I’m coming out of retirement just for this. Falling Debris was a pet project when I was in college, inspired by the likes of Diggnation and The Totally Rad Show to discuss geeky/nerdy things in a meaningful way. I lost track of things after college and having a real world job and responsibilities. I’d love to have the time to regularly write about things I’m passionate about, and even get the podcast back. But, even with all that to overcome, the urge to discuss Star Trek Into Darkness is strong enough to come out of retirement for one last job. Needless to say, this review is full of spoilers and I am not gentle with them. You have been warned.
JJ Abrams’s Star Trek Into Darkness loosely picks up some time after the first film, with Kirk commanding the Enterprise and going on expeditions, ignoring every rule in the book in the process - including the almighty Prime Directive. With the help of some bad judgment, Kirk is demoted and loses command of the Enterprise, setting him up with motivation to prove that he’s not the irresponsible fool we think he is. After catching up with the crew, a seemingly unrelated subplot unravels. A father of a dying girl is approached by John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who offers to save the girl’s life... for a cost. The grateful man repays the favor by going into work - at a public archive with a secret facility - and blowing himself up in a kamikaze attack. That sets in motion a series of events that seem almost overtly similar to contemporary terrorist attacks in what is one of the most lazily crafted metaphors in recent film. Kirk is tasked with locating and taking out the terrorist with no mercy, and the bulk of the story is the pursuit and discovery of the villain’s background.
It’s no secret that I have strong negative feelings for the reboot. JJ Abrams was given Star Trek because his movies sell. They're solely eye candy, but eye candy brings in hundreds of millions of dollars and studios love that, which is why Disney, now owners of Lucasfilm, have put him in charge of the new Star Wars film. One man is single-handedly responsible for the two biggest sci-fi film franchises, and they're both going to crap because flash is more important than substance. My problems with this movie stem from my feelings for the entire franchise. It’s an abomination that defiles the name of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. JJ Abrams still can’t let go of his lens flares and tilt shifts, a crutch on his visual abilities as a director. It’s distracting and unnecessary, but it adds the literal flash that comprises 100% of the movie. It’s not as distracting as the first film, with the ship bridge looking like an Apple Store polished in wax. But the affectations don’t stop there; they extend to the actors’ performances, which are an obvious attempt to trigger nostalgia in older viewers. Every actor is clearly just continuing their impression of the previous actors’ acting. Chris Pine’s the only one who makes Kirk his own and doesn’t recreate Shatner’s signature voice, but still exudes sexual charisma that comes with the rank of “captain”. Aside from that, Karl Urban’s McCoy, Simon Pegg's Scotty, and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov are just imitations. Uhura... well, she's just there answering the space phone, as usual.
As the plot of the film started coming out, the only thing I could get from it was that Harrison is a terrorist. That’s where we are in filmmaking now. In Iron Man 3, The Mandarin is a terrorist. In Star Trek Into Darkness, Harrison is a terrorist. Terrorists terrorize. They kill people for no reason and then we go hunt them down and break all our rules just to get revenge. That’s what it’s all about - revenge. Kirk is getting revenge for the death of Pike and all the innocent lives lost, and Harrison is getting revenge on Starfleet for his own reasons. But that's the only accessible plot that contemporary audiences can digest now. If it were something complex and existential in the truest spirit of Star Trek, audiences would react similarly to Star Trek: The Motion Picture - puzzled and confused. So, to ensure sales and positive reviews, the story is crafted around elements that even the simplest of audiences can understand, while leaving out any trace of Roddenberry's vision. So why even bother calling it Star Trek? Why not call it Generic Sci-Fi Action Movie Set In Space? Change the names and characters, and you don't hurt anyone's legacy. Creating a new timeline and leaving the old one intact but hidden away and to be forgotten doesn't do less harm. It still hurts the franchise to involve the canon and ignore what makes it special.
To add insult to injury, JJ Abrams seems to be choosing to ignore the events of Star Trek Enterprise, which takes place 100 years before the events of TOS and his reboot franchise. To get technical, JJ Abrams created a new alternate timeline with the Romulan Nero traveling back in time to 2233 and Old Spock also arriving in the same timeline at 2258, killing Kirk's father and destroying all of Vulcan. Because of those actions and the circumstances of Kirk’s early history, the events of the Federation as a whole are remarkably different compared to their prime universe counterpart. Star Trek Into Darkness actually takes place before the “five year mission” that is depicted in TOS, but much of the history is already changed. They never address how the loss of Vulcan affects the Federation, but they finally approach the Klingons, which was an idea that got scrapped in the first film. However, Abrams’s Klingons are starkly different than any we’ve seen before, much like the Romulans. The most notable difference is the use of masks that hide their identity and strange facial piercings. In this film, it’s briefly explained that the Federation or maybe just Starfleet only recently discovered the Klingons, but the time travel takes place after the events of Enterprise, which clearly establishes relations with the Klingon Empire before the Federation is even created. It’s at this point that Abrams is unilaterally defining his own Star Trek universe as independent of any existing canon, and that’s where even the most liberal of Trekkies that forgive the existence of these films should be outraged.
