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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Accepting the Career Achievement Award at the Casting Society of America’s annual Artios Awards on Monday night (29Oct12) in Beverly Hills, Affleck revealed he initially signed on to oversee the gripping drama, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, but he had to pass due to a deal he has with his wife to always put family first.
The actor/director said, "I was sure nothing would happen with the show. Now I hate the f**king show. I’ve never seen it."
Libby Goldstein, who helped assemble the cast for Homeland, poked fun at Affleck during the awards ceremony by reading a poem she had written about his decision to step down as director.
Other 2012 Artios Award winners for Outstanding Achievement in Casting included:
Big Budget Feature (Drama) - The Help (Kerry Barden & Paul Schnee)
Big Budget Feature (Comedy) - Crazy, Stupid, Love (Mindy Marin & Kara Lipson)
Feature - Studio or Independent (Drama) - My Week With Marilyn (Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood & Nina Gold)
Feature - Studio or Independent (Comedy) - The Artist (Heidi Levitt & Michael Sanford)
Low Budget Feature - Martha Marcy May Marlene (Susan Shopmaker)
Television Pilot (Drama) - Homeland (Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein, Julie Tucker, Lisa Mae Fincannon & Craig Fincannon)
Television Pilot (Comedy) - Girls (Jennifer Euston)
Television Series (Drama) - The Good Wife (Mark Saks & John Andrews) and Homeland (Judy Henderson, Craig Fincannon & Lisa Mae Fincannon)
Television Series (Comedy) - Girls (Jennifer Euston)
Television Movie or Mini Series - Game Change (David Rubin, Richard Hicks, Pat Moran, Kathleen Chopin & Anne Davison)
Doesn't matter what reality show we're talking about — it's the simple challenges that are always the most memorable ones. Survivor has gone through probably 500+ challenges at this point in its lifespan, many of them with elaborate Rube Goldberg construction, but the one that stands out most to me remains "keep your hands on this pole the longest." Simple! Or in The Real World, "who will get naked first in or around the hot tub?" Shelve the Dungeons & Dragons rule book; all you need is a little sex, a little grossness, and a lot of great reaction shots.
Now, "challenge" might be a stretch in the case of James and Abba's Fast Forward, but for sheer simplicity? "Fill a bag with dead rats" has to rank among The Amazing Race's most perfect to-the-point activities ever. Literally everything you need to know about this Fast Forward was contained in the instruction above! And in all likelihood the clue the guys received actually had less information — just a picture of a garbage bag with an arrow pointing to a dead rat, stink lines emanating from its body. With no competition, James and Abba rocked (you get it) rat collection and rolled (guitar solo) well ahead of the other teams, straight to the finish line. Which, by the way, was in Bangladesh. This leg was in Bangladesh.
Earlier that day all 9 remaining teams arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, after one of those table-clearing flights that's nice this early in the race but so annoying in later rounds. Who wants their hard-fought lead so quickly erased? But this is travel, one realizes, and these things happen. The Amazing Race can impart some pretty practical life lessons!
Dhaka is introduced to us as a city practically fit to burst with cars and traffic, and by the experience of the racers this seems mostly true. "Third world Grand Theft Auto," says one of the twins, endearing herself to me as much as anyone can before she'd so bluntly strip it away with ALL THE TALKING. That's the main takeaway of this episode, in fact — that Natalie and Nadiya (commenters would be great to help me distinguish between the two!) will just never shut up. In the Road Block, which required teams to plaster then smooth a bus surface before hauling some dilapidated furniture, the twins' vocal enthusiasm practically drove everyone else to insanity. James and Jaymes jokingly asked the locals hanging around the buses if they'd consider dating the girls (not really). Lexi rolled her eyes. Annie and Ryan mimed suicide. You can hear the twins ("TWINNIES!!"… wait, #twinnies) jabbering in the background of shots taking place nowhere near them. I'm half-convinced I heard one in Alex Smith's Homeland recap.
Even with all teams making their way to Dhaka and this #Roadblock (be sure to tweet #roadblock any time you encounter and overcome one of life's obstacles!) at the same time, Gary and Will still somehow managed to work their way into last. They're just very good at it! To diminish expectations, they made a bigger and bigger point of calling themselves "fans" of the show (as opposed to… active cast members?). Like all of us, they could see the writing on the wall.
Not that they were the only team to struggle through the Road Block. Top to bottom, teams had a difficult time completing the first segment (plastering a bus) to the liking of the Bangladeshi assessing it. Hell, James (the one who isn't JaYmes) nearly had a panic attack. Much of this, again, was caused/aggravated by #twinnies screaming on end about "being the first women to do this." Paint a bus? Find yourselves on reality TV with men? Sandra Day O'Connor never got this excited about the Supreme Court.
Next up was the episode's Detour, in which teams could "Pound the Metal" or "Pound the Cotton" ("just let me pound something!" said the Frat Guys/Lifelong Friends not selected to be on this season of The Amazing Race), neither of which posed too big a challenge. Abbie spent a year at FIT or somewhere so you knew she would tackle Cotton, which forced teams to stuff and sew a simple mattress. This, to this day, is my favorite part of any episode: when a racer uses skills from the past to complete a task in the present. "I spent a week on a farm once in college," I might say, "so I think I'm well prepared to eat those gazelle intestines." Definitely!
The only possible drama this leg came from a misreading of the Pit Stop Clue. Before stepping on the mat at Shamabazar Chan Mia Ghat (I paused to make sure I spelled it right), teams had to first navigate their river boats to a halfway destination. Rob and Kelley, true to form, failed to notice this detail and were forced to redo the entire course. A commercial-break-cuing mistake! Not that it really mattered — they were fifth the first time they stepped onto the mat, and fifth when they came back around. Gary and Will, of course, didn't fare so well. It strikes me that "David and Goliath" (Rob and Kelley's nickname for them) were already last before they, too, messed up the designated stopping order. What can you say? They tried hard, with a mostly good attitude; they did right by both substitute teachers and best friends. But I'd be lying if a small part of me wasn't relieved to learn this was not a non-elimination round. There are only so many second-to-last place finishes an audience can watch.
And with that, seven teams remain on this season's race around the world. Who is everyone pulling for? Who do you think will win? Sound off in the comments below, and we'll see you again next week.
[Image Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS]
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