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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
TV has one more Carl. ABC’s Revenge saw the birth of a brand new baby boy, son of the woman pretending to be Amanda Clarke and her baby-daddy, Jack Porter, and the glowing mother named her bundle of joy (the one that has dictated much of the direction of the season thus far)... (drumroll please)... Carl.
Now, revealing the tyke’s name the same night that The Walking Dead aired a new episode naturally begs some comparison. TV’s other noteworthy Carl is, of course, Rick Grimes’ ever-missing son on the AMC series. This season, Chandler Riggs’ controversial character has put his mischievousness to good use (even killing a handful of zombies himself), but considering the fans’ great anger over the Carl of Seasons 1 and 2 it makes us wonder why another Sunday night show would be so quick to christen another child with the same name. To solve the mystery, we look to a few other notable pop culture Carls to see what’s in a name:
Carl Winslow on Family Matters
He was Steve Urkel’s nemesis and sometimes father figure on Family Matters and a Chicago Police officer plagued by a love of donuts and a lack of physical fitness. The problem was that his constant exasperation was sometimes more obnoxious than Urkel himself.
Carl Points: -3
Carl Grimes on The Walking Dead
I’ve already defended little Carl, whose wayward ways are really his ineffective mother’s fault (let’s be honest, Lori is way worse than her son), but the buzz is bad. Season 3’s Carl 2.0 is working on turning that around, but it’s a tough sell. He’s still got some improving to do.
Carl Points: -5
Carl Carlson on The Simpsons
Carl, of the duo Lenny and Carl (Homer’s friends from the Nuclear Power Plant and Moe's Tavern), is a pretty cool dude. He’s an easy-going science wiz and also (apparently) one of the most attractive men in Springfield. Add to that his surprise Icelandic heritage, an element which rears its head sporadically (and often hilariously) and you’ve got a pretty cool Carl. Plus, he’s voiced by Hank Azaria, which gives him four automatic bonus points.
Carl Points: 6
Carl Brutananadilewski on Aqua Something You Know Whatever (the artist formerly known as Aqua Teen Hunger Force) Carl is kind of the worst, but that’s what makes him hilarious. He’s got a beer belly, a bald head, and his favorite outfit consists of blue sweatpants, flip flops, a white tank top, and a gold chain. He has hair on the bottom of his feet and is obsessed with... pleasing himself. This is not a good Carl. But, he does host his own totally awesome sports web series Carl’s Stone Cold Lock of the Century of the Week, which evens things out a bit. Carl Points: -1 Carl Spackler in Caddy Shack Bill Murray’s classic gopher-exterminator is already the best Carl on this list because he’s played by Bill Murray, but, if that’s not enough, let us recall how he helps the good guys win in the end by trying to nab the wiley gopher with a series of plastic explosives whose detonation knocks a golf ball into the hole, giving our hero the push he needs to win. And if that’s not enough, he’s got the power of infinite quotability. Here, we’ve got ourselves a quality Carl. Carl Points: 8 Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can FBI Agent Carl Hanratty spends most of the film chasing down the charismatic Frank Abignale Jr. and dangit if he isn’t a pain in his rear. But as the film progresses, we see that Frank and Carl have a mutual respect for one another, and an unorthodox, but real friendship. Plus, he’s played by the impossible-to-abhor Tom Hanks. Carl Points: 5 Carl Bernstein in All The President’s Men (and, you know, real life) This all-American hero helped uncover one of the greatest scandals in our nation’s history as the scrappy sidekick to Bob Woodward’s sleek, ivy league-educated reporter. And when Dustin Hoffman brought this reporter to the big screen, he went from legend to screen heartthrob (for some of us, OK?). Carl Points: 7 Carl Point Total: 17 Well, newest pop culture Carl, it would seem that you’re in better company than you might have thought. Perhaps your mother, while likely a little loopy after being in a coma after getting pushed off a balcony at her baby shower (that always happens!), wasn’t all that crazy after all. Welcome to the world, baby Carl. Just refrain from teasing any blood-thirsty zombies, growing a beer belly, or being generally stereotypical and obnoxious. Deal? Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler [Photo Credits: AMC; Orion Pictures] More: 'Revenge' Recap: Get Down To The Heart of the Matter 'Revenge' Recap: Mama Drama 'The Walking Dead' Recap: Walk With Me
From Our Partners:
Tom Cruise’s $50m Defamation Suit Over Suri Abandonment Claim: What Are His Chances of Winning? (INSIDE STORY)
Levi Johnston Marries Sunny Ogelsby in Alaska
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.