My test for the quality of a film is being able to answer the question, "What is it about?" If you can't answer that leaving the theater, or the answers don't comprise the majority of the film, that means you just watched a very long music video with things just happening in it. What gives this film even the hint of about-ness is Scotty’s objection to using new classified weapons on Harrison's hiding spot in Qo'noS, but it fails. As the Enterprise receives its complement of new torpedoes from Admiral Marcus, Scotty realizes that the specs are classified and he can’t inspect them. He objects to their use, as they could potentially be too dangerous to use, and is forced to resign, leaving Chekov the new engineer (literally the only purpose Chekov serves in the film, aside from a red shirt joke). Scotty represents the conscientious objector in a time of war, worrying about the effects an untested weapon will have not just on the target, but on them. You could say that it's about revenge and vengeance (or as Hideo Kojima calls it, "revengeance"), but you get revenge for a reason. Let's call revenge "Action C" that is a response to "Action B". But what is the "Action A" that caused "Action B"? We don't know. We don't know why the bad guys are bad, other than they're the bad guys, and the whole point of revenge is moot, which definitely adds credence to the use of a generic terrorist as the villian for contemporary audiences. Unfortunately, about-ness easily overshadowed by the two-second shot of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) in her underwear for no reason, a scene that has caused quite a bit of controversy among the internet. While Damon Lindelof gave a half-assed apology over Twitter, much of the vocal internet has collectively shamed any objectors to the lazy and explotive scene. However, JJ Abrams did reveal there was a cut scene of Cumberbatch taking a "shower of evil" that never made it into the film. So they realize that one wouldn't be relevant to the story, but the other would. Sure, it's part of Kirk's character to be the womanizing "hero who peeks", but they could have done it in a way that doesn't leave Alice Eve literally posing for the camera and audience. It's no secret that Star Trek has always objectified women to boost viewership in the primary young/lonely male demographic, but it's one part of the legacy that we could easily let go of and add more integrity to the franchise. Instead, Eve's Carol Marcus joins Deanna Troy, Seven of Nine, and T'Pol as the eye candy to bring in the money.
So here we are, at the major spoilers. That's the shame, really. Most of the discussion can't happen without spoilers. The entire movie is based on secrets and spoilers. It’s revealed that Harrison is not who he appears to be. He was found prior to the events of the film by Admiral Marcus on an adrift derelict, one of many survivors in cryogenic stasis, asleep for 300 years. They were the product of experiments to create superhuman soldiers to fight in a war that may never have happened in this reality. And the one to be awoken was Khan. Let's not ask why a British actor is playing a Sikh character that was originally played by a Mexican actor. Marcus manipulated Khan into helping him strategize a future attack on the Klingons, and Khan escaped, only to return later to exact his... his... there's a word for it, but I can't think of it. But before the USS Vengeance (there it is) can be used on the Klingons, Marcus needs to erase all evidence of Khan, along with any evidence and witnesses - including the Enterprise. It's really not a subtle name - USS Vengeance. Actually, it's never mentioned in dialogue, just that it's a Dreadnaught-class ship. But who in Starfleet would allow it to be named Vengeance? Probably just Marcus. If anything, we can call Marcus the primary villain, while Khan is just the secondary villain. How shocking that the person on our side is the real villain and he was only using an outsider as his puppet. What’s funny is that rumors about Cumberbatch playing Khan were some of the earliest, dating back to filming last year. If anything, I give more credit to whoever scooped that than everyone involved in keeping it a secret. Here's the full history of rumors as they unfolded. But why Khan? It didn't need to be Khan. Khan has no context in this universe up until this point. Kirk doesn't find him on the Botany Bay and leave him on Ceti Alpha V to get revenge later. Why bother conflicting the story and dragging old Star Trek lore into it? They could have made him any other augment and created a whole new character with independent thoughts, motives, and history.
While Kirk and Khan attempt to subdue Admiral Marcus and his ship, Spock calls in for insight into stopping Khan in case he double crosses the Enterprise. But who would know anything about Khan, an experiment who was lost to time 300 years ago and no one remembers? Old Spock, that’s who. As a quasi-deus ex machina, we have yet again, a Spock on Spock moment where Old Spock gives Young Spock insight into how the prime universe Enterprise defeated Khan. And who better to explain it than the man who DIED in the process? It’s effective, but lazy, and is only most successful if you had seen Wrath of Khan. But those who have seen Wrath of Khan actually appreciate Star Trek, and therefore should not appreciate the new franchise. But people can be stupid, so I guess I have no control over that. Anyway, it’s still lazy. But why spoil Old Spock’s appearance? Because not only do we have that, but when the Enterprise is badly damaged in orbit around Earth, it loses power and begins to free fall towards the planet. Someone has to go into the warp reactor to realign it before they crash, and Kirk volunteers to do it. Someone’s been learning from the Kobayashi Maru. Well, going into the reactor isn’t safe, and by the time he fixes it, he’s already dying of radiation poisoning. IS THIS SOUNDING FAMILIAR YET? The ship regains power, and Young Spock finds Kirk on the other side of the glass, and they have a hand-on-the-glass moment just like in Wrath of Khan, followed by Spock cursing Khan's name this time.
