Swinging Low

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SPOILER WARNING

When Marvel decided to reboot the Spider-man films after the disastrous Spider-man 3 back in 2007, the choice of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker in Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-man was met with some skepticism. The 2012 film wasn’t perfect by any means: its running time was too long and some of the CGI looked decidedly ropey. But Emma Stone was an inspired choice as Gwen Stacy and there was an interesting vulnerability to Garfield’s Peter Parker. Fast-forward to 2014 and we have Amazing Spider-man 2. Webb’s second Spider-man outing suffers from many of the same problems as the first film (it outstays its welcome by about forty minutes and Jamie Foxx’s Electro has a very poorly designed costume) but it is actually a far weaker film than its predecessor. Garfield’s Peter Parker has become cocky and rather arrogant and the inclusion of a second villain with a conclusion that foreshadows the inevitable introduction of the Sinister Six in a second sequel means that the film feels cluttered and dramatically all over the place. There are some nice touches when it comes to exploring Peter’s father’s scientist past but overall you are left shrugging your shoulders. Marvel’s decision to press the restart button on Spider-man was criticised as a pointless exercise and Amazing Spider-man 2 really makes you miss Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. The sad thing is that with another sequel packed full of even more villains than you have here, the omens aren’t looking good that they’ll be able to reverse the drop in quality. In fact, it is becoming reminiscent of what Warners did with Batman when Joel Schumacher came on board. Amazing Spider-man 2 is bloated, uneven and mostly unengaging…

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SPOILER ALERT

HAMMERING IT HOME?
The first Thor film in 2011 was a very enjoyable superhero film. Capturing the spirit of Lee and Kirby on the screen with a very likeable cast and script, it is now two years later and we have Thor The Dark World. Director Kenneth Branagh has gone to be replaced by TV veteran Alan Taylor (The Sopranos, Mad Men) but most of the cast have remained the same except for Fandral who is now played by Zachari (Chuck) Levi. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) remains on Asgard, separated from his love Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) but he is forced to return to Earth when Malekith (CGI Christopher Eccleston), lord of the Dark Elves, attempts to find the dangerous power source the Ether. If his quest is successful, it could cause the end of existence as we know it. For thousands of years, it has been safely secreted in an industrial estate in England but when Jane Foster comes into contact with it, Thor is forced to betray Asgard to keep her and the mortal world safe. Tom Hiddleston steals the scenes he’s in as Loki but Hemsworth continues to be a very personable presence on screen while Portman doesn’t do much except look pretty. Eccleston is a decent enough villain but he doesn’t have a great deal to do since Malekith is mostly a digital creation anyway. Visually, Taylor has made a decent fist of things, using Greenwich as the setting for the apocalyptic climax and Asgard looks suitably unearthly. Yes it is silly and reminiscent of Doctor Who at times but it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience with some nice interplay between Loki and Thor and most importantly, at under two hours, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. We are left with a conclusion that sets up a second sequel quite neatly. There are two credit zingers, the first is a nod to the forthcoming Guardians of The Galaxy while the second is merely a throwaway postscript to the film. Thor The Dark World is a worthy successor to Thor and I would be happy to see a Thor 3 in the future…

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HOUSE OF LIMITED IDEAS?

I went to see Avengers Assemble, as it is called in the UK because the Sixties TV series called The Avengers trumps Lee and Kirby’s creations. Before I begin, I just want to say that Avengers Assemble isn’t a bad film: it rolls along at a decent pace and there are moments that make you smile. But one of the big problems with gathering together half a dozen or so characters on screen means that it is nigh on impossible for any character development or much characterisation. Every review so far has been falling over themselves to declare Avengers Assemble as a movie classic, up there with the best films ever made. Now, Whedon has made a decent fist of bringing Marvel’s franchise movie creations into a single film but there are occasions when Avengers Assemble feels like The Transformers it’s okay to like. Action sequences descend into Michael Bay-style video game artifice very quickly and the mcguffin of the film, Loki bringing alien invaders to Earth to rule it, is a plot so slight that it disappears if you look at it sideways. For anyone reading this review who thinks that I am damning it because I don’t enjoy films of this kind, that is not the case. Branagh’s Thor was a fun superhero movie that offered intelligence and some well-orchestrated action and Favreau’s first Iron Man was a mainstream delight. Downey Jr’s Stark has a few zingers here, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has a few moments that match the best that Thor had to offer and Jeremy Renner looks the part as Hawkeye. But Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow couldn’t be much less wooden if she tried and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/ The Hulk really doesn’t have a great deal to do. Plus, Samuel Jackson’s Fury almost makes you forget that there was a time that he was an actor to contend with. There is no sign of director Joss Whedon’s smarts here and Avengers Assemble really does feel like a toy movie with some decent scenes in it, created by committee. As of writing this, it has had the third biggest opening weekend in UK cinema history so it will clean up at the box office. So Disney/ Marvel must be pleased as must its shareholders but Avengers Assemble is a likeable piece of fluff that goes out of your head almost as soon as you’ve seen it…

