Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)


Title: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Release Date: April 18, 2014
Director: Marc Webb
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Arad Productions, Inc. | Matt Tolmach Productions
Summary/Review:

While not quite the steep dropoff in quality of Spider-Man 3, this sequel is mediocre compared to its predecessor and for many of the same reasons.  To wit, there are too many antagonists competing for screen time and a lack of focus and pacing to deal with them.  Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has to deal with the arrival of Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) after yet another accident at Oscorp (this one ludicrously involving falling into a tank full of electric eels!). Meanwhile, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) makes his debut in this series and immediately adopts the Green Goblin persona (instead of dragging it out over three movies like James Franco).

Max is more of a sad figure than a threat so there’s not much pleasure derived from seeing Spidey fight with him.  Meanwhile, Harry is so obviously a creepy ass villain that it seems unlikely that Peter would be friends with him.  Gwen (Emma Stone) has a good role in the movie, helping Peter as much as he helps her, but she’s [SPOILER] dead by the end of the movie [/SPOILER] which feels very fridgey to me.  Plus the finale of the film is overwhelmingly hokey.  Why do people in New York in these movies stand around watching superheroes battle supervillains with their small children anyway?

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)


Title: The Amazing Spider-Man
Release Date: June 13, 2012
Director: Marc Webb
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Laura Ziskin Productions | Arad Productions, Inc. | Matt Tolmach Productions
Summary/Review:

Despite only five years passing Spider-Man was rebooted in a new franchise with Andrew Garfield taking over the lead role of Peter Parker.  This move goes even harder into the origin story by including Peter’s parents and a younger Peter in the prelude and flashbacks.  Once again, Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man and the creation of his main antagonist, Dr. Curt Connors/Lizard (Rhys Ifans), happen nearly simultaneously at Oscorp.

Despite the fact that this seems to be way too soon after the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy for a reboot AND the fact that I’m generally not interested in origin stories (AND because the Lizard is a really silly monster), I actually feel that this is a quite good Spider-Man movie.  Garfield brings a more modern feel to Peter without losing the anxious outsider feel of the character.  Luminaries like Martin Sheen and Sally Field bring more gravitas to their roles as Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  And Emma Stone, who I always like, plays a more interesting and capable female lead as Gwen Stacey.

Of the pre-Tom Holland era Spider-films, I’d say that this is the best one alongside Spider-Man 2.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Spider-Man 3


Title: Spider-Man 3
Release Date: May 4, 2007
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

Like many blockbuster franchises, Spider-Man 3 reaches the point where they need to raise the stakes while neglecting to make a good movie.  Thus we get a movie with three villains.  First, Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) finally takes on the mantle of his late father and becomes Goblin, Jr., deadset on gaining revenge on Spider-Man.  Next, there’s an alien symbiote that first infects Peter’s Spider-Man suit giving him both increased powers and increased assholery. Later the symbiote attaches itself to Peter’s photographer rival from The Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who becomes Venom.  Finally, an escaped convict with a dark connection to Peter, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) falls into a particle accelerator which turns him into Sandman.

While Peter enjoys a newfound popularity at Spider-Man, his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) struggles personally and professionally.  This leads to tension in their relationship, something that’s exacerbated by the symbiote. The movie also features Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) as a romantic alternative for Peter Parker. There’s so much going in this movie that it feels more like a clip show of a Spider-Man tv show than a cohesive story in its own right.

There are some good parts in this movie.  I especially like the effects of Marko turning into Sandman.  But overall it is meh, and a sad end to the Raimi/Maguire era of Spider-Man.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)


Title: Spider-Man 2
Release Date: June 30, 2004
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

The second installment in superhero franchises tends to be better because they’ve gotten past all the origin story and are able to focus on more of a straightforward story while ratcheting up the stakes.  This is the case with Spider-Man 2 which I think is the best of the trilogy. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is finding that his crime-fighting activity is getting in the way of his college studies, his job, and his struggling relationships with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Harry (James Franco). Soon he finds himself beginning to lose his spider-powers at inopportune times.  While not explicitly stated, it ends up being a good superhero depiction of someone dealing with depression and anxiety.

Meanwhile another scientist at Oscorp, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), experiments on himself with disastrous results. Four mechanical tentacles are embedded in his body take control of him and becomes the mad Doctor Octopus.  Doc Oc is probably one of the best Spider-Man villains and Molina portrays his Jeckyl/Hyde personality well.  There are also some great action sequences including a fight on an elevated train hurtling through the city.

