Spider-Man: Homecoming

“What’s it like to be the most famous person in school and have no one realize it’s you?” Nothing sums up Spider-Man better than the immortal mantra of “with great power, comes great responsibility”, but has anything ever captured so succinctly and completely the essence of being Peter Parker like this very question? This, combined with the fact that the person asking is Peter’s best friend Ned (the only non-Avenger-affiliated individual to know the boy behind the mask) should spell out one clear and simple message: Spider-Man: Homecoming is the webslinger’s truest big-screen treatment to date, a welcome party/ backyard adventure groomed and refined by all the lessons that Marvel Studios has learned over the past nine years. Not bad for a kid from Queens who’s now on his second rebooted franchise.

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Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, which saw Spider-Man drafted in by Iron Man to capture half of the Avengers, high school sophomore Peter Parker (Tom Holland) restlessly waits for another call up to the big leagues. Every hour not spent in class (or with his decathlon team) he devotes to suiting up and fighting crime in Queens, New York, desperate to prove himself in the eyes of Tony Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr.). But as his activities put him on a collision course with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his vicious gang of alien tech traffickers, Peter realizes the hard way how much it takes to be a superhero, and how out of his depth he’s been all along.

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Far from the soaring city heights of Maguire’s era, and Garfield’s grungy, shadowy city-university stomping ground, Holland’s jurisdiction brings it all back to his Spider-Man’s ‘friendly, neighbourhood’ reputation. This is a Spidey who gives directions to old ladies, chases bicycle thieves, and keeps all his costumed activities to after-school hours. It’s bright, colourful, warm, instantly endearing local-brew, and all a constant reminder that the most important thing about Spider-Man has always been that he’s a kid. It’s by just allowing Peter Parker to be a kid that Homecoming can be considered a triumph of an adaptation.

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Holland proved an exquisite Spider-Man in just fifteen minutes of screen time last year. Now, with more than two hours front and centre of the proceedings, he outdoes himself as Peter. Capturing the dilemmas that split Peter’s life in two has always been a must-have motif, but what makes Holland and Homecoming both stand out is the variety of these dilemmas. It’s not all life-or-death situations! Sometimes, it’s as small as Peter having to choose between helping his best friend look cool at a party and chasing down some baddies. The size of the options isn’t what matters. It’s the size of the decisions, and Holland imbues each one with its due weight. His job is certainly made easier however by the standout talents of his supporting high school castmates, Jacob Batalon (Ned), Laura Harrier (love interest Liz), Tony Revolori (a welcome update to Flash Thompson, Peter’s classic tormentor) and Zendaya (a somewhat overly-marketed Michelle).

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As for the old guard, as ever it’s impossible to tell where Downey Jr. ends and Stark begins, and so it’s hard to pinpoint the source of the character’s ‘Dad mode’ even as it allows the veteran Avenger to explore a different dynamic. With Michael Keaton, however, Holland could have hardly hoped for a greater first foe, single-handedly breaking both Marvel Studios’ curse of villain one-dimensionality and Sony’s addiction to the ‘lab experiment gone wrong’ cliché. Toomes is just an everyday working man out for his family’s welfare, and circumstances take him to a dark place. He’s not a god, a genocidal robot or corrupt elite. He’s just a crook looking to make a big score, and with that he becomes one of the most legitimately threatening presences yet produced by the MCU.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun, frenetic, faithful start to the wallcrawler’s adventures in a much bigger universe of superheroes. It has its shortcomings: Spider-Man’s suit is oftentimes a little too ‘Go-Go Gadget’, despite a narrative context that somewhat justifies its extremes. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) certainly deserved a more prolonged presence to establish this franchise’s interpretation of her staple in Peter’s world. It would have been nice to indulge in an entire song at the titular Homecoming dance (to make up for the film’s overall unimaginative soundtrack from Michael Giacchino). Most of all, as fun as it all may be, it doesn’t quite pack the emotional punches of previous big screen incarnations, and so falls short of the sense of awe and wonderment that perhaps a more established webslinger could entreat. As it is, the film is a joyride of a neighbourhood adventure nestled comfortably into its own corner of the Marvel franchise. Back to the Future, except with superheroes.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 4/5

