Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 4: The Last Days of Midgard (2015)

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This volume collects issues #19-25.

The series takes an interesting turn as Thor faces off against Roxxon Corporate President Darren Aggers. Aggers is clearly polluting the environment and Thor is none too happy about it. Unfortunately, for the God of thunder he cannot swing his hammer at this foe as he is protected by an entourage of lawyers and the politics and bureaucracy of human kind. Thor does have help with rookie agent of S.H.E.I.L.D., Roz Solomon, who tries to help Thor battle Aggers through legal means, though the Odinson is not big on patience in that regard.

In the future, Old King Thor desperately is trying to reignite life on Earth, which is now a barren wasteland. His granddaughters plead with him to give it up, but two of the most enduring traits of the God is his love of Midgard and his stubbornness. To complicate matters, Galactus shows up, very worn down and hungry, and the Earth will be his meal. But, not if the King of Asgard has something to say about it, “Have at thee”.

This collection is bittersweet for a few reasons. First, it signals the end of Aaron’s “God of Thunder” era for this series. Marvel and Aaron made headlines and announcements from different media sources that there would be a Goddess of Thunder, which meant the cancellation of this series as well as the launch of a new one. It does look like it is off to a good start, the Odinson is still around, and is continuing on plot threads from this series. The other bittersweet issue is that Easd Ribic will no longer be the primary artist with Aaron for Thor beyond this volume. He is teaming up with Jonathan Hickman for next year’s Secret Wars event (an excellent combo) but breakout artist Russel Dauterman joins team Thor and is doing a fine job with all things Asgardian. Well, enough of the future of this series and on to the content here…

I love this series and I was never really a Thor fan before picking up volume one. Aaron and Ribic grabbed me with the whole God Butcher arc, through volumes one and two, and forced me into being a mighty fan of thee! Even volume three with Ron Garney on pencils, and Malekith as the antagonist, was quite the awesome journey. I would give the first three volumes a no doubt grade of A++. But this entry here, I would give an A- or even a B+. It is great but does not reach the same plain as it’s predecessors.

Thor’s battle with Aggers and Roxxon has it’s ups and downs but ultimately reaches an anticlimactic conclusion. As Aggers is a new character, it would have been nice to have some more background information on him and how is able to do what he does. Plus, Thor has been around awhile, quite awhile, it seems he would be a bit brighter for a battle with the CEO of a Midgard corporation and not be so stereotypically fooled. The outcome for Asgardia and Broxton felt like it had been covered before in the event Seige and even during Fraction’s run, but felt really forced as Aaron, whether from orders from higher up or not, sets up a new status quo for both realms.

The bright spot of this tale is the moments of action, which Aaron sets up nicely and Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina make look legendary. Roz Solomon gets further developed which is a plus. She is a rocking new S.H.E.I.L.D agent. And although Aggers is a mystery and a too much of a cliche, he still made a nice villain for this story.

The main highlight for this collection for me is the story of old King Thor, that intersects with the modern tale, trying to revive a dead Earth only to have Galactus show up and be very hungry. Thor’s granddaughters are really cool and are a bunch of B.A.’s! And seeing old King Thor in action is sweet, especially against the devourer of worlds. Again, kudos to Ribic and Svorcina as they illustrate probably the best take on the big fella I have ever seen. The only issue I had here was that Glactus came off as spiteful and mocked Thor quite a bit. The best portrayals of Galactus are where he is cold and indifferent. He has no malice or feelings of revenge when devouring a world, he just does it because it is the will of the comos that relinquishes his hunger in this regard. But this is an undefined future and he looks extremely worn down. He did not even have a herald, so the personality change might have been to the centuries not being too kind to the big fella.

The final issue of the series is a combination of stories. One where a young Thor fights frost giants, another featuring the origin of Malekith, all while the granddaughters of Thor read on about these tales. Entertaining tales as they mostly are setup for the next era of Thor.

More love to Esad Ribic and the art teams here as they turn in incredible work. Ribic gets some help out at the end of this series from illustrators Agustin Alessio, Simon Bisley, and R. M. Guera.

