Review – The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Amazing by name, but not unfortunately by nature, this bloated second installment in the hastily rebooted Spidey franchise fails to trap you in its web.

A trio of great performances can't save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that's so far failing to live up to its title

A trio of great performances can’t save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that’s so far failing to live up to its title

When Sam Raimi brought Spider-Man to the big screen in 2002, it landed at a time when the new era of comic book movies that had begun with X-Men two years earlier was still in its infancy.

Fast forward to 2012 and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man arrived in a far more crowded market place, dominated by the double whammy of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marvel’s The Avengers.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) investigates the death of his parents in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) investigates the death of his parents in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

While it did good business, when compared to these two box office behemoths, The Amazing Spider-Man felt like a lesser film. Lest we forget, it had only been five years since Raimi’s forgettable Spider-Man 3 and Webb’s reboot felt like what it was – a money-grabbing exercise by Sony Pictures to muscle in on the comic book movie boom.

The strongest aspects of that film remain the highlights of this follow-up – namely the performances of Andrew Garfield as awkward teenager Peter Parker turned superhero Spider-Man and Emma Stone as his smart and spiky love interest Gwen Stacy; and the winning chemistry both actors have together.

Nerdy Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) shortly before becoming Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Nerdy Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) shortly before becoming Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finds Peter struggling to maintain the promise he made to Gwen’s father to stay away from his daughter in order to keep her safe, while also settling into his role as Spidey. With great power comes great responsibility and Peter’s responsibility to the people of New York is severely tested by the arrival of powerful supervillain Electro (Jamie Foxx), formerly sad and lonely Oscorp engineer Max Dillon.

Meanwhile, Peter’s long-absent childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home in time to take over the reins of Oscorp from his dying father (Chris Cooper) and it’s not long before Spider-Man gets in the way of their friendship.

Peter Parker's love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker’s love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The film inevitably draws comparisons to 2004’s Spider-Man 2, easily the best in Raimi’s Spidey trilogy, but falls short. The narrative is pretty similar – a brilliant Oscorp employee accidentally mutates into a supervillain and, with the help of a vengeful Harry Osborn, faces off against Spider-Man. However, while that film featured a properly three-dimensional villain and a storyline that zipped along, Electro’s arc feels underdeveloped, the action set pieces fail to properly engage and the pace often flags (at 142 minutes, it’s at least half-an-hour too long).

It also falls into the same trap as too many other comic book movies (Spider-Man 3 in particular) of believing that bigger is always better. Paul Giamatti’s Russian nutjob Aleksei Sytsevich is as superfluous as he is ridiculous and has presumably been injected into the film as a platform between this film and the next chapter in the franchise, while the curious shifts in tone between comic book goofiness and brooding seriousness suggest a movie that’s trying to be all things to all people, but ends up coming off as directionless.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) catches up with old buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) catches up with old buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s saving grace are the trio of Garfield, Stone and DeHaan. The strained relationship between Peter and Gwen is effectively brought to life by both actors and Stone in particular radiates in a role that commands strength, purpose and fortitude. DeHaan, meanwhile, is great as the increasingly desperate Harry and employs a smile that turns more crooked as the film wears on.

Special mention should go to the soundtrack, crafted by Hans Zimmer in collaboration with Pharrell Williams and several others. The music that introduces the newly created Electro is particularly effective as it both drives the action and provides a schizophrenic audio accompaniment to the confusion and anger coursing through the character’s mind.

However, a trio of great performances can’t save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that’s so far failing to live up to its title.

Review – Django Unchained

For a writer and director who’s the unashamed king of the movie homage there really isn’t anyone else out there making films quite like Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained – arguably his most outrageous film yet

Django Unchained, Tarantino’s eighth feature is arguably his most outrageous yet and serves up a similar stylistic mash-up as his previous film Inglourious Basterds.

In that movie, he somehow got away with making a World War Two spaghetti western (complete with Ennio Morricone music) where a squadron of Jewish-American soldiers give the Nazis a taste of their own medicine.

Here, Tarantino uses a similar mould for his most fully realised and satisfying film since Jackie Brown, jettisoning the episodic structure that has been so familiar throughout his filmography.