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PatchMan Revisits: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Well…this is kind of awkward. Technically, I have in fact already reviewed this one during this blog’s much younger days. But this is a re-visitation, so regardless of prior coverage I’m not really breaking the pattern. What makes this awkward though is not the ‘repetition’ of my subject matter. What makes this awkward is at the time I first reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man 2…I kind of gave it four stars. Out of five. For…reasons? I must’ve had some! Can’t think what they were now, but I must have had some! So, in some ways, rounding off this ‘Road to Homecoming’ series comes with something of a sense of dutiful atonement. Don’t get me wrong, I never feel remotely obligated to toe the line of opinion consensus about any given film (to which my La La Land review should attest). I stand by the fact that I enjoyed this film at the time, and still do (albeit in a different fashion). This is just me, looking in a three-year-old mirror and thinking…”what on earth were you talking about?”

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Spider-Man’s days as a wanted vigilante are done, as New York warmly embraces its crime-fighting champion. As Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), although now graduating from high school, life is more consistent. Deeply conflicted between his love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and the promise he made to keep himself out of her life for her own safety, Peter faces an uncertain future. But as the return of his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) precipitates the emergence of new threats, including the maniacal and godlike ‘Electro’ (Jamie Foxx), Peter comes to realize a deeper web that binds both his enemies and his own past: Oscorp.

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It’s impressive really that even though this franchise was rebooted a mere five years after the Sam Raimi trilogy, it not only ends up making most of the exact same mistakes, but somehow makes them to an even greater extent, and in addition to a whole heap of missteps of its own. Packed to the gunnels with bad guys, disjointed storytelling, playing fast-and-loose with plotlines, outright laughable creative decisions and ultimately torpedoing an entire studio-planned franchise in one fell swoop. Oh. And so. Much. Product placement. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, effectively, a two-hour commercial. Whether its flaunting Sony products and properties like its QVC, or drawing a map to establish budding sequels, spinoffs and crossovers in the franchise’s pipeline, the film is perhaps the earliest modern example of a studio getting entirely too ahead of itself and sacrificing the best interests of the film that audiences came to see. Granted, Marvel Studios has recently ventured more into this territory of catering to ‘the bigger picture’ and receives comparatively sparse criticism for it, but that’s been earned through a lot of origin story legwork and sequel-baiting that never really takes the audience for granted. Also, they rarely hit you over the head with it quite as hard as is done here. The result: like Spider-Man 3, there’s enough material to justify at least two separate films crammed into one, and it’s a messy fit.

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This isn’t to say the film is unwatchable. A number of its elements are actually a step up from its predecessor, both in substance and spectacle. Peter and Gwen’s troubled love affair reaps the benefits of its then-actual couple co-stars, by far the most believable of any romantic pairing in superhero cinema. The experience director Marc Webb gained from the first film shows especially in the film’s action, easy to follow but much more visually dynamic, and boasts a couple of standout sequences such as Spidey saving civilians from a blast of Electro’s energy and a Goblin battle climax which comic book purists have good reason to hail. The film even takes the step of providing a genuinely interesting twist concerning how Peter got his powers, the final piece in the Oscorp puzzle. The rest of the conspiracy premise may be half-baked and predictable, and makes for much of the film’s misplaced prioritization of sequel seeding, but it nevertheless offers a nugget of fresh interpretation of the Spider-Man mythos. Lastly, he may be utterly shoehorned in and provides no real contribution to the film whatsoever, but Paul Giamatti is just so wonderfully hammy in his cameo as Russian brute ‘The Rhino’. Like Stanley Tucci, he is never (or at least, very rarely) unenjoyable.

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For its sporadic saving graces, however, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all in a tangle. Foxx is completely underserved by his material as the film’s zap-happy central antagonist, often laughably so, and despite a gradual slide into madness that outshines anything we got from James Franco, there’s little satisfying payoff to DeHaan’s Harry. The opposite couldn’t be more true of Garfield and Stone in their roles, the former nailing Spidey’s everyman charisma and a (somewhat) more mature Peter whilst the later continues to be a love interest who actually accomplishes things outside of her relationship. Less a cohesive story than a conveyor belt of scenes littered with signs pointing in all different directions towards then-upcoming additions to the then-Spideyverse, it’s small wonder that the film performed considerably below expectations and ironically undid single-handedly all the plans it took the time to lay down. It’s not often that its deemed necessary and appropriate to effectively erase a blockbuster from existence, but with Sony’s subsequent licensing deal with Marvel Studios, this was certainly one of those occasions.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Final Score: 2.5/5