So, for now, this is it for the God of Thunder and an amazing run, but the story does continue and as long as Jason Aaron is writing them and Marvel puts quality artists on them, I will stick with it.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 3: The Accursed (2014)

thor volume 3

Yes, I said it, and no, it is not hyperbole folks. Thor has always been my favorite comic book character. Thematically, the Thor mythos is a perfect blend of norse mythology, epic fantasy, and superhero tale that seems almost catered to my tastes. That been said, I’m very well acquainted with the best writers in the history of the character. Lee,Straczynski, Langridge, and most importantly, Simonson. For the past year or so, I’ve now added a new name to the very top of the list right alongside good ol’ Walt, and that name is Jason Aaron. After his incredibly awesome debut run featuring a spine-chilling and fantastic new villain, Gorr the God Butcher, he has returned to tackle a classic villain, and I was a little nervous. With his own original creations, sure, Aaron was great, but could he handle the classic Thor mythos with the same skill and impact? Oh yeah, you better believe he can. This volume has cemented my admiration and respect for Aaron.

This is the third volume of the “Thor: God of Thunder” series, under the Marvel NOW! initiative. It does feel less beefy than Aaron’s first Thor volumes, The God Butcher and Godbomb, as it features two one-off issues to bridge the gaps between the preceding Gorr story and the Roxxon story that is currently on the stands. This in no way diminishes the quality of the volume, however, as every issue, whether part of a multiple-issues story, or just a one off side-story, are all fantastic.

The first issue, #12, features Thor returning to Earth and spending time there, interacting with the various human friends he has made over the years and performing the sorts of acts you’d expect a noble, honorable god like Thor would perform. It’s not an action-packed issue, at all. It is a character study of a god, and it’s a great change of pace. It’s hard to explain, but this issue really humanizes Thor in a way only the very best stories can. It actually reminds me a lot of Superman for All Seasons, and I mean that in the best way. This sort of issue could easily become preachy and/or cheesy to the point of being unbearable, and it definitely strides that line very closely at times, but the fact that it is, for the most part, so poignant and affecting is a testament to Aaron’s fantastic writing.

Issues # 13-17 features the return of Malekith the Accursed. This is the meat n’ potatoes of the volume and once again, Aaron hit it out of the park. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but needless to say, this is a great adventure story. It is filled with very compelling characters, as Thor is joined in his quest this time in the form of the “League of Realms”. This group, appointed by the “Congress of Worlds,” is comprised of appointed warriors to represent each main race in the nine realms. It’s an odd set-up, and could come across as a cheesy Thor-centric Avengers rip-off, but it really is an interesting idea. The amount of humor and intensity pulled out of such a motley crew working together to tackle a truly terrorizing villain is superb. Each character, whether it’s the fancy dual-pitol wielding light elf Ivory Honeyshort, or the more taciturn dwarf Screwbeard, son of No-ears, son of Headwound (he likes to make things “go ‘splode” lol), all have great, unique personalities that bounce off each other and Thor quite nicely. Lots of belly-laugh inducing humor in this one, as well as great tension. Aaron’s characterization of Malekith is easily as fantastic a villain as Gorr was, but very distinctly unique. Malekith’s psychotic sadism and sociopathic, seemingly-senseless plans are made even more unnerving by his lighthearted and eloquently refined manner. Of course, his handling of Thor is stupendous, second to none in my humble opinion. Again, I can’t say it enough, Aaron did an amazing job. The story here is tense, full of gravitas as well as a more down-to-earth grittiness than his past work. Bravo!

Issue #18 ends the volume with a fantastic one-off story revolving around young viking Thor, back in the past and partying with a drunken dragon, and then kicking its ass. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? I’m partially kidding. It’s a great, fun romp, but it’s also pretty moving as well, heartbreaking even. I’ll just leave it at that. I find the idea of young Thor to be brilliant, as he is a way to show major character development without erasing decades of comic history. I love that.

The art in this volume is definitely the aspect with the least amount of coherency. This volume features three different artists working the pen. Issue #12 is done by Nic Klein, and it’s definitely the weakest of the bunch. That isn’t to say Klein is BAD per se, but it is definitely shaky in parts. Some places, where Thor seems to have a deformed baby face with a five o’clock shadow, distract from the otherwise stupendous story-telling.

