just one critic who hated her performance. Everyone did. Which just makes you wonder: how did no one notice that MJ was bad to begin with? There were lots of rehearsals. For a major Broadway show, there would also have been off-Broadway test runs in front of audiences. How did no one notice that MJ was awful? (And just my personal opinion, I think she’s fine in the one scene where we see her perform in the show).

She leaves the theater absolutely devastated to thunderous applause outside. And for some reason, she thinks the applause is for her, only to be even more disappointed when she learns they’re applauding for Spider-Man who is swinging overhead. Am I really supposed to get invested in this whole “People hate my singing, but my stupid boyfriend doesn’t empathize because he’s too busy enjoying his sudden popularity after a lifetime of being bullied” storyline?

Anyway, time for the Spidey Celebration! Peter is taking photographs and loving it all. There’s even a marching band, playing a drum-and-bugle version of the Spider-Man TV theme song, which causes Peter to break out in this adorably dorky drum major strut dance.

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Enjoy it while you can, Peter. Because it’s all about to turn very, very bad.

Be here next week for Part 2.

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Hero Go Home Presents… Spider-Man 2: Roses and Reflections

So I’m starting a new Youtube series. I know that my previous tentative attempts at videos have been less than stellar. Part of that was my insistence on putting myself in front of the camera, trying to shoot and light myself without help, trying to ad-lib my way through videos with only minimal notes, with the end result being drab off-center visuals, odd camera artifacts, and a meandering pace.

This new series is an attempt to fix all of that. I’m not on camera, so the videos are fully scripted and move a good clip. Also, I’m doing a ton of editing on these to keep them more engaging. It’s a lot of work, but I think the result is worth it. The first video dropped today, and my plan is to come out with them weekly on Fridays for as long as I can keep up the pace and come up with interesting content. I have the first three weeks of videos already finished (and starting with the third, you’re going to see a big jump in quality, from SD to HD), and I have ideas for at least three more.

I may go back and redo some of the old Video Vault extras to punch them up and bring them in line with the new higher standard. Part of the reason I’m doing this is to get back to producing new content for this website, and part of it, frankly, is to add editing to the skillset I can use on my day job. Win-win.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video, and check back for more to come. You can find the first week’s video here.

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Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 2, Part 3

Wrapping up our three-part look back at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, released in 2004 from Sony/Columbia Pictures. When I do these recaps, I tend to rewatch certain scenes a lot as I search for a good frame to capture, and I’m finding that I appreciate the screenplay to this film more and more as I go through it. I mentioned a few times in my coverage of the first Spider-Man that I found myself cringing at much of David Koepp’s dialogue.  The screenplay to the second film is credited to Alvin Sargent, and there’s much, much less that I cringe at. A few eye-rolling moments (for a lead character who’s supposed to be smart and sensitive, Peter is a horrible communicator), but only one or two absolute cringes.

So when we left off, Mary Jane was giving Peter one last chance to make up his mind and prove he either did or didn’t love her (the motivations are kind of all over the place in this moment) by kissing her. But just as her lips are approaching his, this happens…

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It’s a sneak attack by Dr. Octopus, just one more thing that doesn’t make sense here if you spend more than a second thinking about it. Because if you remember, the reason Doc Ock is after Peter is to find the location of Spider-Man to deliver to Harry Osborn in exchange for the tritium fuel he needs to complete his experimental fusion reactor. Ock’s plan for this, as we learn in a few moments, is to use a kidnapped Mary Jane as leverage to force Peter Parker to get Spider-Man to come out of hiding. And we will find out later that neither Ock nor Harry suspect that Peter actually is Spider-Man.

So why is Ock’s opening gambit throwing a car that would kill both Peter and Mary Jane if Peter weren’t able to magically use his powers to save them during that instant of stress?

Oh well, it makes for an exciting opening to the movie’s final act. Ock knocks Peter into a wall and carries MJ away. Peter bursts out of the pile of debris covering him, seething with rage, and discovers he no longer needs his glasses (there’s a nicely subtle detail here where the sound mutes slightly when we’re looking at the blurred world through his glasses and becomes brighter and clearer when we’re not).

J. Jonah Jameson, meanwhile, is mourning over the loss of Spider-Man now that Doc Ock has kidnapped his son’s fiancee, at least until Spider-Man steals his costume back from where it’s displayed on JJJ’s wall. Now in full costume, Spider-Man webslings out to his rendezvous with Ock, where they start their grudge match on a clock tower.