Django Unchained is a western with extra spaghetti sauce and features a blaxploitation hero even cooler than Shaft. From the title, which directly references the 1966 spaghetti western Django starring Franco Nero (who makes a cameo here), to the red-painted opening credits, music, ultra violence and theme of revenge (common to virtually all of Tarantino’s work), the film sends the homage-o-meter up to 11.

Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) shows Django (Jamie Foxx) the way of the gun in Django Unchained

Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) shows Django (Jamie Foxx) the way of the gun in Django Unchained

It’s also the writer-director’s most overtly political work to date, addressing the still thorny subject of slavery in a frank and often brutal way. Our hero is Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave in 1858 Texas who wins his freedom thanks to the intervention of Christoph Waltz’s German dentist-turned bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (it can’t be a coincidence that a character who abhors slavery shares his name with Dr Martin Luther King).

The sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Django Unchained

The sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Django Unchained

Schultz takes Django under his wing and trains him in the art of bounty hunting (“like slavery, it’s a flesh for cash business”) and, in return for assisting him, Schultz agrees to help Django win the freedom of his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a slave forced to work at the perversely named Candyland, owned by the despicable sadist and racial supremacist Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, sporting horribly blackened teeth).

Tarantino has never been one to shy away from throwing in the kitchen sink when it comes to on-screen violence. It’s a facet of his work that has attracted considerable consternation from critics and commentators throughout his career, but while he no doubt takes great pleasure in seeing how far he can go he also never lets you forget that violence and bullets hurt – a lot. When we see slaves being killed in the most vicious of ways at the hands of Candie, we’re left in no uncertain terms that this is no laughing matter.

The deplorable house slave Stephen (Samuel L Jackson) in Django Unchained

The deplorable house slave Stephen (Samuel L Jackson) in Django Unchained

That being said, just as the Nazis have it coming in Inglourious Basterds, there’s a certain gleeful satisfaction in seeing a black man administer justice of the most merciless kind to the racist white trash who have profited from and exploited the slave trade.

In the film’s most amusing scene , a group of proto-Ku Klux Klansmen led by Big Daddy (Don Johnson) go in search of Schultz and Django, only to bicker among themselves because they can’t see properly out of their white hoods. It’s a nicely observed comment on the absurdity and cowardice of racism.

Tarantino also nods to classic John Ford westerns, framing his heroes against a series of expansive vistas, beautifully filmed by cinematographer Robert Richardson, and conjures up a number of arresting images, most strikingly when blood splattters over pure white cotton on a plantation.

Quentin Tarantino directs and unfortunately stars in Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino directs and unfortunately stars in Django Unchained

As verbose as Tarantino’s scripts are, his rich dialogue is a gift for the superlative cast he’s assembled here. Waltz almost steals the show as the kind-but-deadly Schultz, as memorable a screen presence as his diabolical Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds.

Foxx does a nice line in man-with-no-name quiet intensity (can you imagine what Will Smith, Tarantino’s original choice, would have done with the role?), while DiCaprio has a whale of a time tearing it up as the dapper southern aristocrat out of control in his own private fiefdom.

The colourfully dressed Django (Jamie Foxx) kicks ass and takes names in Django Unchained

The colourfully dressed Django (Jamie Foxx) kicks ass and takes names in Django Unchained

However, all pale in comparison to the quite brilliant Samuel L Jackson as Stephen, Candie’s house slave who’s so servile he makes Uncle Tom look like a Black Panther. Hidden behind that frail, shuffling walk lies a truly abominable human being who, when he isn’t perched on Candie’s shoulder like a parrot repeating his every line, is punishing his fellow slaves and conspiring against them to get in his white master’s good books. It’s a very disturbing performance that only Tarantino and Jackson could have dreamt up.

What Tarantino still has some trouble with, however, is acting and he’s truly terrible as an Australian (!) slave driver. He can’t even resist affording himself the film’s most colourful death. This entire section is the only weak spot in the whole movie. There’s a natural end point before this, but Tarantino (who has previously admitted to not showing enough discipline when it comes to a script) gives himself another half an hour before he finally wraps things up, all be it in a pleasingly brutal way.

The thing you have to admire about Tarantino is that he’s a rock’n’roll director in the truest sense, a film geek who wants to share his love of cinema’s outer margins and with Django Unchained he hits it out of the park.