Last night James and I finally got round to seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the latest chapter in Peter Parker's arachnid-augmented movie saga. A strong follow-up to Marc Webb's origin / reboot from 2012, the film is not without its problems but is a good, fun popcorn movie in an age when superheroes on the big screen can be a bit too grim 'n' gritty for my tastes.
( Beware! Spidery spoilers ahead! ) The weakest links here are the villains, yet again: Jamie Foxx's Electro has some impressive moments ( which are mostly special effects-based, to be honest ) but is weakly-motivated and Foxx is desperately unconvincing as nerdish alter ego Max Dillon; while Dane DeHaan battles against a terrible haircut to portray a convincingly anguished and unbalanced Harry Osborn but a mediocre Green Goblin. The best villain in a Spidey movie is still Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus. Must try harder, Mister Webb. There is also a definite drag factor about half way through as the story gets bogged down with various colliding plot-lines. But what about the good stuff I hear you ask? ( OK, Dear Reader, it's not really you I can hear... just the voices in my head. ) Well...
This is, to my mind, the first of the Spidey films to truly capture the essence and the look of the web-slinger as I've always known him. The costume itself is practically perfect: far truer to Steve Ditko's original design than the overly-fussily detailed version in the last movie - although still no webs under the armpits?? The script accentuates Spidey's wise-cracking and cockiness, contrasting with Peter's angst, and Webb gifts us with some dizzying shots of the joie de vivre of our hero swinging through New York's concrete canyons. The relationship between Andrew Garfield's Peter and the lovely Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey is again at the heart of the story - less awkward this time but just as touching, more intense and obviously doomed. ( As we all suspected, this movie could have been called ASM2: Gwen Dies At The End... ) Quite how the franchise will survive without Emma Stone remains to be seen but I'm sure the film makers will find a way. This second instalment resolves the mystery of Peter's parents and sets up some of the antagonists for the next movie and for the projected Sinister Six film - there seems to be no stopping the spidery series.
I'll give this one Three Out Of Five Web-Shooters. Maybe the real Spidey classic is yet to come?
What was I saying about grim 'n' gritty super types? That tag certainly applies to another recent super sequel, Marvel Studios' Captain America: The Winter Soldier. ( As poster shows. ) However, unlike in the Dark Knight or Man Of Steel movies there is a balance between light and dark here that is more reminiscent of old skool Marvel, particularly the Marvel of the 1970s that I grew up with. And this movie really harks back to that time of Nixon, the Cold War and paranoid, political action movies - to the point of even featuring the great Robert Redford, star of 1975's Three Days Of The Condor. Chris Evans' Captain America, a man out of time following his 70-year cryogenic nap, finds himself a renegade as the forces of SHIELD are turned against him, while his old army buddy, Bucky Barnes, is revealed to be still alive but now a brainwashed assassin known as The Winter Soldier.
I've always been a sucker for paranoid thrillers, the concept that the world you know is turned upside down and you don't know who you can trust. Maybe because that's the way the world really is? At this very moment, Dear Reader, they are watching you, tracking your every movement, checking your bank account, logging all your disgusting online reading habits... or is that just me...?
Anyway, Cap 2 ( as nobody calls it ) is a breathless thrill ride as our Sentinel Of Liberty battles overwhelming odds to uncover SHIELD's shady secrets ( cough! Hail Hydra! cough! ) and the true identity of the enigmatic Soldier. Chris Evans is again perfect as Cap, as noble and heroic as ever but with a harder, more pragmatic approach to a more complex world... but still fighting at the last to save his old sidekick from his homicidal programming. With fine support from Scarlett Johansen, Howard Mackie, Sebastian Stan and Mr. Redford himself, along with taut plotting and an intelligent script, this movie again shows why Marvel Studios are currently making the best superhero films out there. ( And next up is unknown quantity The Guardians Of The Galaxy. Should be... interesting. )
Four Out Of Five Battered ( but not broken ) Shields
As a complete contrast, before those two mega-budget multiplex movies, James and I went to the good ol' Gloucester Guildhall to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest offering from indie wunderkind Wes Anderson. The Guildhall has finally, after much debate and fund-raising, bought a digital film projector so modern movies can be shown in their full glory. And what a glorious film TGBP is!
It's a comedy, a heist movie, a prison movie, a romance, a look back at a dying ( if fictional ) age... it's... well, it's a Wes Anderson movie with all that implies. Visually dazzling, controlled yet often erupting into anarchy, laugh-out-loud funny yet achingly melancholic, it's as much a beautifully-made confection as the fancy pastries that feature so much in the story... as seen in the gift-wrapped box above. Many of Anderson's acting troupe make an appearance - Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray ( of course ) - and at the heart of the whole fairy tale is a wonderful performance from Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H, the louche, womanising, impeccably-mannered concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Who knew old Voldemort could do comedy so well? Fiennes is a revelation in the part, whether having affairs with rich old ladies, micro-managing his hotel or organising a prison break. Anderson's films are an acquired taste for sure - mannered, whimsical, designed to the nth degree - but it's a taste I love, so I'm giving this one
Four 1/2 Out Of Five Hotel Keys
Soundtrack: Room On Fire by The Strokes