It’s almost like JJ Abrams either has no idea how to make his own movie, or fanservice is just more valuable than original ideas. So Kirk literally dies, but luckily, Bones had been experimenting with Khan’s blood and its regenerative properties (experimenting on a tribble - more fan service), and uses it to revive Kirk, so they can begin their five year mission. Let's not even ask why they needed Khan's blood when they had 72 other eugenic augments in cryostasis right there. By the end of the movie, there has been almost no consequence to the actions of the movie. A large portion of London was destroyed and much of downtown San Fransisco was obliterated, with an unimaginable death toll. But we just briefly see the Starfleet memorial service, mostly recognizing the Starfleet losses. But doesn't this amount of death and destruction deserve some kind of recognition? How does it affect this reality's future? My guess is that it won't, based on how little effect the destruction of Vulcan had. The entire planet of Vulcan was destroyed in the first movie. Vulcans, along with humans (called Terrans in Star Trek canon), are the major factor in the United Federation of Planets, and yet there seems to be no mention of that in their culture, aside from Starfleet definitely having more militaristic ventures than the peacekeeping and exploration based Starfleet of the prime universe. You could possibly make room for this being closer to the Mirror Universe than the prime universe, but without the goatees, that's obviously not the case.
All in all, JJ Abrams is proving that he doesn’t know the difference between paying homage and delivering excessive fanservice. The last thing he was involved with that had the least amount of story was Lost and we all know what happened to that story. It’s an absolute shame that the sophomore installment in this franchise has to continue down the road of mediocrity and capitulation to the masses. It's certainly a well made film from a technical perspective, but there's no long lasting value here that will resonate with generations to come like Roddenberry's work. The entire plot requires you to turn off your brain and let the nonsense wash over you. In two years, no one will be talking about this film. At least Nemesis still hangs around in some conversations, albeit conversations about the worst Star Trek movie ever made. I could easily continue tearing down this movie, but there's no sense in beating a dead horse. Unfortunately, it is almost guaranteed that this film franchise is some kind of super zombie undead horse that will continue to pump out sequels and make tons of money, ensuring that Roddenberry's Star Trek will never be welcome to the silver screen, let alone in a serial TV format. No one will ever have the attention span and patience for actual science fiction, so consider this the eulogy for Star Trek.
To put some icing on the cake, here's Red Letter Media's take on it. Their reviews are about as close to my own as it gets.
If there’s one single thing that I am a fan of, in the truest definition of the word, it is Spider-Man. Everyone that knows me knows that Spider-Man is my hero. He is the quintessential superhero and very few others even come close to his genuine and accessible character. I collect many things Spider-Man, from posters to action figures, clothing and door mats, and of course, hundreds of Spider-Man comics for the sake completing a lifelong collection. I have an unparalleled understanding of the inner workings of Spider-Man and that's why it took me so long to review the first movie in Sony's newly rebooted franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man.
We knew for some time before SDCC 2011 who was cast for The Amazing Spider-Man, but it wasn’t until Comic Con that everything came together and the world got to see the cast’s interaction. It all started with a surprising introduction with a would-be fanboy in a full Spidey costume, pouring his heart out in front of 6,000 people for his adoration of our shared childhood hero. What was thought to be a crazed fan and meant to be an innocent stunt turned into something far more real. After Andrew Garfield removed his mask and revealed his identity to the crowd, he continued to read from his notes and tell the world what Spider-Man meant to him. From the footage we saw at Comic Con, there was no longer any doubt that Garfield would finally be making Peter Parker come to life on screen in ways Tobey Maguire could not.
As a recap, The Amazing Spider-Man sees Peter Parker in high school, bullied and outcast by his peers. There’s no definite age, but there’s no mention of graduating, so he’s somewhere in the middle of high school. Living with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, he mopes around and broods from a lack of belonging. He sneaks into a tour at the Oscorp research building downtown, where his secret crush works for a scientist that worked with Peter’s father. Peter woos the girl, impresses the scientist, gets bitten by a genetically modified spider, and gets spider powers. While learning to use his new abilities, his uncle is gunned down and Peter blames himself. Now seeking vengeance, Peter becomes Spider-Man to fight crime by night, only to find that his new research mentor has become a monster and is terrorizing the city. As Spider-Man, he has to defeat the Lizard, while clearing his reputation with the denizens of New York.
If there is one name on the marquee that people (read: Americans) will recognize, it will not actually be the star, Andrew Garfield. I’m sure many Brits will recognize the name, and anyone that has seen The Social Network or the much better Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will recognize his face, but it’s safe to say that Martin Sheen is the big name in this film. If anything, the marquee should say, “Amazing Spider-Man, starring Martin Sheen, featuring Andrew Garfield.” Speaking of Andrew Garfield, he is definitely an improvement on Tobey Maguire's performance. While obviously smaller in physical size, Garfield actually gives a performance and gives a genuine effort. Unlike Maguire's almost mannequin-like stoicism, Garfield's Peter Parker is neurotic and emotional and his genuine appreciation for the character comes through. When Emma Stone was cast, we immediately thought she’d use her unnaturally red hair to give us an actually attractive Mary Jane Watson. But no, they dyed her hair blonde and turned her into Gwen Stacy, Peter’s original girlfriend. Now that I’ve seen her in a few movies, I can see that she has her own “character” that she reuses in films, much like Woody Allen or, more appropriately, Michael Cera. Her academic focus and social awkwardness gave me flashbacks of Superbad, while her explosive scene with Dennis Leary as her father gave her the chance to stand out. Unfortunately, she’s just more of a plot device than character, as she serves as Peter’s access into Oscorp to meet Dr. Connors. It’s awful to have to play a character that has to die, but Gwen Stacy’s death is a pivotal point in Spider-Man’s story and it has to happen. I’m hoping to see Emma Stone go for the gold for her eventual demise, but I doubt she’ll pull in any serious awards. Was Rhys Ifans convincing as the Lizard? He definitely conveyed an impotent frustration that comes with being disabled and working within various rules in his research to overcome it. But I don’t think I’ll ever shake my first impression of him from SDCC 2011, coming on stage rather drunk and not really caring why he was there. Given the opportunity, I still don’t think Dylan Baker would have been a better Lizard, but I’ve never been excited about the character in general. As accessible as Spider-Man is as a character, his villains have never been easy to sympathize with. He doesn’t have a Magneto or Lex Luthor, but Venom might be as close as we can get. Too bad the concept of Venom is impossible to translate into film successfully, so that rules him out.
