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
The little golden men have been carried away by the lucky winners. The rented jewelry is being returned. Quentin Tarantino is high-fiving himself in a mirror somewhere. Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic are weeping because E! has to put aside its 360 Glam Cam until Emmy time. And Captain Kirk is now safely back in the 23rd century. But, like the bad taste that lingers from host Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song, many questions about the 2013 Academy Awards remain. We consider it a public service to answer 10 of the biggest for you.
1. Who Was Snubbed During the In Memoriam Segment? While more than ever the Academy discouraged applause during the depressing annual segment honoring the film industry notables who’ve died in the past year—hence the lack of a true Applause-o-Meter this time around—we were crying foul about a few notable omissions from the weepy montage. Gee, pa, where was Andy Griffith? Before he played Sheriff Andy Taylor on his long-running sitcom, the Georgia native burned bright in Elia Kazan’s A Face on the Crowd (1957), as a rube turned demagogue, and showed the comic timing he’d later display on the tube in the charming military laugher No Time for Sergeants (1958). Not to mention his latter-day turn as a lovable diner patron in 2007’s Waitress. Not cool, Academy.
Less surprising omissions included Larry Hagman and Phyllis Diller, who, despite making movies, are most strongly associated with TV. The same goes for Richard Dawson, the Family Feud host who played the villain in 1987’s The Running Man. More egregious were the absences of Ann Rutherford, who played one of Scarlett O’Hara’s sisters in Gone With the Wind, Our Gang star Jack Hanlon, and Snakes on a Plane director David R. Ellis.
RELATED: Oscars 2013: See the Winners Here!
The Academy should consider itself lucky that they included Sans Soleil director Chris Marker, or we would have lost it.
2. Did Samuel L. Jackson skip over part of the teleprompter’s banter when presenting Best Visual Effects? It’s hard to tell if it was teleprompter problems or the awkwardness of having five Avengers stars presenting two awards—for Cinematography and Visual Effects—but Marvel’s Nick Fury got especially tripped up. After awkwardly getting through the cinematography award, Jackson jumped over most of the banter for Visual Effects just to announce the winner, while Robert Downey Jr. tried to stick to the script. Maybe Jackson was worried about getting played off with the Jaws theme—understandable considering his battle with sharks in Deep Blue Sea. Since no other presenters deviated from their sometimes lengthy scripts, despite the bloated runtime of the telecast, it seems Jackson made this decision without prompting from the producers.
RELATED: Oscars: 10 Best Dressed on Red Carpet!
3. The sound editors for Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall both won in their category. How many previous ties have there been in Oscars history? There have been five previous tie winners, but none since the 1995 ceremony. In 1932, The Champ’s Wallace Beery and Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde’s Frederic March tied for Best Actor, because of a rule that allowed two people to share a prize if only one vote separated them. Beery received just one extra vote than March, so both took home statuettes. Under today’s rules, Beery would have been the sole winner.
RELATED: Anne Hathaway: Worst Dressed Ever?
At the 1950 ceremony there was a tie in the Best Documentary Short Subject category, and in 1987 there was a tie for Documentary Feature with Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got and Down and Out in America scoring the same number of votes. In 1995, Best Live Action Short film was split between Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Trevor.
But the most famous Oscar tie of all occurred in 1969 when both Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand walked away with Best Actress for their roles in The Lion in Winter and Funny Girl, respectively.
4. Where did the 2013 ceremony rank among the all-time longest? Actually, not that high. At three hours and 35 minutes it was the longest telecast since…2010, when The Hurt Locker won best picture at the end of a three hour and 37 minute broadcast. That’s still well short of the longest Oscars ever, the four-hour 23-minute sprawl that was the 2002 Awards hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. The fastest ceremony ever? The 1956 fete that lasted only a brisk 90 minutes.
NEXT: What’s up with Seth MacFarlane’s dig at Entertainment Weekly? And just who is Steve Battaglio?
5. What is Seth MacFarlane’s beef with Entertainment Weekly magazine? At the end of his opening monologue, in which Captain Kirk’s intervention had repaired the timeline and prevented MacFarlane from being declared the “worst Oscar host of all time,” a new headline appeared onscreen that said “Best Oscars ever, says everyone except Entertainment Weekly.”
