“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.
Thirty-five years later, “Ghostbusters” (1984) stands as a master class in how to smoothly mix genres. Bill Murray is consistently in a wry comedy while everyone else is his straight man, and the film delivers lots of laughs with this structure. The gothic schlock horror, taking full advantage of real New York City architecture, is mesmerizing. The composited special effects of Slimer, the animated gargoyles and of course the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man are so 1980s, but in a good way.
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.
Ten years ago today, I started this blog with a (shamefully positive) review of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” so I’m marking the anniversary with the launch of an appropriate new series: Superhero Saturdays. Fittingly, I think this first selection is a good entry point and thesis statement for the genre of superhero films.
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.
Glass,” now available for home viewing, is an excuse to spend more time in the universe of “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2017), and I like that universe, so I can’t complain too much. On the special edition DVD of “Unbreakable,” writer-director M. Night Shyamalan says he wrote a three-act story but decided to use only the first act for that film because Acts II and III didn’t engage him as much as David Dunn’s (Bruce Willis) superhero origin story.
CBS All Access’ new version of “The Twilight Zone” is certainly putting itself out there. Using the name of the revered Rod Serling series (1959-64) that hasn’t lost its cachet despite all the times it has been resurrected (this is the fourth series by that name), the new series is demanding attention but also setting the bar high. The network has made the pilot episode available for free on YouTube. But like the titular “Comedian” of the episode, its confidence is misplaced and unearned.