The close quarters combat was actually pretty convincing and used a lot of cinematic ingenuity to capture it correctly. Fighting inside a school is challenging when objects are being thrown around, but it’s interesting to see Spider-Man take on someone on his own turf. On top of that, I can’t say enough about how much better the costume looks. I’m not a fan of the design. I actually hate the design. The lines are atrocious and the eyes are too small. Maybe the original franchise used an appliance inside the mask, but Spider-Man’s nose-to-chin line has to be convincing (the trouble of a complete mask is trying to still looking like you have a face). But the color is fantastic. Especially in the computer animated sequences, the coloring on his suit looks exactly like it does in the comics. But it’s not all good. What seemed like just teaser bait eventually became all too real. The POV scenes were intended to give us Spider-Man’s perspective while he parkours through the rooftops and swings from buildings. As “neat” as it is, first person POV does not translate well to film. It’s disorienting and cheesy. It would have been fine if it stayed in the teaser when the film was first announced, but between the effectiveness of the shots and how inconsistent they were throughout the film, they were completely unnecessary and should have been removed. A major complaint of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films was that the effects were much too fake, even by our standards then. Much of the ground-level effects were shot close enough to not notice the blatant wire work, and the CGI was extremely rubbery. There are scenes where Spider-Man is standing on the ground and takes off by webbing a building and simply running into the sky, which immediately reminds me of the same cheesy effect used in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman".
Unfortunately for such a visually beautiful film, it suffers from a common condition I call “Summer superhero blockbuster plothole-itis”. Through the exposition of Peter diagnosing the air conditioner flooding, we understand that Peter is very intelligent and even ingenious enough to devise his own solutions for mechanical technology. But the unavoidable truth is that Peter is impossibly smart. Of course, he is meant to be intelligent and as an adult, he becomes absolutely brilliant. But the film portrays him as a recluse who knows about combining human and animal DNA (something that’s been on our minds for decades) to creating web shooters. And although we get a glimpse of the inspiration, the lucha libre influence is never really explained. While practicing his spider powers, Peter falls through the roof of a building and onto the ring an empty wrestling venue. I’m not going to say that this form of wrestling is unheard of, but Peter definitely doesn’t seem like someone who would know lucha moves beforehand. It just doesn’t seem plausible that he would stumble upon the lucha ring and think, “I know! I’m going to fight bad guys by using Mexican wrestling moves on them.”
Here’s the innocent flaw that will immediately confuse even the novices: Why is a high school student (Gwen Stacy) from Queens working at a very elaborate and high security science center in Manhattan when she has no clear connection to explain how she got the job? Dr. Connors is her mentor? Are you serious? Since when is Gwen Stacy smart? Does she even convey intelligence? There’s nothing in the film that explicitly shows that she qualifies to work in downtown Manhattan (mind you, pretty much a world away from Brooklyn) with a science that is one accident away from being weaponized. It’s too much and just begs for a much larger lampshade. Another example of partially introduced, and therefore poorly executed plot devices, was Peter’s photography background. We know that he took photos for the school yearbook, but anyone can do that. That doesn’t give us the impression that he actually wants to become a professional photographer or make money off his photos. So after he becomes Spider-Man, the news and pedestrians catch footage of him and put it on the Internet. At no point does Peter try to get “exclusive” shots of himself in costume to help pay for his costs (webbing ain’t free, and nothing explained how he could afford it). So, now that he’s on the Lizard’s tail, he mounts his camera to the sewer wall in hopes of getting some good shots. Why? What was he going to do with them and how would he explain that he was in the sewer at the right time for a Spider-Man/Lizard fight? Turns out, the only reasonable explanation for why Peter put the camera there was for the Lizard to find it and realize that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Plot device. That's the only explanation for Connors not recognizing that Peter miraculously recovered his father's lost algorithm that Connors needed, using the exact same "00" code name for it! It would be one thing if Peter just brought it up and said he recovered his father's research, but Peter memorizes it and actually learns it to a point where it seems like he's taking credit for it. Well, if Peter now understands this recombinant DNA science, and a guy is just now running around with city with spider "powers", how does a intelligent scientist like Connors not connect the dots? He can't, because he needed to wait for Peter to leave his name engraved camera!