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The fight is fast and furious, with Spider-Man’s speed, agility and webs against Ock’s greater strength and multiple limbs attacking from all directions. Their fight carries them down onto an elevated train, and suddenly they’re in Chicago, not that I care.

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One thing the movie seems absolutely fearless about, reflecting the growing confidence in digital effects in general, is using digital doubles in full view, long takes in bright sunlight. Both of Spider-Man’s set-piece battles with Ock, as well as Ock’s abduction of Mary Jane, happen in broad daylight. The digital doubles are fairly obvious, but better than the first film, and the kineticism and emotional stakes of the scenes are such I never really dwell on the moments where the fakery is most obvious.

Doc Ock pushes the train to full throttle then breaks off the handle, leaving Spider-Man to figure out how to stop the train. And oh, there’s a familiar face…

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That black dude on the right is Phil LaMarr, mostly known for his voice-acting work in cartoons. He was the voice of Samurai Jack, for instance, and more relevant for us here, he was the voice of Green Lantern and Static, among others, in the Justice League and Static Shock TV series, as well as numerous voices in the animated Futurama, Star Wars, and Marvel universes. And he doesn’t get a single line here.

Peter uses a LOT of webs to slow down and eventually stop the train, saving everyone on board, but the strain causes him to pass out. And then something cool happens.

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Yeah, I know the Messiah imagery is used a lot…

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But there’s something a lot more complicated than that going on here. Those other images are all about the pose reminding us that these men sacrificed their lives for others. But in Spider-Man’s case, he’s being gently borne aloft by a crowd, many of them not even supporting him, but just reaching out to touch him worshipfully, like the woman with the issue of blood in the Gospel story.

But it goes beyond even that. Because he didn’t just save them; they’re saving him. If they hadn’t brought him inside the train, he would have fallen to his death in Lake Michigan, er, the Hudson River. True to the Spider-Man mythos, and what sets Spider-Man apart from Superman, is that, while he may be a sort of god, he is a particularly human and fallible and even sometimes frail one. And it chokes me up to see how gentle they are with him here.

Two kids come up and give him back his mask…

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And something about the way these two kids, obviously amateurs, are featured made me think they were connected to the production somehow, like maybe they were Raimi’s kids or something. Off to IMDB, where we discover that nope, they’re not Raimi’s kids, but Tobey Maguire’s half-brothers. Nailed it. One of the other train passengers is the daughter of visual effects designer John Dykstra, one of the men instrumental in ushering in the modern era of visual effects with the original Star Wars.

The crowd tries to intervene when Dr. Octopus comes for Spider-Man, but Peter waves them off and surrenders. So it is that Spider-Man is delivered, unconscious and bound in freaking barbed wire, to Harry Osborn.

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Harry, of course, wants to see Spider-Man’s face before killing him and is shocked to discover it’s Peter. Harry drops the knife and stumbles back, shocked. Peter busts out of the wire and tries to learn MJ’s location. Harry mentions the tritium–which Peter realizes means the deaths of millions–before accusing Peter of killing his father. I love that Peter doesn’t even try to deny it (even though it’s technically not true), but just replies, “There are bigger things happening here than me and you.” Because that is absolutely true, and there are some people you can’t even waste time trying to talk sense into.

Which leads us to the final confrontation at Doc Ock’s ramshackle waterfront warehouse headquarters. Doctor Octopus gloats to Mary Jane that no one can stop him now that Spider-Man’s dead, and of course, as soon as he turns his back to start his fusion machine, Spider-Man shows up to free MJ.

Only those damn tentacles see everything, so Ock immediately attacks. As he and Spider-Man fight their last furious battle, the miniature sun goes out of control and threatens to kill MJ.

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So Spider-Man breaks off the fight to save her, giving Doc Ock the opening needed to lay Spider-Man out for the last time. But before Ock can land his killing blow, Spider-Man blocks it with a thick bundle of electric cables…

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Shocking the bad Doctor into helplessness. Spider-Man pulls the plug on the reactor like he did last time, but this reaction is bigger and is now self-sustaining. Spider-Man can’t stop it.

But Dr. Octavius is once again in his right mind. Peter pulls off his mask and asks Octavius how to stop the reaction. Both Octavius and Mary Jane are pretty surprised to learn it’s Peter under the mask.

