Two of Peter’s classmates have a whirlwind romance on a school field trip. Nick Fury is grumpy about his calls going to voicemail. And to Peter’s consternation, Happy and Aunt Mae are flirting. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” flips the cliché of a blockbuster where we marvel at the action sequences and yawn at everything in between. My mind did wander at times during the film, but it was during the bravura special effects – because we live in an age where everything that makes it to theaters has bravura special effects.
It’s hard to take a movie seriously when the movie doesn’t take itself seriously, and that’s why “Tank Girl” (1995) isn’t good. Still, it is an interesting style piece that does everything it can to portray a dystopian Earth that requires a big budget when the filmmakers clearly have a small budget; it’s sort of a cheap answer to “Waterworld,” also from 1995. Every time panels of the comic flash on screen, it both adds spice and reminds us that this stuff works better in comics.
Similar to “Spider-Man 3” (2007), so much is going on in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) that – even if all that stuff is pretty good on its own – a viewer can’t appreciate any of it as much as he should. In this sequel that probably was not intended to be the final statement in the “Amazing” series but ended up that way when Spidey got rebooted over to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), director Marc Webb and a team of four writers cram in a ton of ideas.
Like what the Dark Knight Trilogy is to the 1990s “Batman” movies, and what the 21st century “Superman” films are to the Christopher Reeve versions, “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012) gives us a darker alternative to Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy. This approach only makes creative sense for Batman, since he has long been a Dark Knight in the comics, fighting villains from nightmares. And indeed, when watching “The Amazing Spider-Man,” I couldn’t help but think how much more tonally appropriate the 2002 “Spider-Man” is. But while “Amazing” isn’t a good Spider-Man movie, it’s not a bad movie in a vacuum.
Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, finally got his full story told in the recent Netflix series, but before that, cinema took the tactic of reimagining him in one-off movies with different styles and creative teams. First was Dolph Lundgren’s “Punisher” (1989), which is oddly flat and emotionless; then came Thomas Jane’s “Punisher” (2004), a slightly better quippy actioner; and finally there’s Ray Stevenson’s “Punisher: War Zone” (2008). The four years between versions of a character must be a record for shortest gap.
The Punisher” (2004) is a prime example of a movie that’s less than the sum of its parts. Obviously, it fails in a one-to-one comparison with Netflix’s “Punisher,” and it’d be easy to tear it down that way, but even on its own merits, it feels lightweight for a revenge movie. Thomas Jane is a good actor, but his performance as Frank Castle leans toward stoic action-hero mode rather than tortured brooder, and Frank seems to enjoy doling out punishment – which might be a fascinating trait in a government agent except that the film doesn’t stop to reflect on it.
Mere months after Batman got his first faithful big-screen treatment and ushered in a new era of dark and serious superhero films, “The Punisher” (1989) followed suit as arguably the most notable Marvel movie up to that point (even though it has since faded into more of a trivia answer than a movie people watch or discuss). At first blush, it’s odd to bring Frank Castle to the big screen before Spider-Man or the X-Men or the Fantastic Four or the Avengers, but it makes sense in a way. The Punisher is a ready-made machine-gun-toting Eighties action hero. People already knew how to make this type of movie.
Spider-Man 3” (2007) packs too many villains and character threads into the last chapter of the saga starring Tobey Maguire. Many of these elements are engaging on their own, but we don’t get to absorb everything like we do in parts one and two. There are also more shortcuts via conveniences or barely explained happenings, and many of the conflicts are built on that lazy screenwriting tactic of someone not communicating a fact to the person who needs to know it. That said, I don’t think “Spider-Man 3” is one for the garbage heap; director Sam Raimi and his team ultimately find their way back to the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) at the trilogy’s heart.
From the opening credits that recap the first film’s narrative with pencil drawings to the closing moments of Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) deciding to give it a go with Peter (Tobey Maguire) even though he’s Spider-Man, “Spider-Man 2” (2004) is a totally engrossing and satisfying sequel. Director Sam Raimi puts a viewer in the shoes of Peter the whole way as he hits his lowest lows – losing his powers while also feeling all alone in the world – then rises up again.
Ithought “Spider-Man” (2002) was run-of-the-mill when I saw it in theaters, but I got into it more on this rewatch. It’s a down-the-middle origin story for sure, but the fact that writer David Koepp and director Sam Raimi get the tone of the comic-book right (for kids, but not dumbed down; fun, but with real stakes) is nothing to sneeze at. And the casting – my god, the casting. I can see the longing in Tobey Maguire’s eyes every time Peter Parker looks at Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and Willem Dafoe is excellent in a tricky, tragic role where he isn’t always aware he is in fact the Green Goblin.