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PatchMan Revisits: The Amazing Spider-Man

2012 was a time of beginnings and endings for major film franchises. The Dark Knight Rises rounded out Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, as Breaking Dawn: Part 2 called time on the Twilight Saga. Peter Jackson returned to Middle-Earth with the first of his Hobbit adaptations, and Katniss Everdeen stepped in to fill the hole left by Harry Potter in the young adult/coming of age market with The Hunger Games. Oh, and The Avengers were unleashed, both a beginning and an ending, and one of the single biggest game-changers in film history. The fact that this reboot of everyone’s favourite webslinger is at all memorable amidst such a line-up is something of a feat in and of itself, and coming barely five years after Sam Raimi’s final turn in the director’s chair. This time around, Marc Webb takes the reins, despite his only previous experience directing a feature film being 2009’s (500) Days of Summer. The heartache that has dominated Peter Parker’s story for decades made Webb a natural fit for the man behind the mask, but for the material of the mask itself he remained entirely untested. Banking on genre newbies may have become a special ingredient in Marvel Studios’ formula, but can every studio play that game?

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As a boy, Peter Parker is left to the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Fields) by parents who mysteriously disappear. Years later, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is a high-school science prodigy and infatuated with classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Discovering a suitcase of his father’s possessions, Peter investigates Oscorp Industries, but his company visit results in a bite from a genetically-engineered spider which causes the onset of spider-like abilities. With his new power, however, come new responsibilities, a lesson he learns the hard way twice over through personal tragedy, and inadvertently enabling the transformation of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) – a one-time colleague of his father – into the monstrous Lizard.

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In many ways, everything there is to be said about this one stems from the context of its time. Part-grounded, coming of age drama with an angst of entirely its own nature, part cynical ploy for the studio to hold onto the Spider-Man licensing rights, Webb delivers an undeniably fresh and distinctive take on the material despite it having to re-tread much of the story beats from Raimi’s original (but in fairness, when it comes to Spidey, a lot of his origin details are sacred). This is a Spider-Man which, for all its seeding storylines about corporate conspiracies and an ultimately citywide threat-level territory, nevertheless feels generally more small-scale and ground-level than previous films. There’s no cage match fighting and money swindling to precipitate Uncle Ben’s inescapably pivotal demise, just an everyday convenience store robbery. Peter’s high school days aren’t remotely skipped over, but take up the whole film, making for a more fleshed out understanding of his more naïve sensibilities and pre-Spidey life (as well as perhaps the film’s greatest highlight: webhead and his reptilian nemesis brawling through school corridors, science labs and a library, featuring the best Stan Lee cameo there has ever yet been). Webb’s comfort zone is clearly in the everyday human relationships and interactions, and it’s a proclivity he certainly brings to Peter and Gwen’s budding romance with consistent authenticity (although probably helped by their natural chemistry together that went on to see them start a relationship for real).

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When it comes to its real crowd-pleasing ingredients though, The Amazing Spider-Man cannot really be said to grant the same euphoric feeling of the better Raimi films, and that’s not because of the memory of previous films. The overall handling of the Lizard, which had real ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ material to draw upon, plays out more like an awkward reincarnation of Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, right down to what feels like an obligatory instance of ‘bad guy with a split personality talking to himself’, a foil beholden to the needs of the plot rather than being given room to consider the devious possibilities of his own character. Indeed, plot demands take up a lot of room here, to the point where even Spider-Man’s motivations seem to change at the drop of a hat! The film’s brand of angst seems to be based entirely off Garfield’s Peter trying to be as distinguishable as possible from Maguire, which often translates to behaviour and choices that don’t reflect the character at all (petulance, cockiness, and above all an almost cheery renunciation of a promise he made to a dying man). If Maguire had Peter nailed down, but not so much Spidey, then the opposite is true of Garfield. The film feels often hamstrung by a certain indecisiveness, caught between not wanting to copy what’s already been done and lacking due confidence to commit fully to something new, and nothing reflects this better than Uncle Ben’s rhetorically bending over backwards to impart the iconic ‘responsibility’ mantra…without actually saying the iconic responsibility mantra. Webb is an obviously competent director, but a bit more experience at the helm could have pre-empted a great many of these issues.