The art in issues #13-17 is done by Ron Garney. For the most part, he did a fantastic job. Upon opening the book, I was really sad to see Esad Ribic’s gorgeous painterly art style from the previous Thor volumes was missing, especially when I saw his gorgeous covers in this collection. However, Garney actually comes fairly close to capturing Ribic’s fantasy style and quality, at least relatively speaking. The art in these issues has a fairy-tale like beauty combined with a detailed and powerful sense of fantasy, with some nice comic book superhero boldness from time to time. It’s vibrantly colorful too, which can be a strange contrast to the darkness of the story, but I like it. While it’s not all perfect (the last half of issue 17 in particular is incredibly sloppy to the point of looking unfinished compared to the rest) but overall, Garney did great with the art in this book. I am impressed.

Issue #18’s art was done by Das Pastoras. I was a bit worried about his inclusion in this book, as I always found his past work to be incredibly off-putting. Here though, he did a great job. The best way I can describe it is to have you imagine Maurice Sendak’s art style with a graphic novel detail, and then ratchet the intensity to a level befitting a story where viking Thor fights a freaking DRAGON. Awesome.

I also appreciate the decreased pricing for this volume. While the five issue Malekith story is definitely less substantial than the eleven issues that Gorr received, this volume actually contains more issues than either of those volumes did. Volume 1 had five issues, Volume 2 had six, and this collection has seven issues in total. It’s nice to see us fans getting more content for our money. Hopefully Volume 4 will have eight issues.

All-in-all, this is another homerun from Jason Aaron. The various artists that joined him on this run – Klein, Pastoras, and most especially Garney- all did a great job rising to the task of proving art for Aaron’s brillaint writing. I’m just so floored by the aptitude of the writing here. The story moves along at an excellent pace, is brimming with a brilliant sense of cinematography, and is full of compelling, well-developed characters. Perhaps the most exciting thing to me about this collection of issues is that Aaron plugged in some truly Simonson-level foreshadowing that indicates that his vision for Thor’s future will only get more epic and grand in scale from here on out. I can’t wait! Esad Ribic has also returned to the series as full-time artist, so the future of Thor is looking brighter than ever. If you ever read this Jason, know that I truly feel your name deserves songs to be sung in its honor in Valhalla. So whether you’re a major Thor fan, a big comic book fan in general, or even a newcomer to the character and want a good jumping off point, this (as well as God Butcher and Godbomb) is as good as any volume you’ll find written in the last several decades. As a massive fan of the Thor character, this gets my highest recommendation.

3 out of 5 stars

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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – Movie Review

amazing spider-man

The Amazing Spider-Man is directed by Marc Webb and collectively written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves. It stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen and Sally Field. Music is by James Horner and cinematography by John Schwartzman.

Peter Parker (Garfield) was orphaned as a boy when his parents were killed in a plane crash, raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field), he is a clever lad but something of an outcast at high school. While investigating the disappearance of his parents and sporting a crush on class mate Gwen Stacy (Stone), Peter’s life is tipped upside down when he is bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him abnormal powers.

While the Spider-Man franchise doesn’t (thankfully) come packaged with the kind of bizarre mania that comes with Batman, the acolytes are a tough bunch to figure out. Sam Raimi’s trilogy garnered close towards $2.5 billion worldwide, yet now, with this reboot (actually it’s a reimaging) trundled off of the Sony production line, there are plenty of “fans” coming forward to say they never rated Raimi’s films! Magurie was this, Dunst was that, Raimi missed the beat of the comic version of Spidey and etc and etc. Well I’m sorry, but I just don’t remember any fall out apart from the near unanimously agreed upon over stuffing of Raimi’s part 3. Perhaps I just didn’t go on the right Spider-Man forums? But even then it’s hard to argue with a box office take of $2.5 billion, those figures have to be made up of a good proportion of Spidey fans, surely? You would reasonably think…

I mention it because The Amazing Spider-Man has met with reviews from each end of the scale. Those at the high end who support the “reimaging” seem to focus on it being close to the real Spidey universe they wanted, with great casting, better effects work and a origin story of worth. At the other end is the arguments that “reimaging” a film that is only ten years old is daft, especially since it actually doesn’t bring the promised new direction or origin story of worth. In fact it just juggles bits of the Raimi trilogy and plays it out with other Spider-Man characters instead. While Garfield is hardly an improvement since he’s way too old for high school as well! The truth is that Webb’s movie falls somewhere in between both sides of the argument, and that’s not just me being Switzerland and staying neutral!