The major plot hole that I fail to understand is the abrupt disappearance of the initial villain. Even though Norman Osborn is never seen, we get the impression through his right hand man that he has evil intentions, or at least will do evil things to reach his goals. Dr. Ratha wants to begin human trials immediately, implying he will begin secret experiments on veterans! While he’s en route to execute his evil plan, the Lizard intercepts him and it takes Spider-Man to save him (read: leave him in his car, hanging from a bridge by webbing). He is never seen again. The Oscorp lab is empty the next day. I actually had a thought long after watching the film: Create a “sadistic choice” situation where Ratha is desperately trying to climb out of his car while it dangles off the bridge by webbing, but next to him is the other car with the kid trapped by his seatbelt. While not an intentional choice given to him by the Lizard, Spider-Man has to quickly choose who to save and obviously saves the child, even though he doesn’t know who Ratha was. Ratha plummets to his death, Spider-Man feels guilty, and Connors has the research lab to himself, explaining why it was empty the next day.
While the primary focus of the story revolves around Peter becoming Spider-Man, he shares the plot with his father, Richard Parker, whose genetic research with Dr. Connors actually lead to the spider that bit Peter and gave him powers. That’s interesting and definitely makes you think about the coincidence (not irony) of that sequence of events. But why? Why do we care about Richard’s research to the extent that it becomes sequel bait? Richard Parker worked with Connors on this “00 algorithm”, but it was so... dangerous(?) that Richard fled with his wife, which led to their death/disappearance. On top of that, the mysterious Norman Osborn is dying and this formula could be his only chance at surviving. And with Connors locked up, probably insane, and any research lost or too dangerous to use, Osborn’s only lead on Richard’s research will be Peter. But what was so important about Richard’s research that made it the secret plot that will undoubtedly tie all future Spider-Man films together?
The film not only has an inconsistent plot, but inconsistent cinematography, as well. One of those inconsistencies was Dr. Connors and his absolutely necessary exposition. The audience doesn’t know science and we need him to explain it to us. That’s why the filmmakers cleverly devised his video journals to be our exposition. He explains his science to the camera, and through it, to us. Couldn’t make more sense. Then he becomes the Lizard and things change. He stops talking to the camera and begins talking to himself, much like Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn in the previous franchise. Why did he go crazy? I can understand that as the Lizard, he isn't going to sit in front of a camera and dictate his new findings, but it would have made more sense to give him an audio recorder to keep in lab coat, which just gets discarded and forgotten when he transforms. No need for a camera just because it's a movie. We're not that dumb that we need exposition literally framed for us.
The inconsistent use of POV really seemed like the only reason for the 3D. Unfortunately, my astigmatism has made it impossible for me to view 3D movies, so the effects were lost on me, but that doesn't change the fact that 3D is still superfluous. 3D isn't a subsitute for depth of field and we don't need all this money to go into producing and consuming a technology that just tells us that one object is closer to us than another object. That's what focus is for! But Amazing Spider-Man still falls into the trap of using cheesy scenes to utilize 3D, and in this case it's first person POV. It's so random and unnecessary that it's disorienting, not just because of the motion, but also just the use of it. I think it was useful in the teaser, but should not have made it into the final cut.
The major difference than anyone can notice is how much more expressive Andrew Garfield is compared to Tobey Maguire. In comparison, Maguire had a cardboard cutout perform all his scenes and he just added ADR in post. Where Macguire’s Peter Parker was just a quiet nerd, Garfield is a brooding emo kid, cloaked in a military surplus hoodie covering a Ramones tee. He's probably over-emotional to a point, but overacting is always going to be more noticeable than underacting. It is no doubt a result of casting, but certainly ironic given who lives and who dies, but Martin Sheen’s acting greatly outshines Sally Field’s. Sheen pulls out his President Bartlett act to berate Peter at school and makes you wish he didn't have to die. In comparison, Sally Fields's Aunt May just stands there, frustrated at everything, and just keeps trying to add together why Peter always leaves, Spider-Man ends up on the news, and then Peter returns with a bunch of bruises. Obviously, she's trying to emote that she knows, but I think she could have done a much better job at being an adoptive parent than just a family member.
What's really tough to compare from both franchises is the attempt at romance. While Raimi's films started with this unrequired puppy love and Mary Jane having to realize that Peter's a "good guy", Webb's new interpretation pits two goofy teens awkwardly looking at their shoes while they try to ask each other out. I think this is probably more genuine and probably less creepy than the "classic" idea of unrequited love, but what do I know.
You may have never thought about this, but prepare to have your mind blown: Spider-Man’s costume covers his entire body - no skin showing. The full body costume is actually uncommon these days when most have cowls with open mouths or just wear domino masks. Spider-Man wears a full body costume because he has to protect his identity, but also because it allows us to forget that we know who he is. Spider-Man can be anyone; he can be you or me, your teacher or your neighbor. We don’t know his age, ethnicity, or anything else other than he is a man. Of course, we the audience know who he is, but you have to place yourself in the reality of the comics. He can be anyone. Unlike Batman or Superman, Spider-Man symbolizes a reader’s desire to become the superhero. So why is it that by the end of this film, no less than 4 people know his identity and plenty had seen him without his mask? The mask stays on and Spider-Man does everything he can to stay out of arms reach so anyone can take it off. It really upset me that Peter willingly tells Gwen so early and that telling Capt. Stacy was the only way to get his trust.
Something that superhero films often miss is a scene that truly moves the audience. In the original Spider-Man, Green Goblin’s sadistic choice is interrupted by a crowd of patriotic New Yorker’s pelting him with trash, yelling, “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” In a newly post-9/11 world, there was no mistaking what that was a metaphor for. Saving an innocent child from falling off a bridge is nice and all, but the audience isn’t the superhero; the audience is the one being saved. What’s more touching than being saved by a superhero is thanking the hero for saving you. It’s rare that a normal person can do something that helps someone with superhuman abilities. That's where the crane scene comes into play, where Average Joe, the kid's father, notices Spider-Man's injuries and sees where he's trying to go. So, he rallies his conviently placed crane staff to align their equipment to give Spider-Man a easy path. It's touching in that Free Willy way, but slows down the pace of the film.