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The Amazing Spider-Man may have been just a self-serving manoeuvre inspired by studio licensing agreements more than a desire to tell a decent Spidey story, but in the end it produced a decent Spidey story anyway. Garfield excels in the role and makes the best of what he’s given, especially once in costume, and Stone proves herself a star performer in any and every genre she appears, providing an altogether more modern love interest, though Ifans is passable at best (through no fault of his own). It’s when the film capitulates to an appetite from on high for sequel-baiting and franchise-building that its momentum falters. Amiable, appreciable, but not quite amazing.

Quality: 3/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 3.5/5

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PatchMan Revisits: Spider-Man 3

…Ok. So, where to begin with this one? This one comes with some personal baggage. I first saw Raimi’s original Spider-Man at the cinema when I was eleven years old, and although it wasn’t my introduction to superheroes onscreen (that claim goes to Batman: The Animated Series, and yes that counts), it catapulted me instantly into fanboyhood. The music, the web-swinging, the ‘great responsibility’ philosophising, every moment of Willem Dafoe and J.K. Simmons (to this day I will defend the Green Goblin as being among the greater supervillains of cinema). Sure, it could get a little cartoony, but it was just so much fun and radiated such love for its own mythos. Two years later, Spider-Man 2 took it all to the next level and left us fans with the ultimate webhead cinematic experience (even if at the time, I still preferred Goblin as a villain), and the promise of a thrilling trilogy-closer with Harry Osborn’s inheriting his father’s secret arsenal to aid his Spidey death wish. Three long years later in 2007, Spider-Man 3 finally arrives. And this lover of cinema and superheroes experienced his first great betrayal by the silver screen.

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For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), life has never been better. Spider-Man has become a beloved hero of New York City, and Peter is on the verge of proposing to girlfriend – and woman of his dreams – Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). But this calm belies an approaching storm for the web-slinger. Peter’s best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) has taken up his father’s Goblin mantle. Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), a petty criminal with an unexpected connection to Peter’s past, is accidentally transformed into ‘The Sandman’ and unleashes havoc in the city. Spider-Man is seemingly outmatched, until a mysterious symbiote latches onto his costume, turning it black and enhancing his abilities. But as Peter also discovers, the symbiote brings out his darker impulses, and the price for even getting rid of it may prove higher than he could imagine.

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By far the most frustrating thing about Spider-Man 3 to this day is that there is real, distinguishable, tangible potential for this film to have been a triumph, even in the shadow of its immediate predecessor. The film is like a puzzle where you can see the intended picture on the lid, but all the pieces themselves are either misshapen or stuck in completely the wrong places. The ingredients are there: the long-awaited Spidey versus Goblin Jr, a standout origin sequence –  and indeed a solid arc – for Sandman, and perhaps above all the big-screen interpretation of the iconic ‘black suit’ storyline and fan-favourite supervillain Venom. Any one of these would have made for a Spidey threequel certainly on-par with the first film, each offering a unique and fresh dynamic to the series. Instead, we got all of them at once, and the result was an unsurprisingly tangled web of inconsistent tone, stop-start momentum, baffling creative decisions and an overwhelmingly lacklustre aftertaste.

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After two films of establishing Peter’s innate insecurities, humility and general weight-of-the-world character, suddenly our hero is a man with swagger and smooth moves (and that’s before he gets the new suit and the film cues his infamous dance montage). The chemistry is still there with Dunst’s MJ, but their relationship is forced so clumsily into choppy waters by the dictations of the plot (looking at you, whoever decided to shoehorn Bryce Dallas Howard’s Gwen Stacey into this), and brought on by such out-of-character moments by both parties. Harry’s vendetta, a key leftover from Spider-Man 2, is practically flushed down the toilet in favour of a love-triangle storyline that’s simply an overlong rendition of the first film’s hospital bedside corniness. What course-correction the film does eventually take with him is just too little, too late, and frankly even on an aesthetic level this ‘New Goblin’ disappoints. Whoever thought that a ‘ninja on a sky-surfboard’ design could surpass Dafoe’s actual goblin-esque super soldier look I hope has since thought about their life choices.

