Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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And just like that, it's time for bootcamp — round two! I'm going to keep this one short(ish) and simple since I thought we'd narrow it down to the final 24 at the end of the episode and we didn't, so I'm mighty pissed. Also because I have a fever, so excuse me if none of this make sense. But this is The X Factor, so when does it ever? Life is chaos, and there is no God. Carry on, then.
We began at Miami's Mondrian hotel which, if it's anything like its Los Angeles counterpart, means house music, $15 cocktails, ping-pong and luxurious all-white suites with tons of amenities, like cocaine mirrors. It's really fun, you should totally stay there. Britney Spears does all the time.
Tonight the assignment was torturous for the artists, meaning it was kind of fun for the viewers: They all had to compete in pairs, singing the same song, that they would choose themselves. "It's a nightmare, this task," said Simon Cowell with glee. At the end of the day Next week 24 acts would remain, all of them headed to the exquisite rented mansions they call the Judges' Houses. "Forget about friendships, forget about nerves," Simon said. "It's one-on-one." Britney agreed: "The battle is on for a place at the judges' homes." Well, alright then.
Tara Simon vs. Jennel Garcia: "I'm not the girl who has to try hard single every time," said Tara Simon, before the battle began. Um, I think you're supposed to? Tara basically picked a soft folk ballad to totally f*** over rocker Jennel Garcia, who is about ten years younger than her. It was mean, and I hope it eventually bites her in the ass. The song was "Landslide," and Tara looked like a smarmy biotch when the judges were a little bored by Jennel's understated performance. Then she came out and vamped it up, X-Tina style, while Jennel looked completely miserable. "I don't know why you chose that song, either of you," Simon said. "I'm going to guess, Tara, you chose the song. I feel really bad for you, Jennel." Winner: Draw.
Carly Rose Sonenclar vs. Beatrice Miller: The adorable tweens sang "Pumped Up Kicks." Beatrice's voice was beautiful and understated, while Carly goes went for a more soulful approach. I thought they were both good, and Simon agreed. Winner: Carly, by a hair.
Vino Allen vs David Correy: The two friends/roommates sang "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye. Their voices are so different, so it was tough for me to judge, but L.A. Reid was having a blast during Vino's rendition. The intense Vino thought he screwed up, and totally melted down offstage. "I just f***ked up, seriously," he wailed. The judges (and his friend David, who actually seems really sweet) disagreed, but Britney wasn't happy with his tantrum. "He scares me a little bit," she said. Winner: Vino, despite the tantrum.
Diamond White vs. Dinah Jane Hansen: Diamond and Dinah, who is 16 but looks 25, sang "What Doesn't Kill You" by Kelly Clarkson. Dinah was a bit too... breathy for my taste. "I loved them both," Britney said, even though Dinah apparently messed up the beginning of the lyrics. Winner: Diamond.
Sister C vs. Lauren Jauregui: The soloist and the sister-trio both sang "These Arms of Mine." Britney thought Sister C were annoying and likable, while L.A. found their harmonies to be "special." Simon agreed. "I think it's safe to say that you two girls don't want them, and they don't want you," Simon said. Winner: Sister C.
Brandon Hassan vs. Reed Deming (AKA, the "Next-Bieber-Off"): Both boys sang a boring rendition of One Republic's "Secrets." They both impressed the judges, but... Winner: I don't care.
Julia Bullock vs. Ally Brooke: Both girls, who we hadn't seen much of until now, sang "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." The judges said there was one clear winner, and I agree. Winner: Ally Brooke.
Willie Jones vs. Tate Stevens: Willie and Tate, who is about 20 years Willie's senior, sang a country rendition of "Nobody Knows," and Willie forgot the words. Like, all of them. It was awful, because I really like him. Tate was good, if a little bit boring. L.A. asked Willie if he knew the song, and he said he did not — Tate had picked it because he knew it in the '90s, which is, ugh, such a d*** move. Willie was super classy about it, too, but the judges could see right through it. "I think Tate knew what he was doing," Britney said. "I think there was an agenda," Demi Lovato agreed. Winner: Tate, because he knew the words.
InTENsity survivor Arin Ray vs. Normani Hamilton: Arin and Normani — the only boy/girl battle we saw — formed a romantic bond, but InTENsity survivor Arin was careful not to let things get too far. "Maybe afterwards something can happen, but I've gotta work right now," Arin said. So, no hanky-panky behind the scenes (right). They sang "What Makes You Beautiful." Normani has a pretty voice, but she didn't wow me. Arin did better and will probably get through, because he's got that "next Usher" thing going on. Not Chris Brown. I will never say Chris Brown. Winner: Arin.
Jillian Jensen vs. Latasha Robinson: Bullying-victim Jillian seemed very intimated by Latasha going in, while Latasha was pure bravado. They sang "Stay" by Sugarland, but Latasha totally lost it and forgot the words. "I'm sorry, I can't do it," she cried. Jillian then sang beautifully, while Latasha broke down in the background. It was sad, but we've been told to root for Jillian since episode one, so it wasn't that sad. "I'm so sorry, I knew all the words back there," Latasha cried, when all was said and done. "She really did," said Jillian. "She really did a great job with it." The judges just sort of... stared at her, and Latasha knew it was over. Sad. Jillian was really sweet and supportive, so that's just one more reason to root for her. Britney was in tears at this point. Winner: Jillian.
Freddie Combs vs. Jessie Bryant: Both of them forgot the words. Aww. "Simon just looked like he was disgusted," Jessie said. "All my eggs was right here, man," he said. Winner: Neither.
Paige Thomas vs. CeCe Frey: The main event! Before the big battle, we were treated to a shot of CeCe painting her signature leopard print all over her legs. The ladies sang "Secrets" by One Republic, which Paige was NOT happy about. I felt for her — but you have to be more assertive about your song selection if you're in a contest for $5 million. The judges asked both of them why they deserved to move on. "I don't fit anywhere else except for the spotlight," Paige said, already in tears. "I want to succeed, as bad as I want to breathe," CeCe added. "I want this like the very oxygen that is in my lungs... I will make a believer out of you." CeCe cried fake-looking, Lindsay Bluth-style tears. God, I love her. Paige did well despite not knowing the song, but CeCe was just a little bit better... again. "They look exhausted," Simon said, as the girls walked offstage. "I've never seen anyone look so tired in my life." Britney liked Paige, but Simon liked both of them. "If they have to choose one of the two of us, it has to be me because she messed up," CeCe said. "I didn't — that's great." Winner: CeCe.So, X Factor fans — who do you think won the battles? Who will fight it out at the judges' house round? Let us know in the comments!
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: FOX]
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.