On the downside there is not much for Mary Jane to do besides scream a lot.  There is so much screaming in this film, and lot of sequences (like a failed surgery on Doc Oc) are filmed like a horror movie, perhaps betraying Raimi’s past work on the Evil Dead series. Overall though, this is a solid superhero movie with good pacing and a straightforward plot.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Spider-Man (2002)


TitleSpider-Man
Release Date: May 3, 2002
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

Despite having become something of a Marvel Cinematic Universe completionist, it was not that long ago that I was someone who was “not interested in all those superhero movies.”  The turning point was watching The Avengers with my kids in 2015. Anyhow, since Spider-Man: No Way Home featured enjoyable performances by earlier actors who played Spider-Man, I figured it was worth checking out the older films.

This iteration of Spider-Man features the origin story that’s familiar even if you haven’t read any of the comics. On a school trip to the Oscorp labs, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically-modified spider giving him spider-like abilities.  Maguire’s Peter is perhaps overloaded with nerdy signifiers, but I also appreciate that he can be kind of a selfish jerk.  It feels realistic to a teenager who suddenly has “great power” and the responsibility that goes with it.

The villain in this film is scientist/businessman Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), the head of Oscorp, whose experiment with a performance-enhancing chemical drives him insane.  He turns into the giggling Green Goblin riding a hoverboard.  In one of the many coincidences of this movie, Peter is best friends with Osborne’s son Harry (James Franco).  Peter and Harry are also vying for the attention of their classmate Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).

Overall this is an entertaining film with a good balance of action, character development, and heart.  I felt Maguire and Dafoe were the standouts, but the other actors aren’t given much to do.  This is especially true for Dunst whose Mary Jane just seems to need to be rescued over and over in way that was old-fashioned even in 2002.  Although probably true to their depictions in the comics, Peter’s Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) seem comically way too old.  J. K. Simmons is great though as the comically obnoxious and corrupt newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson.

Rating: ***

TV Review: Hawkeye (2021)


Title: Hawkeye
Release Date: 2021
Creator: Jonathan Igla
Director: Rhys Thomas (episodes 1,2, & 6), Bert & Bertie (episodes 3-5)
Season: 1
Episodes: 6
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), is the overlooked Avenger, who not only never got his own movie, but was just kind of there when the first Avengers movie began.  So this is a belated Hawkeye story that focuses on the aging superhero/dad dealing with the trauma of losing his friend Natasha Romanov as well as hearing loss.  Enter Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who as a child witnessed the Battle of New York in 2012 when her house in Manhattan was damaged and her father killed. Seeing Hawkeye’s heroics, Kate dedicated her life to learning archery and martial arts skill.

This series is obviously a “passing the baton” story as Barton just wants to get home to his family for Christmas but gets caught up in a crisis that center around Kate.  They have a good chemistry and the show has a good balance of humor, action, and more reflective moments.  It also has an surplus of villains including the Tracksuit Mafia, Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) – a deaf leader of the Tracksuits set on vengeance against Barton’s alter-ego Ronin, and Natasha’s sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), who was introduced in Black Widow and once again steals scenes left and right.

I won’t go into much detail but it’s an enjoyable series and another great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Movie Review: The Eternals (2021)


Title: The Eternals
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Director: Chloé Zhao
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Eternals is the story of the immortal alien race known as Eternals sent to Earth to fight the Deviants by the ginormous Celestial Arishem.  Over several millennia, the Eternals fight the deviants and defend human civilization.  Eventually the group of ten dissolves and blend into human society in various parts of the world. The main story is set in the present day and involves the Eternal Sersi (Gemma Chan) “getting the band back together” when a new threat from the Deviants emerges.  Along the way they make some startling discoveries about the truth of their existence, and face split opinions of how they should react to it in factions lead by Sersi and Ikaris (Richard Madden).

The biggest flaw of this movie is that it is way too long as it tries squeeze in a whole lot of exposition, world-building, and the stories of ten protagonists plus many supporting characters and antagonists.  For a character-driven movie I feel that we really don’t to get enough time to know the characters, who are interesting in their own ways but mostly get short shrift.  Perhaps some sweeping landscape pans and a gratuitous sex scene could’ve been cut for some character development. I liked a lot of the characters, especially Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Lia McHugh as Sprite,  Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, and Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, and really wanted to know more about them. I’m pretty sure Eternals was in production well before the launch of Disney+, but I feel that a lot of the problems could have been addressed by making it a short-form tv series.

Nevertheless, it is a solid film in it’s own right.  It feels more grownup than other Marvel films without being dour and humorless. The film has an interesting theological theme under the story of the Celestials and the purpose of the Eternals.  I didn’t like how the Eternals were shown influencing the technology and mythology of human civilizations because that rings too much of the Ancient Aliens canard, but I did like that parts of the movie are set among ancient civilizations of Babylonia, India, and the Aztecs among others. The movie is largely unconnected from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (although they do make a few mentions of what the Avengers are up to) so it could be a good film for people who have not watched any of the other films.

I feel in a year where Marvel has released classics like WandaVision, Loki, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, that Eternals isn’t quite up to par.  Nevertheless it’s a solid if imperfect superhero journey in its own right.