Octavius reasserts control over his tentacles and, while Peter carries Mary Jane to safety, uses them to pull down the pilings underneath the reactor and drop the miniature sun into the river, where it cannot keep burning. And of course, he dies a sort of hero in the process.

SpiderMan2OctaviusAgain

It shows great confidence in their digital double to use a close-up of it for this shot of Octavius sinking to the bottom of the bay. Of course, because he’s dead, he doesn’t have to emote, which is usually the real giveaway.

Peter deposits Mary Jane in a huge web he spins over a shipyard, where he and Mary Jane talk about their relationship and the fact that Peter can’t put Mary Jane into danger like that again. And it would be a much better scene if it weren’t so obvious that the “web” is translucent goop over metal cables.

SpiderMan2MetalWeb

MJ goes back to John Jameson and Peter prepares to live a life alone. Meanwhile, Harry hears his father’s voice, follows it to a mirror, where he sees his father’s image and smashes it, revealing…

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Well, looks like we know what villain will be featured in the sequel, huh? But wait, there’s a bit more to go…

Namely, Mary Jane’s wedding to John Jameson. The bridesmaids are in black dresses, which is a bit ominous, and with good reason, because MJ ditches it. John looks miserable and kind of pissed, which could be more fertile ground for a sequel, since John Jameson assumed a couple of different villain personas to fight Spider-Man over the years. But he apparently wasn’t really serious about marrying MJ anyway, because her dress is not at all made for running. He could have caught her if he wanted to, is what I’m saying. But he doesn’t even try, which is how she ends up here…

SpiderMan2WeddingDress

And after Peter totally Spider-Man-splained everything to her. Women.

MJ says that she’s prepared to take the risks of being Spider-Man’s girlfriend because she loves Peter so much. And when their passionate kiss is interrupted by distant sirens, she just says, “Go get ’em, tiger.”

So Peter swings out in a final tracking shot that isn’t nearly as cool as the one that closed out the first film, but as soon as he’s gone, MJ’s supportive smile turns to this.

SpiderMan2Pensive

Everybody’s still at the church, probably. You might be able to get back in time to have the wedding after all. Just saying.

And that’s it for Spider-Man 2, a sequel that improves in almost every way upon the original. Twelve years later, it sometimes feels a little bloated and overlong. Several thematic points get pounded in a little too heavily, and the entire “Peter loses his powers” subplot feels a little unnecessary, which is odd, because the emotional justification for that plot is what the ENTIRE MOVIE IS ABOUT. But it feels as if they could have found something short of psychosomatic powerlessness to justify Peter taking some time off to get his head straight.

But it has enough great things going for it–a better script, good performances, better special effects–that it’s still a great watch today.

Oh, and BTW, I mentioned last time that I would talk about another piece of foreshadowing in the John Jameson gala scene. That turned into a small piece of a video I have put together that I will be publishing to Youtube on Friday, hopefully the first of a new, improved series of Hero Go Home Presents… videos. I’m currently working on a second one, and I have more ideas in the pipeline. I hope you like them.

Be here next Monday for (if all goes well) Part 1 of Spider-Man 3.

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Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 2, Part 2

Continuing our look back at Sony/Columbia’s 2004 sequel, Spider-Man 2.

So last time, Dr. Otto Octavius’s fusion reaction experiment had created a miniature sun that killed his wife and nearly killed him and a bunch of other observers, including Harry Osborn and Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man. As we left off, a team of doctors were getting ready to use a power saw to cut off the mechanical tentacles Octavius had been using to control the reaction, which are now fused to his body.

As the saw nears the tentacle apparatus, the tentacles start to move on their own (Octavius previously said they were controlled by their own artificial intelligence, which he consciously overrides by means of a special inhibitor chip) and attack the doctors. And in case you forgot that Sam Raimi got his start as a horror director, pioneering a unique kind of horror that fused shocking violence with fast, almost cartoonish action, here are some reminders.

Some signature Raimi stuff here, including a wild tracking shot from a tentacle’s POV and a shout-out to the chainsaw from the Evil Dead films. That last shot is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by John Landis, director of (among other things) An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

Those tentacles, BTW, are one of the movie’s biggest triumphs. The tentacles in the comic were simple cylinders with rudimentary fingers at the ends. The ones in the film have complex segmented shapes, and are animated with terrifying weight and power. When Octavius stumbles out of the hospital (after coming to surrounded by dead bodies and giving one of the less silly “Noooo!” screams of modern cinema), the tentacles walk with him, helping him support their weight. When he stumbles into the path of a taxi, the lower tentacles brace on the ground, allowing the upper tentacles to pick up the car and fling it away without Octavius’s real legs being broken by the weight. It’s never talked about, but it’s a telling detail that lets us buy in to their reality.