Negatively it plays out as a compromised production and not the film that the makers initially set out to make, there are too many dangling threads and haphazard edits that leave narrative gaps. An Important character disappears off the radar, other characters are given limited time to breathe, and crucial plot points are arrived at with stupendous leaps of logic. A coda spliced into the end credits tries to entice us for the sequel, suggesting that the quick wipe over the origin “origin” story was deliberate, it’s unlikely, and feels like an afterthought. For a film that purports to be putting its own stamp on the Spidey universe, it quite often makes you think of Raimi’s films anyway. It may be The Lizard instead of Green Goblin and Gwen instead of MJ, but the emotional and psychological beats are still the same. Reboot? My arse. Oh and Horner, who I’m normally a fan of, has turned in a score that lacks vim and vigour, it aspires to be full of swirling superhero fervour to raise the goose flesh on your arms, but instead it’s just goose, and not a decently cooked one at that.

However, on the positive side of things, low expectation really helped me to enjoy the film, and I even watched it a second time to check over some initial reactions I had. There is still a lot to enjoy here. Acting is of a high standard (Ifans’ performance as Curt Connors gets better on repeat viewings), with good chemistry generated between Stone and Garfield, the effects work is (obviously) better ten years on; something which gives us a better-more acrobatic-moving Spider-Man, while the whole make-up of Parker as a geek who becomes cocky, even arrogant, really adds a kick to the first half of the movie’s coming-of-age narrative bent. It’s also good that with a running time of over two hours the makers have the time to expand Peter as a character, making the audience wait with expectation of his life changing date with the spider. As for the villain, it’s true enough to say that The Lizard is hardly an inspiring choice, but it does fit in with the whole origin story plan that Webb and his team want to tell. Though it should be noted that those seeking wall to wall fights between Spidey and The Liz are going to go a little hungry.

It’s big on human story and not the lazy cash in movie it could have been, and undeniably it’s fun, but the holes, dangling threads and logic leaps stop it breaking out to achieve its intentions. I was left looking forward to the sequel.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Spider-Man 3 (2007) – Movie Review

spider-man 2007

This is a good film, but it is not on the same level as the first two. There are many good ideas to be found in the script by Sam Raimi, his elder brother Ivan and Alvin Sargent and it is quite well written but it is overstuffed. The film is surprisingly well paced considering its somewhat sprawling storyline and the fact that it is the longest of the trilogy. It is well directed by Sam Raimi but the action scenes are generally not the equal of the second film’s.

Tobey Maguire is again very strong as Peter Parker, who seems to have finally achieved the balance in his life that eluded him for most of the second film. In spite of J. Jonah Jameson’s best efforts over the years, the people of New York City have embraced Spider-Man as their hero. When it comes to his personal life, Peter is living the dream as he has been dating Mary Jane Watson for some time and he is planning to propose to her as soon as possible. Kirsten Dunst is good in the role but the material lets her down a bit. Mary Jane is having less success given that her career as a Broadway star died a quick death when she was fired. She thinks that Peter does not understand how she feels and that he tries to make everything about him as he often turns the conversation to his career as Spider-Man. The situation is not helped by the fact that Mary Jane is jealous of him re-enacting their upside down kiss with Gwen Stacy, a young woman whom he recently rescued as Spidey who just so happens to his lab partner as Peter. After a meteorite crashes to Earth, an alien symbiote bonds itself to Peter, amplifying his negative attributes. As the newly black suited Spider-Man, he goes from being a public hero to a public menace. He becomes callous and manipulative and is prone to outbursts of anger and violence. He also changes his image and begins to strut around the streets of New York trying to impress the ladies. These scenes were not really necessary but it was for the best that they were played for laughs. I am far less certain that this was the case when it came to his dancing in the jazz bar, one of the silliest scenes that I have seen in a film of this kind. Whether or not I was supposed to laugh, I did.

In the case of the three villains, the one in which I had the most vested interest was Harry Osborn, who discovered his late father Norman’s cache of Green Goblin weapons and gadgets and has taken on the mantle of the New Goblin. Much like Dunst, James Franco is good but would have benefited from stronger material. Armed with the knowledge that Peter is Spider-Man, Harry vows to destroy his erstwhile best friend in revenge for the supposed murder of his father. To that end, he attacks Peter in the skies above New York using his glider but falls from a great height and suffers a convenient loss of memory. In the process, he forgets all about Peter’s secret life and they resume their friendship, after a fashion. Things go a bit pear-shaped, however, when his memories reassert themselves and he forces Mary Jane to break up with Peter in order to save her boyfriend’s life.