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Ironically, Church’s Sandman makes for easily the film’s most nuanced and substantial character arc, as well as one of the most breath-taking origin sequences in superhero cinema history (a telling sign of where Raimi’s personal interest with his villains laid), even though his relevance to the overall story is tenuous at best, and ham-fisted at worst. For a film series that up until this point prided itself on characterization, Spider-Man 3 just seems to lose all sense of what makes an emotionally-cohesive character. Motivations come and go as if guided by a magic-eight ball. And after all the above, we get Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a flimsy foil for Peter Parker who literally exists just so the film can capitalize on Venom’s appeal to the comic book fan-base, which itself amounts to little more than five minutes of actual screen time. What with this, and Suicide Squad’s Joker last year, there really should be a term for this kind of thing: Topher’ed? Leto’d? Playing the base? In any case, at least here we still had J.K. Simmons, the real hero of Spider-Man 3. Seriously, J.K.’s Jameson needs a Netflix series. I’m thinking a cross between The Office and Spotlight. Make it happen, Marvel.

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Spider-Man 3 isn’t a terrible film. It’s well-acted across the board, even through clunky dialogue (and cementing Maguire’s legacy as ‘crying Spidey’). Its special effects surpass anything else in the entire series, and despite taking on far too much storytelling it’s still able to hit a solid number of beats throughout. It’s watchable, colourful (despite its whole ‘going dark’ schtick), but ultimately stands fittingly as a disservice to the fans and an unsatisfying experience for a more general audience. Overcrowding has since gone on to become a recurring problem in superhero cinema (including the next attempt at a Spider-Man franchise), but as examples of such go Spider-Man 3 is maybe the least egregious. A regrettable trilogy-closer, but not irredeemable.

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Quality: 2.5/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Final Score: 3/5

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PatchMan Revisits: Spider-Man 2

Superhero films have been around for a long time now, and there’s little sign of them going away anytime soon (for better or worse). But when their time is up and the genre goes the way of the spaghetti western or the Hollywood musical, an elite few may very well be spared the brush of audience fatigue for the fundamental reason that they transcend the genre. The Dark Knight (2008). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Wonder Woman (2017). The mere mention of any one of these titles is a hallowed reference in film-goer circles, and Spider-Man 2 (2004) has had a seat at this illustrious table from day one.

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With two jobs, his university studies, rent, and taking on all of New York’s criminals as the masked vigilante Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has never had a fuller plate. To add to his worries, his beloved Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is in financial difficulty, his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) wants revenge for the death of his father, and the love of his life – Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) – has found another man. Stretched to his limit, Peter may have to decide whether being Spider-Man can be a part of his life at all, a decision complicated with the emergence of New York’s greatest menace yet: Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina)

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It’s all-too rare for a sequel to better its predecessor, and Spider-Man 2 also adds this exclusive club card to its hands. Director Sam Raimi takes literally everything that was great about the character’s 2002 debut, ups the ante, gives us more, and continuously plays with our expectations. The balancing act the film pulls off in showcasing each and every one of Peter’s struggles is nothing short of remarkable, even just in terms of storytelling clarity. Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee has always emphasised how the central idea was a superhero with actual, relatable problems, and Raimi demonstrates his understanding of this from the very first scene. Peter loses his pizza delivery job for lateness, even after delivering the pizza via webswinging (a minor, but no less glorious sequence). J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons in a now-iconic performance), editor of The Daily Bugle, pays Peter peanuts for Spider-Man photos which Jameson uses for his wallcrawler witch-hunt front pages. Even his birthday money from Aunt May is quickly snatched away by his grubby landlord.

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The film meticulously lays out everything Peter grapples with throughout the film, gradually building up the mountain of grievances for which Peter has his alter-ego to thank, until it’s big decision time. Can Peter Parker and Spider-Man truly coexist? Like the film’s predecessor and its contemporaries, Spider-Man 2 could have easily been overly angst-ridden, but even the ‘angst’ here isn’t so much angst as legitimately adult problems, and the execution of these dilemmas is done with just as much humour as gravitas. Raimi knows precisely where to sprinkle the jokes at Peter’s expense, and likewise at Spider-Man’s. How the film deals with Peter and MJ’s scenes together especially highlights a more mature take on the proceedings than the first film, with the script shedding much of its former corniness in favour of dialogue that actually sounds like two adults talking.