So where are we going with villains after the Lizard? More animals? J. Michael Straczynski, who penned Amazing Spider-Man for almost 10 years, explored the concept of Spider-Man’s animal-themed villains. Plenty of superheroes have animal themed villains, but Spider-Man has a rogues gallery comprised of many animal-themed villains (Doctor Octopus, Rhino, Puma, Vulture, Scorpion, Beetle, Chameleon, Jackal, Lizard, etc) and that can’t be a coincidence. So JMS pulled it back to the spider itself. Why a spider? How did Peter actually get spider powers? Was the spider given the ability to transfer its powers from the radiation (in the comics) or did it already have that ability, and it wanted to transfer its powers before it died from the radiation? Spider-Man fits into a totemistic world where people represent animals and their abilities and interact with each other using those abilities. That alone is an interesting concept, but the additional characters of Ezekiel and Morlun might not translate well to film. So do we continue with animal themes? Or do we go with someone like Mysterio or Kraven the Hunter? Is it too far fetched to get the Sinister Six involved?
Knowing that Norman Osborn owns the company where all this scientific research was happening and that his “secret” goal behind the research was to cure him of some condition that was killing him, we have no choice but to assume that he will play a part in this franchise. But the next movie? The one after that? Will Osborn just be the man in the shadows while other villains take the spotlight? Can we really have Norman Osborn as a villain if there’s no Harry for Peter to be friends with? That’s the conflict in the relationship. So, how will he become the Green Goblin and how will he terrorize Spider-Man? The original film’s attempt was certainly more grounded in reality, but poorly executed. Let’s just get this out of the way and refuse to accept that Venom will not and should not be in the series. No symbiote should be in the series. It’s far too complicated to fit into a film and we can’t just copy the animated series like Spider-Man 3 did. We can’t just give kids what they want to see. Kids are stupid and film makers need to be better than pandering gold diggers. Will the next film still place Peter in high school? Will he get a job being a photographer? Would that come with J. Jonah Jameson? It just feels like we can’t keep Peter Parker in high school forever. He can’t realistically go to high school in Forest Hills and work for a newspaper in Midtown. But we need him to do something other than be a student. The conflict in Spider-Man’s life is that he has to juggle school, work, being Spider-Man, and his personal life.
So am I willing to say that The Amazing Spider-Man is better than the original? No. I would say it's on par. There are plenty of things wrong with both movies and plenty right with them. Just like with Ang Lee's and Louis Leterrier's Hulk films, both Spider-Man films could be combined to make the perfect Spider-Man movie. The easiest solution would be to place the plot of the original film in the execution of the new film. That's pretty much all that needed to happen. The story in the original film was actually good, but everything involved in making it pales in comparison to the effort in the new one. I'll likely be doing more side-by-side comparisons down the road, but I don't think people should just write off Sam Raimi's Spider-Man just because Mark Webb's is so... amazing.
Better late than never is not the motto of the Avengers, but it’s the motto of this review of their debut film as a team, The Avengers.
Up until 2008’s Iron Man film, all film adaptations of Marvel’s superhero characters were produced by film studios who licensed out the rights (FOX has FF, X-Men, Daredevil franchises; Sony has Spider-Man and Ghost Rider), but that led to fragmentation that defeated the purpose of a shared universe. Marvel characters all live in the same continuity, specifically living in mostly New York City thanks to Stan Lee. The benefit of that is that they all interact with each other. Fantastic Four need a photographer? They call Peter Parker. Xavier needs a lawyer? He calls Matt Murdock. Hulk needs a surgeon? He calls Wolverine. Due to the unfortunate nature of licensing, many characters are separated by studio until further notice. That’s why Marvel, before the Disney acquisition, created their own film studio to finance new franchises and keep the character rights so they can crossover - enter the Avengers.
This is obviously a story about a team and how it forms following their debut solo films. Iron Man already has two films under his belt, while Thor, Captain America, and the most recent (and only that) Hulk film round out the rest. It’s not as much being about a team; it’s about how they form, and formation of a team of previously independent people requires conflict. While the primary conflict is the antagonistic Loki threatening to destroy/enslave Earth, the secondary conflict comes in the form of working for SHIELD and taking leadership from Nick Fury and Captain America. It’s only natural that we see the team squabble and fight each other before reconciling their differences to server a greater purpose. Seeing the team finally cooperate, focused around natural leader Captain America, is quite satisfying.
Unfortunately, squeezing so much exposition into a single feature film was bound to force out some detail, as Thor’s (seemingly impossible) return to Earth was only briefly touched upon. Cap’s reintroduction was just a brief clipshow of his solo film followed by previously unseen footage of being rescued from the ice (insufficient for general audiences), and Hawkeye (or is it “The Hawk”?) just gets reintroduced as a stalker. On the other hand, Black Widow, although not new nor given her codename, gets plenty of screentime to show off her natural setting and helps give Bruce Banner/Hulk (now played by Mark Ruffalo) a healthy introduction. While director Joss Whedon should be given an immense amount of credit for getting so many headliners to share the screen, there are definitely moments when the attention is unbalanced. The resident cynic and comic, Iron Man steals the show until Banner Hulks out. That’s less a problem with the actors and more a problem with the characters. It’s difficult to connect with characters when we aren’t given some private time with them. Of course, we get that from their solo films, but very few people are going to watch all five movies right before Avengers.