Thomas Haden Church is a perfect fit for the Marko / Sandman role but the character is fairly uninteresting, particularly the clichéd sob story concerning his critically ill daughter. I thought that it was a serious mistake and ultimately rather pointless to retcon Uncle Ben’s death so that Marko and not his carjacker accomplice was the culprit. To a certain extent, it detracted from the first film’s storyline in a way that a sequel never should. Topher Grace is likewise fine but he does not have much to do as the obnoxious, sleazy and dishonest freelance photographer Eddie Brock who bonds with the symbiote after Peter frees himself from it, becoming Venom. I was pretty disappointed that Venom only had a few major scenes as he was always my favourite villain from the 1990s animated series. I would have been perfectly happy if they had saved Venom for a later installment and jettisoned Sandman altogether so that that the film would have involved a one- on-one confrontation between Peter and Harry, which the end of the second film seemed to be hinting at. I liked the redemption story arc towards the end but more of it would have been nice.

As in the previous films, I was very impressed by J.K. Simmons as Jameson and Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. Although his appearance as Uncle Ben is disappointingly brief, the film is notable as being Cliff Robertson’s final acting role before his death in 2011. Willem Dafoe’s cameo as Norman Osborn was even more evocative of “Hamlet” than in the second film, considering that he uses the phrase “Remember me” as did the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father. Had “Spider-Man 4” been produced, I assume that Bryce Dallas Howard would have reprised her role as Gwen Stacy and the character would have been killed off, in line with the comics. James Cromwell was wasted in his brief appearances as her father Captain George Stacy but they probably had plans for him too. As the maître d’, Bruce Campbell actually got to be a nice guy to Peter Parker for the only film in the series.

Overall, this is an enjoyable film in spite of its flaws but it could have been so much better

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Movie Review

spider-man 2004

This is why they invented movies. It’s a dazzling story of love, loss, adventure, courage, heartbreak, tough choices, and tender feelings with a rescue from a burning building, a runaway train, a world-class villain, and a really great kiss. It is smart and funny and touching and exhilaratingly entertaining. Spider-Man 2 has sensational special effects integrated with a first-rate script and outstanding performances to illuminate the characters and tell the story — and to show us something about ourselves. But most of all, this is why they invented movies because director Sam Raimi knows how to make things MOVE.

Few movies have so mastered motion. Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) swoops through the skyscrapers. A train hurtles across a track that just abruptly stops. A car flies through the air. Raimi is all but re-inventing cinematic story-telling before our delighted eyes.

In the first movie, we saw Peter Parker’s joy in the powers he developed after being bitten by a radio-active spider. When his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) was killed because he failed to stop a thief, he resolved to devote his life to help people. And that meant no close attachments because anyone he cared about would be vulnerable to attack by bad guys who wanted to pressure him.

As this movie opens, things are not going well for Peter. Even his Spidey powers can’t get those pizzas delivered by the 30-minute deadline when there are people to save along the way. Aunt May’s application for a loan to save her mortgage from being foreclosed has been turned down. He is having trouble in school because he doesn’t have time to do the work. His best friend Harry (James Franco) is still angry because Peter won’t tell him what really happened the night Spider-Man killed his father. Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), the girl he loves, is giving up on him because he can’t tell her who he really is or how he really feels. He can’t even do a load of laundry without making things worse. That Spider-man suit chafes. Spidey can’t even sling those webs the way he used to. The last hors d’oeuvre at the party is always snatched away just as he reaches for it. Maybe it’s time to quit.

Harry introduces Peter to the brilliant scientist, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), whose devotions to his wife and his work are inspiring. Harry is financing the doctor’s experiments with fusion energy, so complex and dangerous that they must be conducted with tentacle-like mechanical arms that are controlled by artificial intelligence. But in the grand hubris tradition of myths and comic books, the experiment goes terribly, tragically wrong and the doctor’s wife is killed. The four artificial arms are fused to Octavius’ spine. Devastated by the loss and overtaken by the arms which move like serpents in the garden of Eden, he becomes a villain known as Doc Ock, stealing what he needs to resume his experiments.