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Spider-Man 2 crafts for itself a superb antagonist in the form of Molina’s brilliant, tragedy-struck Dr. Otto Octavius. It’s surprising that truly great villains in superhero cinema are few and far between, when the solution seems so often to be simply allowing them some substantial non-evildoing screen time.  Our main villain here spends over half an hour of the film as a normal man, a brilliant and virtuous scientist who Peter sees as a mentor, and whose downfall and manipulation by artificial intelligence ‘tentacles’ of his own creation packs an extra emotional punch into Spider-Man’s already-spectacular battles with him. The Green Goblin’s brand of evil may have been deliciously wicked, but Doctor Octopus’ twisted morality and obsession is ultimately more nourishing, and Molina carries the role with hypnotic flair and true gravitas.

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Perhaps Spider-Man 2’s greatest feat is the fact that whilst it’s Peter’s story first, every one of its main characters is given a journey, and the film follows their journeys from beginning to end in effortless fashion. Whether its Aunt May’s money worries, or MJ pursuit of love and success, worlds collide, circle each other, break apart, and it all makes complete and cohesive emotional sense. Harry’s slide into his obsession with vengeance makes for a dark reflection of the film’s central theme of choices and consequences, and by the film’s cliff-hanger end to his arc our appetite is thoroughly whetted for his personal resolution.

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Brimming with unmistakeable adoration for the source material, Raimi delivered a sequel that’s just as much emotional drama as superhero, defying all expectations and continuing to stand the test of time as an intelligent, insightful, masterful blockbuster.

Quality: 5/5

Entertainment: 5/5

Final Score: 5/5

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PatchMan Revisits: Spider-Man

It started as a whisper. A growing chorus of violins with bows scuttling across strings, met swiftly by a rising percussive patter. A sound more evocative of a spider on its web composer Danny Elfman could have hardly produced, and Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy owes much of its swinging and soaring personality to his musical accompaniment. Before 2002, Raimi was a director renowned by audiences of horror and thriller cinema, but entirely untested in summer blockbusters. For superhero cinema, it was a time where ‘angst’ was studio gospel, with everything from The Shadow (1994) and Steel (1997) to Spawn (1997) and Blade (1998) trying (and failing) to usurp the throne of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Needless to say, things needed a shake-up, and suddenly Raimi’s childhood-borne passion for Marvel Comics’ figurehead web-slinger almost single-handedly propelled him into the driver’s seat of one of the most anticipated superhero cinematic debuts in history. $140m budget. $822m at the box office. a trilogy quickly set in stone. People talk about how much of a gamble Iron Man (2008) was with its then-notorious star, a similarly untested director and a second-tier superhero. They forget that trailblazing has been Spider-Man’s territory for far longer.

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High school outcast Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) knows only three things: science, Flash Thompson’s bullying, and his unrequited love for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). When he is bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter finds himself imbued with phenomenal abilities, but his initial efforts to profit off them results in tragic loss, and the hard-learned lesson that with great power comes great responsibility. Becoming the superhero ‘Spider-Man’, Peter vows to protect the people of New York from harm, a crusade which the ruthless and powerful Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) quickly puts to the test.

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It’s easy to forget amidst all the memorable cartoonish-ness of the Raimi films – awestruck citizens, every second of J.K. Simmons, a climax featuring New Yorkers helping ol’ webhead by throwing things at Goblin – that in many ways Spider-Man qualifies as fundamentally angst-ridden. Heartache, tragedy, impossible decisions, the weight of the world suddenly bearing down on Peter’s shoulders, it would have been very easy for this film to have slipped into a maelstrom of moping and mourning. What sets the film apart from its contemporaries is how although it honours a due amount of introspection, it never forgets Spidey’s all-important sense of fun. Peter Parker may be a troubled teen, but once the mask is on he’s a high-flying, wall-crawling wonder.

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Like all truly great origin stories, the film excels in capturing not only his transition from one to the other, but in how he finds himself having to actively balance both identities. Take his first webswing: his Uncle Ben freshly murdered by a common criminal, Peter is emboldened through donning his mask to give chase to the killer, but jumping off a rooftop web-in-hand is still a moment where the film allows a pause for Peter to fully realize his literal leap of faith. When Spider-Man saves Mary Jane from a gang of thugs – prompting the now-iconic upside-down kiss – his face isn’t just half-covered for practical reasons. He is truly equal-parts Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and it’s by sticking to this fine balance that the film demonstrates its deep understanding for the material. It’s also the exact reason for how Spider-Man breaks the ‘angst-y’ obsession of its day, fostering a union between euphoria and intensity.