So does Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man steal the show? He’s already got two successful films under his belt and the third in pre-production. Everyone loves RDJ, Iron Man, and the marriage of the two. So why does he get to be the only fun one? Thor takes a back seat to even Captain America’s wit, which is limited to pop culture references of of his time, notably a joke referring to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. Although Tom Hiddleston’s Loki felt completely appropriate in Thor, his role as a villain against the entire Avengers, leading the Chitauri, just feels mismatched. Sure, the traditional Avengers villains like Kang and Ultron be like trying to explain Venom in Spider-Man 3, but he was far less engaging here than he was in Thor. I think what many viewers have been looking forward to since the beginning of this franchise is Samuel L. Jackson’s more substantial role as Nick Fury. Keeping in mind that while (Ultimate) Nick Fury was not originally designed on his likeness, the character redesign and explicit mentions of Jackson playing Fury in a film is a joke that dates to The Ultimates over 10 years ago. That said, he seems distinctly less ominous and spy-like now that we see him moving about. As for the non-hero characters, their roles seem tertiary at best. While Coulson has always been just a guy in a suit that knows stuff, the introduction of Maria Hill is puzzling. She was only recently introduced as a replacement director of SHIELD while Fury was in hiding. What is her purpose here other than second in command? Her name could be Deputy Dandelion and it wouldn’t matter, unless... the franchise ever has to continue past SLJ/Fury and someone needs to run SHIELD. Secret War? Civil War? War of the Wars?
Something that caught my attention was the characters’ reaction to battling gods, and Captain America’s response that, “there’s only one God, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” I suppose, in keeping with Cap still clinging to his period and that period’s higher prevalence towards religious beliefs, it’s not incorrect for him to say that, but the film pointing it out in a setting where religion is not mentioned seems out of place.
One of the finer details that I appreciated was that during Thor and Loki’s early fight, the ravens Huginn and Muginn can be seen flying by. Only the few people that know their significance, either from actual Norse mythology or their adaptations in the comics, will appreciate their presence, so it’s one of the more obscure fan services I’ve ever seen. They serve no purpose in the film and I doubt that they would recycle that footage into the Thor sequel just to prove that Odin was watching. Stan Lee’s requisite cameo was delightful, although I think we’ve gotten more out of him in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and even Captain America. What makes this film appealing to comic book fans is something that Joss Whedon accomplished that Ang Lee could not with his Hulk film - even framed as any other film, this could easily be translated to/from sequential art. The pacing is very appropriate never has a meaningless moment. Even short scenes like Thor and Hulk slapping each other around happens so quickly, yet could easily be visualized in a few panes.
My major gripe with this is the naming convention of the Chitauri and the Tesseract (Cosmic Cube). First, Joss Whedon and everyone at Marvel denied that the Skrulls would be involved. That was more to avoid any conspiracy that it would also introduce the Kree. Well, the Chitauri are just the Ultimate universe version of the Skrulls. But FOX owns the film rights to the Skrull name (probably through the Fantastic Four franchise). Then again, the the film Chitauri really aren’t the same. Instead of shapeshifting aliens, these seem to be more like a cybernetic race controlled from a remote hub. So why even Chitarui? Choose something unique that fits their description. When script leaks described them, the bloggers were claiming that their name was The Redacted, not understanding that it was just a censor for potential leaks. More aggravating is calling the Cosmic Cube a tesseract. I understand that throwing out silly comic book names for things is hard for the general public to swallow sometimes, but calling it a geometric shape is just preposterous. Now that I think of it, Banner never refers to the Hulk as “the Hulk”; he calls him “the other guy”. And as many people are finding out, never once do you hear the phrase, “Avengers assemble!” But that will no doubt be reserved for the next film, when the next villain emerges.
My concern is that with the plot moving closer to a cosmic theme, characters and concepts from the comics will be introduced that the general audience will not understand. Some ideas are just too big for the uninitiated to understand in the context of a feature film. Fantastic Four suffered from this in the sequel dealing with Silver Surfer and Galactus, and even Green Lantern’s success was hindered by the literal “out of this world” scope. Something that was brought up by Chris Pellack at Old Curmudgeon Comics was how Marvel intends to explain such grandiose details for the new film. Luckily, Marvel isn’t limited to just one film. With Iron Man 3 already in the works and the next Thor and Captain America films slated before Avengers 2 (Mark Ruffalo has apparently signed a six film deal to play Hulk, but that’s not necessarily Hulk solo films, it could include appearances in other films), we have 3 or more films to slow burn the plot and give the audience enough details to swallow the epic scope and rather exotic nature of the Avengers sequel.