But Harry controls one of those ingredients, and he says he will give it to Doc Ock in exchange for Spider-Man. Molina is brilliant in both incarnations. His kind Doctor Octavius has a glimmer of benign madness. And his Doc Ock shows us the tortured soul that cannot help being thrilled by power. The weakest part of the first movie was the villain, with his dopey mask and over-the-top monologue. But Molina’s Doc Ock is a villain for the ages, a man who shows us his real face so we can feel the struggle for his soul.

The comic book elements are all here, with spectacular fight scenes and teen-friendly existential themes. Peter has to struggle with feelings of isolation and not being understood or appreciated. He is aware of the irony of his working for justice for others when his own life is filled with people who judge him unfairly.

One of the screenwriters was Michael Chabon, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about comic book creators called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and his rich appreciation for the mythic appeal of the comic book tradition brings depth to the story. Spider-Man and Doc Ock have many parallels. Both were granted extraordinary powers through mutations caused by accidents in scientific experiments. Both struggle with their alternate identities, represented in visual terms by frequent use of reflections. Both struggle with devastating losses. In a nice moment that gently underlines and broadens what is going on with the characters, Peter watches Mary Jane perform in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest in a scene where Cecily talks to Algernon about his pretending to be someone he is not. And a street musician sings the Spider-Man song, at first a little tentatively and off-key but then, as Spidey re-discovers who he is, with more assurance, hitting the right notes.

This is a sumptuous summer treat that succeeds on many levels. It is that rarest of treats, a popcorn pleasure with heart, soul, and insight.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Spider-Man (2002) – Movie Review

spider-man 2002

By default, Comic Books are the perfect Pre-Viz for movies based on them. And as a long-time Spidey fan, I was able to see the panels of this comic book come to striking life, sometimes reproduced with magnificent exactness in comparison to the way the books have been drawn and colored.

As far as this initial offering goes, the choices of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe and James Franco allowed for an almost precise match to how the characters they each portray looked in the books. The casting of Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt Mae, and J.K. Simmons as J Jonah Jameson: But it was not just the casting of actors who very closely resemble the characters of the Spider-man Universe, it was clearly Sam Raimi’s direction in concert with the script by David Koepp based very closely on Stan Lee’s “Spidey” Origin Story, which made these people come alive and pop out of the comic book frames, almost into real life.

Compared to some of the other comic book adaptations, this one was done with the most amount of care and respect for the series. Just to reproduce the postures of the flying web-slinger, using some of the most famous frames from the comics, was an astounding accomplishment.

From his humble beginnings in “Evil Dead” Sam Raimi has been a clever filmmaker, especially in his ability to make splendid visual effects. Combine that with a huge budget along with Visual Effects god John Dykstra, who designed effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the original Star Wars. Connect the dots with a fantastic Production Designer and Costume Designer, and it all just worked.

One of the tests of how well Digital Effects have been done are in the viewing of these films on lower-resolution mediums, like smart phone screens and Old Cathode-Ray Tube TV’s. I’ve viewed this film in each of those, and when Spidey is crawling up a wall in an obvious CGI shot, it makes you wonder if it really was CGI: In films like Daredevil, it is easy to spot the transition frames; here, it is impossible to find it.

Comparatively, the work on Captain America showing Steve Rogers as a skinny kid is very clever. Here, the same tech is used in a smaller degree to show Parker as a wimpy, skinny nerd. This is highly effective so that when Parker sees himself buffed out with his shirt off, you believe a change has occurred.

Where this film excels is in the rapidity of which it gets into the Spider-Man story, which is within the first ten minutes. As much as I do like the new Marc Webb “Amazing Spider Man” (2012) – It takes much too long to get into it, although the character development in that film is very good.

In this film however, the character development continues through the film and is incorporated even into action sequences, Continuing up to the very last frame of the film.

Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Dan Hicks (Of Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks) are all inserted as cameo properly as with any Raimi film. It is Campbell himself who “names” Spider-man – Saying “The Human Spider? That Sucks!”