Rating: ***

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TV Review: What If… (2021)


Title: What If…
Release Date: 2021
Creator: A.C. Bradley
Director: Bryan Andrews
Season: 1
Episodes: 9
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The animated Disney+ series does what it says on the tin, asking “What If?” things happened differently in various Marvel Cinematic Universe stories.  It helps to have a knowledge of the existing films to understand why the changes are significant, but I think plot changes are explained well enough to still be entertaining to a novice.  The series is narrated by The Watched (Jeffrey Wright), an alien being who observes the multiverse and is sworn not to interfere.  The animation is high-quality with a painterly quality that fits both the stories’ comic book origins and motion picture predecessors.  The voice cast also includes a lot of the actors who played the roles in the movies, including Chadwick Boseman in one of the final projects he worked on before his death.

The What If? propositions tend to go for comedy or to go really dark.  In the former category, Boseman’s T’Challa becomes Star Lord instead of Peter Quill and his competence makes everything go better for everyone involved, including Thanos (Josh Brolin) who is convinced to give up trying to kill half of all sentient beings and join the Ravagers.  The dark episodes show us what happens if all the Avengers were killed before they could work together and what happens if the world was overrun by zombies (including some of the superpowered).  My favorite episodes are “What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” where Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) takes the serum instead of Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) and fights HYDRA with a shield bearing the Union Jack.  The other classic “What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” has Erik “Kilmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) rising through the ranks of Stark Industries where Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) had no life-changing injury to create Iron Man.

While the show works as a series of stand alone episodes.  The penultimate episode leads into a cliffhanger with the final episode requiring The Watcher to be a more active character and bring together a team of characters from previous episodes to be The Guardians of the Multiverse.  The show also ties into some of the recent movies and shows where the Multiverse is figuring to play a big role in the overarching theme of Phase 4 of the MCU.  While not a vital series, it is a fun addition to the lore for fans of the MCU.

 

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Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)


Title: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Release Date: September 3, 2021
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Shaun (Simu Liu) a Chinese immigrant in San Francisco, working as a valet and spending nights out at karaoke with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina, previously in The Farewell). When they are attacked on a city bus and Shaun shows considerable martial arts skill in their defense, he admits that his real name is Shang-Chi and he comes from a complex family background in China. His father Wenwu (Tony Leung, previously in In the Mood for Love) gained immortality through the use of a magical bracelets called the Ten Rings, and used the power they give to create an international crime syndicate also called the Ten Rings.  His mother Ying Li (Fala Chen) was the guardian of a magical village of Ta Lo which is home to many mythical beasts. The murder of Ying Li drove Wenwu back into crime and eventually into the mad belief that Ying Li is being held captive in Ta Lo.  In order to stop Wenwu from destroying Ta Lo, Shaun and Katy must first reunited with his estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) in Macau.

As far as origin stories goes, this movie does a great job at efficiency with the backstories of Shaun, Xialing, Ying Li, and Wenwu filled in by a short prelude and many flashbacks that fit smoothly in to the flow of the movie.  There are a lot of great martial arts sequences, some well-timed humor (mostly from Awkwafina), and some imaginative wonders rooted in Chinese folklore.  A number of small parts and cameos of familiar characters include Wong (Benedict Wong) from Doctor Strange and Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) from Iron Man 3, who provides some more humor.

I knew nothing of Shang-Chi going into the movie, but I’ve read that the original Marvel comics used a lot of ethnic stereotypes.  The film has people from Asia and of Asian heritage working on both sides of the camera, and does a great job at winding Chinese folklore into a modern superhero action film. I’d say the biggest flaw is that Xialing, who is constantly said to be in Shang-Chi’s shadow in the movie, is ironically given very little character development in the movie.  A post-credit scene indicates that Marvel has plans for Xialing in future films, though.  Other than that though, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an excellent Marvel movie with a great cast, story, and effects.  It’s also Awkwafina’s second movie of the year featuring dragons after Raya and the Last Dragon, which makes for an interesting footnote.

Rating: ***1/2

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Book Review: The Life of Captain Marvel by Margaret Stohl, Carlos Pacheco


Author: Margaret Stohl
Title: The Life of Captain Marvel
Illustrator: Carlos Pacheco
Publication Info: Marvel,  February 19, 2019
Summary/Review:

After reading Kraven’s Last Hunt, I decided to check out another book in the Marvel Selects series. The material in this collection isn’t actually all that old, only dating to 2018.  It tells Captain Marvel’s origin story framed within a story of Carol Danvers taking a break from the Avengers to visit her family at their summer home in Maine.  (Did you know that Carol is from the Boston area, they didn’t say that in the movie?)  With flashbacks to her childhood and confrontations with her mother and brother, Carol learns secrets about her parents and the origins of her powers.  As origin stories go, it’s pretty well done.

Rating: ***