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Spider-Man’s neighbourhood in the Marvel Universe has always been especially rich material thanks to its pantheon of characters, and this film pays a fitting tribute to this quality through its cast. Dunst, though in action largely just a damsel, is nonetheless a distinctive presence, as is James Franco’s beleaguered best friend to Peter; Harry Osborn. Rosemary Harris makes for a relentlessly endearing Aunt May, even if she is saddled with much of the film’s philosophical exposition, and what time Peter has with his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) nevertheless boasts a strong chemistry amounting to a tangible sense of loss.

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But like all great superhero features, ultimately the film is a tug-of-war between Maguire and Dafoe. Dafoe’s Goblin may be as over the top as his glider-riding wardrobe, but every second of him is a treat, and Raimi’s horror background shines through especially in the film’s antagonist-centric moments. And whilst Maguire may have since gone down in comic-book movie history as ‘the crying Spidey’, he’s simply conveying the earnestness of Raimi’s interpretation of this mythos. There’s no mistaking his inner turmoil, nor the extent to which his physical mask provides an emotional one. Peter Parker is just a good kid thrust into an unpredictable life, and Maguire brings it all home.

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By today’s standards, Spider-Man may not be an especially innovative entry into the genre beyond its special effects, but there’s more than enough packed into its runtime to make for a thoroughly enjoyable and immersive experience fifteen years later. ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’, and the film makes sure its audience understands this to the letter.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 4/5

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The Mummy

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a US soldier-of-fortune (as in, spends more time looting treasure in Iraq than fighting insurgents), until he accidentally uncovers the prison-tomb of the ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and frees her undead soul. Cursed as her ‘Chosen’, Nick’s only hope of both personal and global salvation lies with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and the resources of her enigmatic employer – Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

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Look, there’s an elephant in the room here. In fact, it’s not an elephant in a room at all, but a bull in a china shop. It’s this incessant, ham-fisted agenda that every major film studio is attempting these days to have its own Avengers moment. All of Hollywood wants to replicate that superhero ‘shared universe’ formula, and we can’t exactly blame them. The Avengers was a phenomenal feat in film history. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now the most successful film franchise of all time. The story so far with other studios, however, is not so rosy. An aborted Spider-Man movie-verse at Sony. Warner Bros has taken four films to finally have a knockout on its hands with a DC universe, whilst at the same time half-heartedly setting up a Godzilla/King Kong crossover. Now, Universal Studios wades into these waters with plans for its own ‘Monsters Cinematic Universe’ (or ‘Dark Universe), drawing upon its back-catalogue of iconic movie monsters (think Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.). Isn’t all this focusing too much, however, on a studio’s long-term plans and neglecting the film itself? Absolutely. Now if only someone had told the filmmakers that!

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An awkward mashup of the classic Hammer Horror, the adventurous spirit of the 90s Brendan Fraser blockbusters, AND laying the groundwork for some kind of League of Extraordinary Gentleman ensemble film, The Mummy is a mess. Forget the atmosphere and psychological chills that made 1932 a classic. It’s all about the jump-scares now, and the film doesn’t even make much effort to set these up properly half the time, whilst its sense of humour is no less sporadic and hit-and-miss. Ahmanet herself and all her demonic doings amount to little more than an Egyptian-themed retooling of your average Pirates of the Caribbean curse, despite Boutella’s indisputably committed performance that makes you kind of wish she had played Enchantress instead of Cara Delevigne in last year’s Suicide Squad (it wouldn’t have saved it, but it might have sprinkled something a little finer).

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Tom Cruise seems to simply be on an ego trip, an excuse to show him going toe-to-toe with gods and monsters instead of his usual fare of criminals, secret agents and terrorists. Either that, or this entire film is his audition tape for Nathan Drake in the upcoming Uncharted film adaptation (please don’t). Crowe as the infamously dual-sided doctor, whilst himself underwhelming, nevertheless strangely provides for perhaps the film’s more interesting ingredients. So much so that it begs the thought that this ‘Dark Universe’ might actually have the most potential (outside of the superhero market).

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Say what you will of the Fraser films, they were at least proudly silly adventure stories with dashes of horror and a relentless commitment to fun at the cinema. Cruise offers a lacking alternative, fundamentally indecisive about its own nature, which ultimately leaves next-to-no impression at all.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 2.5/5

Final Score: 2.5/5

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