My few complaints revolve around the character of Peter Parker, who is fairly unlucky in the books, here he is a walking disaster area. He is the antithesis of “The Competent Man” and even when given extraordinary ability, he is still a wimp in his personality, especially in his dealing with Mary Jane Watson. Also, Peter Parker’s first Love interest was Gwen Stacy, and it was she, not MJ who The Green Goblin captured and gave Spidey the choice: Save these kids in the Cable-Car, or Save Gwen. It was a choice, and one or the other only could have been saved. Here, Gwen is completely absent, and he saves MJ with a feat even impossible for the comic- book rendition of Spidey.

But I suppose adding Gwen to the mix would have muddied up the water too much. And even though I did not like the distortion of that original classic story, they did reproduce it visually with astounding correctness, as they did with the images of Spider-Man flying through NYC. Animating several classic Steve Ditko Spidey Postures, and at the end of the film we get to see many of these animated fantastically.

But the main message: ‘With Great power, comes Great Responsibility” – As told by Uncle Ben to Peter right before his death, survives, and when coupled with Danny Elfman’s fantastic score, makes this a powerful, meaningful film.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006) – Movie Review

x-men the last stand

A departed fanboy director. A widely reported rush production. And Brett Ratner as replacement director. Things weren’t looking good for the third installment of our X-Heroes. Cynics crossed their arms in haughty resignation, while comic geeks vented their outrage in a fittingly Phoenix-inspired display. And yet despite the odds here it is, tipped as the last stand, and the fears of those expecting the worst were perhaps unjustified.

Promising more emotional grounding in his instalment, director Ratner managed to pacify the blood-braying fanboys (and girls) still reeling from the sudden departure of fan favourite Singer. A snazzy trailer helped, showcasing some saliva-inducing imagery, and confirming that Ratner was faithfully sticking to Singer’s staunch visual style. The question remained, however; could he follow through and create an X adventure worthy of its highly acclaimed predecessors? The surprising answer is yes. And no. Well, sort of. X-Men: The Last Stand is a leaner, more streamlined entry excelling in slick sets, breathtaking action, and top-notch special effects. This is a summer blockbuster to the core, and damn proud of it.

Ratner’s presence behind the camera is unmistakable, and it is undeniably his crowd-pleasing instincts that steer X3 through the pitfalls of studio money-spinning agendas that surrounded the production. Unleashed on his audience is an infectious enthusiasm for visual spectacle that generates satisfyingly outrageous cinematic results. Not only are we are afforded a spectacular face-off at the Grey residence, but also the stunning sight of the Golden Gate Bridge being magnificently relocated, and a striking finale in which the world is literally turned upside down in an emotional confrontation.

This, however, is a film creaking with franchise baggage. The events of not one, but two previous X films bear down on Ratner’s film like the fists of Colossus, giving it a somewhat schizophrenic ambiance. The thrill-seeking director clearly struggles to compose X3 as both a sequel and a stand-alone adventure. As a consequence, few actors are given much to work with save the key players, who do what they can with a script that appears in a bit of a hurry. Famke Janssen stands heads above the rest: nothing short of brilliant as the returned Jean Grey (or Dark Phoenix), she portrays just the right amount of inner turmoil, vulnerability and downright creepy-ness to really hit the right notes. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are again the glue that holds everything together, both skilfully communicating the subtle nuances of their characters’ complex relationship. Others, like Kelsey Grammar’s Beast, and even James Marsden’s Cyclops come across as something of an after thought. There’s simply too much cast spread much too thinly.

The sacrifices extend throughout the rest of the film, too. Those little moments that imbued the other X films with heart and gravity are glaringly absent here; characters rush through expositional speeches, barely pausing for breath before the next explosive encounter. So while the pow-pow-pow approach ensures X3 a vigorous pace that effectively gathers momentum, its resultant whirlwind can tend to sweep over the rest of the film to its own detriment.

And when the final credits roll, just how has Ratner done with his last minute leap into the world of X? It’s difficult to judge how much tighter his X3 could have been if more time and creative control had been offered to him. The studio leash tightens noticeably as the running time accumulates: the three plot lines each struggle for exposure but none reach an entirely satisfactory conclusion. In the end, Ratner must be commended for crafting a film in a decidedly dubious climate, a film that is not only watchable, but entertaining too. X3 has its shortcomings, but there’s more than enough bang for your buck. And of course things are nicely left open for another installment. Now, where to find a fanboy director to fill those Singer-sized shoes?

 

7 out of 10 stars

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