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MILITARY IMPRECISION
Marvel had a sizeable hit on their hands earlier this year with another of their second-tier creations making it to the big screen. Thor was a very enjoyable film that managed to distill all that is best about the character while making it work on a big screen. So expectations for Captain America: The First Avenger were reasonably high. Director Joe Johnston seemed well-suited as The Rocketeer (1991) was great, able to bring the 1940s to life with rare style. Unfortunately Jurassic Park 3 (1993), also directed by Johnston, was disappointing, a studio picture by the numbers. Captain America exists mostly as an extended set-up to next summer’s Avengers. It opens with an icy scene set in the Antarctic where a US government operation discovers a strange object embedded in the ice. Flash back to the Second World War and we are introduced to skinny nebbish Steve Rogers, desperate to enrol in the US army but physically they won’t give him a chance. He is always trumped by his mate James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes, who gets to go off to fight for the US while Rogers (starting life as a very skinny Chris Evans) is stuck in the States. But one day Rogers meets German scientist Dr Abraham Erksine (played by Stanley Tucci), who offers him the opportunity to take part in an experimental programme in the US army. So Rogers, seeing his chance at last, jumps at this and so he’s off to train with the other soldiers. Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) is his commanding officer and he’s not convinced that Rogers is up to the task. Rogers also meets Peggy Carter (the slightly stilted Hayley Atwell) during his training, a British army officer, who he takes a shine to. He gets the treatment and turns from a weak, having sand thrown in his face to a pumped-up super soldier. But the US army only want to use him for propaganda, performing as Captain America surrounded by dancing girls to keep soldiers’ morale up. When his fellow combatants are kidnapped by evil organisation Hydra, headed by the man who’s too nasty for the Nazis, Johann Schmidt aka The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Rogers decides to disobey orders and go to free the soldiers. The Red Skull is bent on world conquest thanks to unearthing an object of immense mythic power. So Rogers and his team encounter Schmidt and the stage is set for the last act of the film. The film concludes with a scene set in the modern day, which sets things up for the aforementioned Avengers next year. Evans looks pretty good as Captain America but Johnston doesn’t do enough with the Forties setting, making it feel like everything takes place in a bubble away from reality. Weaving makes a very entertaining Red Skull but he doesn’t have loads to work with and Atwell is a little bit too stiff for there to be any real chemistry between her and Evans. Evans also doesn’t have the charisma to be totally credible as a character as likeable as Rogers. Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t a bad film as Johnston, coming from a special effects background, does know how to direct action. But it lacks the characterisation of something like Thor and the plot is weaker. Also because it is a set-up to another film, it smacks of a calculated marketing exercise at times. So there are worse films you could spend two hours watching but it lacks the heart and substance and pulp likability that it needs to engage with the audience…


SAN DIEGO BOUND
With about three days to go until I get on the plane to go to San Diego for another week of madness (my 11th show there), this will be the last post I write in London until I get back. I always look forward to San Diego because sometimes it’s the only place I see certain people all year. Although in past years, I have done a lot of reporting and writing on film stuff for magazines and newspapers but this year, it seems that the press are being frozen out by the film companies. I know of several high-profile roundtables that I am not invited to and so it means that I’ll mainly be behind the TRIPWIRE table. Speaking of which, if anybody is at San Diego, please feel free to come by to our table, Small Press S07, where we’ll have the Annual 2009 hot off the presses. Since Diamond US won’t carry us, it may be the only chance you have to grab one. We are also selling copies of 2008’s Annual, what with a sizeable Doctor Who presence at the show in the shape of Russell T Davies and David Tennant. We also have a panel on Thursday 23rd July in Room 3 from 10.30am. We’ll have BleedingCool’s Rich Johnston on that as well as myself, Editor-US Andy Grossberg and possibly artist Kody Chamberlain. So I am excited to see the magazine, since I won’t see it until I get to the hotel in San Diego on Monday evening West Coast time, and looking forward to catching up with people like Jim Johnson and loads of others. I’ll be posting entries here while I’m away, so expect to see lots of activity at Walls and Bridges…