So the obvious question from non-comic readers is: should you start reading comics now? I’d hate to deny retailers the business, but odds are you won’t get into them. Certainly don’t buy issues if you don’t want to wait on a monthly basis for the next issue when you can just buy older bound collections of complete stories. There are definitely great comics out there, especially from Marvel, but anything Avengers related from the past 10 years won’t look anything like what you saw in theaters. The main Avengers team has undergone major changes and the roster includes characters you know and some you don’t. The stories are great and if you decide to get into the stories, I definitely recommend starting with New Avengers. But what if you want to read stories that are exactly like the movie? Turns out, there isn’t. That’s because this, as well as all the other films, are adaptations. No superhero film is 100% true to the source material and while it can work and not work sometimes, you have to understand that the story
One of the last questions the average viewer will have is: Should I see it in 3D? If the extra cost is minimal and you appreciate what little benefit films get out of 3D, it doesn’t hurt. I noticed quite a few problems with the “before the window” effects popping out at me, but the “beyond the window” depth effects worked fine. I don’t believe that 3D on at this stage is necessary to illustrate depth of field. We understand focus, focus works, why add more cost to production and consumption of film, plus glasses, just to show people that one object is further away from another object?
Regarding his portrayal of Superman, it was said that Christopher Reeve “made us believe a man could fly”. This year will be so important to the superhero genre, with Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man sharing the marquee. But whereas Batman and Spider-Man individually appeal to our desire to be heroes, the Avengers appeal to the need for heroes. The Avengers make us believe in heroes.
The (first) post credits scene, taking place in space after the battle, leaves us in anticipation for the sequel that will pose the Avengers against the Chitauri, led by Thanos. His involvement in the Marvel film franchise has been foreshadowed since SDCC 2010, where the promotional Thor props showed, among other items that could be used in the future, the Infinity Gauntlet. If Thanos intends to engage Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, he’s going to want that kind of power.
Just so it’s clear: there is a second post credits scene. As silly as it sounds, it’s just the team eating schwarma as promised. It really serves no purpose other than to prove to audience goers who reads the internet and who doesn’t.
Something upset me today. /Film plugged an article on WhatCulture! that was a nerd rant about "The 10 Golden Rules of Superhero Movies". The guy who wrote the list has no idea what he's talking about. He starts off with valid points, but misses the mark because of a lack of knowledge. Normally, I wouldn't want to enable the Streisand Effect, but rather than copy his content, I'll just post my response here.
10. Nerds have no wrath.
9. Reboots are going to happen. Studios want to make money. Put your man pants on and get over it.
8. Canon must change to fit into a movie. The film *adaptation* becomes its own canon. They exist in their own universe. Also, Doctor Doom was inspired by Ultimate Doom (see Nick Fury)
7. Realism vs willing suspense of disbelief. This guy understands (or pretends) to understand story telling, but can't let a movie lie to him. But he has a point with the Superman baby.
6. He's more right than wrong on this one, so I'll let it go.
5. Casting is a business decision, not an art decision. Man pants. On.
4. He's clearly never read The Ultimates. While Marvel had no obligation to live up to the joke, they didn't just make things up by casting SLJ. Just because a white character becomes black or anything else in an *adaptation*, that doesn't make it affirmative action. If it's a good fit, it's a good fit. I agree somewhat with Idris Elba as a Norse god, but he's rarely on screen anyway, so who cares? Crazy people.
3. Costumes do have to be *adapted* in something much more function than spandex. He knows this. He just doesn't like how the costumes look. Because he's a certified costume critic. Daredevil's costume wasn't that bad compared to others, and his caption joke was actually in Frank Miller's story. Also, this guy mixes up eyeliner and eye black. Never played sports. Figures.
2. Deadpool was a disaster. No argument here. But Bullseye's scar was inspired by Bendis and Maleev's DD series. Again, this nerd doesn't actually read comics.
1. This is where he knows nothing about movies. There won't ever be a Fantastic Four / Avengers crossover in the forseeable future because the film rights to FF (plus DD/Elektra, X-Men et al.) are owned by FOX. The Avengers characters' film rights are owned by Marvel/Disney. Spider-Man and Ghost Rider are owned by Sony. Of course all of DC's film rights are owned by parent WB. Film companies aren't going to let their film rights get infringed (and they won't license them) to make the fans happy (or angry) with a crossover. It doesn't work that way. Someone made this mistake at Hall H at SDCC 2010. He asked if Wolverine would be in Captain America during WWII. Impossible. FOX won't license the rights to their property to be in someone else's movie. This guy doesn't understand that. He's concerned that Chris Evans has a conflict of interest because he plays two Marvel characters. Not an issue. Less of an issue for Halle Berry to play Storm and Catwoman. The list goes on forever of actors who have played multiple comic characters in films. The world moves on, the "angry nerd with a wrath" just doesn't.
I was hoping to save this for later, but we ought to save the more Christmas-oriented movies for closer to the big day. For now, we've got Die Hard.
NYPD officer John McClane is visiting his estranged wife in LA for Christmas, but her work's office party is interrupted by German terrorists. It's up to McClane to sneak through ducts and offices to take out those dirty Krauts - all without his shoes. This movie catapulted Bruce Willis's career into the action genre and spawn a film franchise for Die Hard. This movie doesn't have too much to do with Christmas, but it takes place during Christmas. That makes it a pretty strong theme. McClane is Santa and the terrorists were bad this year - so they get bullets in the head.
Say what you want to about Die Hard not being a "Christmas movie", it's one of the first things that comes to my mind. Even not as a Christmas movie, this is a great reminder of '80s action cinema. It's a reminder of a simpler time when you could take guns on airplanes and drink at work. If you plan on celebrating Christmas with a bang, this is a must watch movie.
Buy the Die Hard Collection and support Falling Debris!