Oh, and remember that inhibitor chip I mentioned? The one that lets him control them instead of them controlling him? It got destroyed when he was zapped in the fusion experiment, so the tentacles are voices in his head driving him slightly mad.

He decides, with their encouragement, that he has to rebuild the fusion reactor, but bigger, so he can get it right this time. But to do that, he needs money.

You know what has money? A bank. Which is where Peter goes with Aunt May to try to refinance the loan on her house. Where they talk to smarmy bank clerk Jeff Winger.

Wow, first former Talk Soup host Hal Sparks, and now host of The Soup (the retooled show that Talk Soup morphed into), Joel McHale. Sam Raimi must have watched a lot of E!

So Aunt May gets turned down for the loan, just as Dr. Octavius (whom J. Jonah Jameson has decided to dub Doctor Octopus or Doc Ock for short) begins to rob the same bank. Peter runs away, leaving Aunt May alone and helpless, but returns moments later as Spider-Man, beginning our first big action showpiece, over 45 minutes into a 2-hour film. And it’s really good, with Ock throwing bags of heavy gold coins at Spider-Man, who dodges from wall-to-wall, but whose powers fail him at unexpected moments. The fight carries them outside, where Ock grabs Aunt May to use as a human shield against the cops, then he and Spider-Man fight their way up a building. The action is fast and furious and fun.

I love the way Aunt May whispers a scandalized “Shame on you” when Doc Ock pulls a particularly unsporting move on Peter. A couple of other notable things about the battle: there’s this guy…

(Our obligatory Stan Lee cameo) who pulls a woman with rather prominent cleavage out of the way of falling debris. And I only mention the cleavage because there’s a particular focus on busty women in this sequence.

This was also during that brief period where bare midriffs were in fashion, you’ll notice. Spider-Man saves Aunt May and carries her to safety as Doc Ock gets away with bags of money. And as Spider-Man swings away, there is a flock of young women who run up begging him to take them with him. Man, there are so many women after Peter in this movie, and he doesn’t notice any of them, he’s so blinded by MJ.

Peter next goes to a high society party, assigned to take photographs by Jonah because the science museum is honoring his son, John Jameson the astronaut.

And there are a couple of really subtle things going on in this shot. One is in the upper left that I’ll get back to eventually, but the other is a bit of quick foreshadowing for people who missed the trailers that spoiled what the movie is about to reveal. Because among the people here to honor Jonah’s son, the astronaut, is the girl standing next to Peter on the far right of the frame, and we’ve seen her before. She was previously seen putting on make-up next to Mary Jane in the dressing room before The Importance of Being Earnest, chattering with her like a best friend. And given that MJ has said she has a new boyfriend, could it be…?

Yes, it be.

Everything is going wrong for Peter at once in this party sequence, which is like a smaller, but more intense version of the opening 15 minutes. Jonah is blustery and semi-abusive. Mary Jane is fed up with him, casually dismissive when Peter tries his desperation gambit reciting “The Song of Hiawatha” to her. Harry has moved from resentment at Peter for his relationship with Spider-Man to outright drunken fury, slapping Peter in the face multiple times in front of the assembled party-goers. And in a running gag, Peter can’t even get a bite to eat, because every time he reaches for a canape or a drink, someone else grabs it just before he can (the one time he does manage to snag a glass, it’s empty).

And the absolute topper is when John Jameson, the hero everyone is here to worship, announces his engagement to Mary Jane. Peter can’t say anything but just has to do his job quietly and snap pictures at Jonah’s orders. And to make matters worse, Peter’s powers fail him completely a second time, causing him to fall something like 20 stories into a puddle of filthy water in an alley.

Peter visits a doctor to see what’s wrong, but the doctor says it’s probably psychosomatic. Peter describes his “friend’s dream” about being Spider-Man, trying to climb walls but failing. The doctor says maybe the dreams are telling him he doesn’t need to climb the walls in the first place.

