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.
The Karate Kid Part II” (1986) is definitely a less sloppy film than the original, without its forbearer’s editing errors, but it’s also a slightly less interesting one. The sequel is often entertaining, but it’s disappointing to see that “The Karate Kid” is apparently going to be a follow-the-formula film series where Daniel (Ralph Macchio) encounters a group of bullies and ultimately defeats them with a special trick move. On the other hand, I can’t quibble about Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) being the focal point of “Part II,” as he is the saga’s best character.
The first two chapters of the “John Wick” saga — in addition to somehow making top-shelf entertainment out of a suit-wearing, dog-loving dude gun-fu-ing his way through baddies like he’s in a live-action video game — do some of the best world-building of any original franchise this decade. At the end of “Chapter 2,” John Wick (Keanu Reeves) breaks a cardinal rule of this oddly formal crime underworld by killing someone on the grounds of New York’s Continental hotel. Thus in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” every assassin who loves money (all of them, in other words) aims to kill Wick and collect the $14 million bounty. Continental boss Winston (Ian McShane) gives Wick 50-50 odds of surviving.
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.
The same thing that excites a viewer about “The Karate Kid” (1984) – the fact that it’s directed by John G. Avildsen and filled with songs by Bill Conti – also brings it crashing down, because “The Karate Kid” is no “Rocky.” It’s no fault of those “Rocky” collaborators — Avildsen gives the film a nice look and gets strong performances out of young Ralph Macchio and veteran Pat Morita, and Conti is on his game, especially with Survivor’s “Moment of Truth” – but many parts of the movie are not fully fleshed out.
Iremember “Daredevil” (2003) being a solid – and even serious — superhero movie when I saw it in the theater. But after “Batman Begins” (2005) set a new standard for serious genre films, and after Netflix’s recent “Daredevil” series did justice to the Man Without Fear, the 2003 movie stands in stark contrast as a mediocre adaptation of the Marvel comic.
The grand experiment is over, and it’s a success. The first 22 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comprise a saga similar to a TV serial, but with way more characters, way more side journeys and way more money. And most remarkably for a movie series, it has an ending for the initial batch of six Avengers, with “Avengers: Endgame.” We knew all this going into the film, which itself raises one final question: Does it stick the landing? The answer is a qualified yes.
Who will live? Who will die? Who will be resurrected? How will our heroes defeat Thanos? Big questions are on the minds of Marvel Cinematic Universe fans heading into the 22nd outing, “Avengers: Endgame,” which will hit theaters Friday, April 26. It’s not the end of the saga by any means (trailers for July’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” are already out, so I have a good feeling about Spidey’s fortunes), but it’s definitely the end of an era as some of the original Avengers – such as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America – might be calling it quits with this film, one way or another.
The most fun-to-watch (and possibly the most fun-to-make) parts of “Bad Boys” (1995) are the action sequences, and that’s again the case in the sequel. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that returning director Michael Bay and the four writers of “Bad Boys II” (2003) came up with action sequences first, then strung a loose screenplay around them.
The Punisher” Season 2 (January, Netflix) might be the most violent season of TV I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the budget listed fake blood and wound makeup as the biggest expense. Some episodes are bleak enough to affect my overall mood for the next day. Still, while the usual Netflix Marvel Cinematic Universe problem of slow pacing is present in the middle episodes, this is overall solid serial storytelling.