Why such a pointed dig? Well, it all goes back to April 9, 1999 when EW’s TV critic Ken Tucker published a review of Family Guy. He gave the new show a "D" and never warmed to it thereafter. In the 2005 direct-to-DVD movie Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, the baby breaks the neck of a reporter the moment he learns he’s from Entertainment Weekly. Perhaps I should consider myself lucky then that I emerged with my hide after interviewing MacFarlane in 2011 for EW, after he hosted The Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump. His first words to me: “You’re from EW, huh? Have you fired Ken Tucker yet? Have you guys gotten rid of him yet?” Then on Jan. 13, 2013, he launched a Twitter war with Tucker, in which he said “Dear Ken Tucker and Entertainment Weekly: Please tell me how I may earn a review as glowing as the one you gave Urkel,” and linked to Tucker’s "A" review of Family Matters from 1990. Tucker tweeted back, “Easy: Just be as funny as Urkel once was.” Though the glossy magazine gave MacFarlane a major cover story just two weeks before the Oscars—not to mention that Tucker has left the publication—that faux headline during the ceremony shows he’s still holding a grudge.
RELATED: Ranking All 84 Best Picture Oscar Winners From Worst to Best
6. Who is Steve Battaglio? All of the fake headlines during that Captain Kirk segment were attributed to a writer named Steve Battaglio. No invention of MacFarlane’s feverish brain, Battaglio is actually the business editor at TV Guide Magazine, a publication for which MacFarlane seems to have greater affection than EW. TV Guide’s LA bureau chief Michael Schneider tweeted, “Seth MacFarlane picked @SteveBattaglio as the author of that nasty review as thanks - Steve was an early supporter of #FamilyGuy.”
RELATED: 20 Best (and Worst) Oscar Speeches Ever
7. How Does Captain Kirk’s Appearance at the Oscars Fit Into or Disrupt J.J. Abrams’ Rebooted Star Trek Continuity? Along with the realization that this is the first time we’ve seen William Shatner in the captain’s chair since 1994’s Star Trek: Generations comes the sorry recognition that we have to refer to his version of the character as "Kirk Prime," since he fits into the old Trek continuity that was almost entirely erased by J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film. Unlike Chris Pine’s Kirk, Shatner’s didn’t lose his father at the moment of his birth but was raised in a loving two-parent family, meaning that he has so few psychological issues to unpack that he can risk time-traveling to 2013 just to prevent Seth MacFarlane from being deemed the all-time worst Oscar host. Wait…or maybe this means this version of the character has even more issues than Pine’s. Then again maybe by traveling back through time, Kirk Prime erased the alternate history of Abrams’ franchise, throwing the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness into a third timeline—like Fringe! None of this addresses, though, why MacFarlane didn’t warn Kirk that he will be crushed by a bridge. That’s one do-over we really want to see.
NEXT: Are the Malfoys now Oscar winners? Take our quiz!
8. Which barber-free Oscar winner/Malfoy relative is which? These three guys are Claudio Miranda (Best Cinematography, Life of Pi), Paul N.J. Ottosson (Best Sound Editing, Zero Dark Thirty), and Per Hallberg (Best Sound Editing, Skyfall), but not in that order in the photo above. Try to match them up, then find out which one is which in the answers at the bottom of this post.
9. Were the technical nominees playing musical chairs during the broadcast? It sure seemed that way, huh? Seats were designated along the sides of the Dolby Theatre in which to place the technical nominees (for Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Makeup, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Costume Design, Film Editing) a couple minutes before the presentation of each category. That way, there wouldn’t be such a long delay as the winners march up to the stage. A good idea as a time-saving measure. Too bad this show was still 20 minutes longer than those in 2011 and 2012.
RELATED: 15 Oscar-Winning Nude Scenes
10. Is there precedent for someone from the White House crashing Hollywood’s biggest night? GOPers were crying foul on Twitter after Michelle Obama read the winner of Best Picture via satellite from the White House. They should note, though, that this is not the first time someone from Washington has been involved. Ronald Reagan recorded an address for the 1981 Oscar ceremony, shortly after taking office. And in 2002 Laura Bush also taped a segment for the first Academy Awards after 9/11.
What else about the Oscar ceremony left you scratching your head?
Answers to the Long-Haired Winners Quiz:
Oscar Victor on Left: Paul N. J. Ottosson, Sound Editor, Zero Dark Thirty
Oscar Victor in Center: Per Hallberg, Co-Sound Editor, Skyfall
Oscar Victor on Right: Claudio Miranda, Cinematographer, Life of Pi
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credits: Kevin Winter/Getty Images (3); Robyn Beck/Getty Images; Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images]
Oscars 2013 Special Coverage
Oscars 2013 Best Dressed: PICS!
• Anne Hathaway: Oscar’s Worst Dressed?• Seth MacFarlane’s Opening: How’d He Do?• Adele’s Performance Gets Mixed Reviews• 15 Oscar-Winning Nude Scenes• What Happened to Renee Zellweger's Face?• Oscars 2013: The Full Winners List• Why Kristen Stewart Was on Crutches
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.