So Peter has a sort-of dream sequence where he talks to Uncle Ben’s ghost. Uncle Ben wants him to stay the course, do the right thing even if it’s hard. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. But Peter decides to give it up.

Which is how we get another hammered-home point, this time in a triple homage to The Amazing Spider-Man #50, a story titled “Spider-Man No More!” featuring this panel.

Not only do we see an echo of this image onscreen as Peter ditches his costume in a garbage can…

But prior to that, Peter tells the ghost of Uncle Ben, “I am Spider-Man no more.” And once a garbageman brings the discarded costume to Jonah, the Daily Bugle publishes a cover story with that same headline, “Spider-Man No More.”

Meanwhile, Peter’s living the good life. He’s going to school, getting good grades, eating hot dogs, and when cop cars go by with sirens screaming, he doesn’t have to drop everything run off after them. He’s happy.

He even manages to see Mary Jane’s play, where she playing opposite a familiar face.

Her scene partner is played by Reed Diamond, well-known to genre audiences for recurring roles on TV series like Dollhouse, Wayward Pines, Minority Report and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Meanwhile, as when I earlier referred to The Importance of Being Earnest as being a little too on the nose, at literally the moment MJ spots Peter in the audience, she is reciting the line, “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.” Wow. It’s like Oscar Wilde wrote the play about Spider-Man.

After the play, Peter tries to convince MJ to give him another shot, but she’s having none of it. I have given Kirsten Dunst plenty of shit for her portrayal of Mary Jane in the previous film, but she plays MJ’s exasperation and drama fatigue pretty well here. She does these mouth shrugs that make her look a little like Sally Field. But her attitude does seem to soften toward Peter a bit.

So anyway, as JJJ publicizes Spider-Man’s disappearance, we see the two sides of Peter’s dilemma. On the one hand, complete strangers are flirting with him, making us think he could move on from Mary Jane and find happiness.

On the other, immediately after this moment, he sees someone being mugged and crying out for help, and he resolutely turns away, although his conscience is obviously bothering him.

Later, Peter gets finally gets the courage to tell Aunt May about his role in Uncle Ben’s death, and Aunt May pulls away from him and leaves him alone without a word. One thing I really like about this film even more than the first one is that Aunt May is no saint. She gets angry, she gets hurt, she even tries lying to the loan officer at the bank (but she’s a terrible liar). She good, but she’s human, and Rosemary Harris (I will keep saying this) is so good in the role.

Meanwhile, Doc Ock has finally finished building his new fusion reactor, but he still needs the rare tritium fuel it requires. So he goes to see Harry Osborn, who demands that Octavius bring him Spider-Man in exchange. And of course, the way to find Spider-Man is through his sort-of official photographer, Peter Parker. “Don’t hurt Peter!” Harry yells, a little too late.

That same night (maybe), Peter is noting the headlines about increased crime when he sees an apartment building on fire with a kid trapped inside, so he rushes in to rescue her. It’s not as easy as the rescue in the first movie when he had his powers, though. In fact, the little girl has to help rescue him at one point.

Even so, he succeeds in saving her, although someone else dies. He can’t save everyone.

The next day, the landlord’s daughter, Ursula (Mageina Tovah), offers him cake with a side of lovestruck staring. And she’s also rocking the bare midriff look.

It feels like there was meant to be more of a scene here, but it abruptly cuts off when she gives Peter a message from Aunt May, which causes him to rush out to see her. She’s moving. Also, she forgives Peter and misses Spider-Man. She gives a moving speech about the value of heroes, and it almost seems for a moment there that she realizes Peter is Spider-Man, but it’s left ambiguous.

Peter then decides to try believing in himself to turn his powers back on. Alas, it doesn’t work. He ends up falling into another alley and hurting himself.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane and John Jameson are filling out wedding invitations, and John brings up Peter, which prompts MJ to try out the inverted kiss on him.

The kiss just doesn’t have the same spark she had with Spider-Man, although it does bring up a point. At the end of the first movie, Mary Jane seemed to have the realization, after kissing Peter, that he and Spider-Man had the same lips or something. Like she had maybe figured out his secret. But it’s never brought up in this movie.

But that may partly be because, just when Mary Jane seems to be about to bring up the possible connection when she meets with Peter at a deli, he decides to shut her down again. He says he can’t be with her because he doesn’t love her, and she demands he kiss her to prove it.

Will his lips say “yes” even though his mouth says “no?” Be here next week for our final installment.

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