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.
Ghostbusters: Answer the Call” (2016) was labeled as ill-conceived before it came out, with people asking “Why remake a classic?” The good thing is that it’s not a straight remake of the beloved 1984 original (which is slated to get its second sequel next year). Although it has the same general threat of a portal linking New York City to a ghost dimension, and the team is pestered by government agents, it’s more of a re-imagining than a remake.
The bear is the star of “The Edge” (1997). In one of the last great adventure movies to feature live bear action (today, it would be entirely created in a computer), the stunt bear, named Bart, fills the frame with menace. The practical and CGI effects teams also do impeccable work, and it’s edited into seamless and tense bear attacks. I don’t mean to denigrate Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in the main human roles, but rather to emphasize how good the bear stuff is, even two decades later.
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.
Ghostbusters II” (1989), which feels even more Eighties than the 1984 original, is a prime example of one of those old-school blockbuster sequels that’s defined as much by the fact of its existence as it is by the continuation of the story. Today, everything is nostalgic, and we can find fans of all but the most obscure stuff online. Thirty years ago, an entertainment property was either “in” or “out,” and “Ghostbusters II” seems consciously aware that it’s “out” and weaves that reality into the fictional narrative.
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.