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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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
The latest scary news from the "Blair Witch" front is that the sequel will be seeking "unrecognizable talent," according to a casting note obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
Specifically, "Blair Witch Project 2" is looking for five lead characters - two men and three women, ages 19-early 20s. The trade paper says a one-page breakdown on the film lists the characters thusly:
-- "Heather Arendt," a Chicagoan whose life philosophy is "when in doubt indulge"; -- "Nick Leavitt" and "Anna Casio," a couple of live-in lovers attending their senior year at Boston College; -- "Cotter Kaller," an irresponsible state college kid; -- "Domini Von Teer," the enigmatic outsider who favors black and a vague Gothic look.
No word if recognizable talent will be deigned eligible for the above roles -- provided they round up really good disguises.
"Blair Witch 2" is scheduled to begin shooting Feb. 23 on the East Coast, with a Fall 2000 release planned. (Think Halloween.) Despite all this activity, there's still no word on a script (or a screenwriter). Joe Berlinger, the documentary filmmaker behind "Brother's Keeper" and "Paradise Lost," will direct.
GETTING "UGLY"? They may be splitsville in real life, but in Hollywood, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow are seriously considering a reunion in "The Ugly Truth," a possible project for Warner Bros. and Disney about an unlucky-in-love woman (Paltrow, presumably) who receives a romantic sparkle from an obnoxious, sexist, sloppily dressed TV personality (paging Affleck?).
ON LOAN FROM HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE: 007 star Pierce Brosnan is set to sign up for the CIA as the headliner and producer of "Burnt Sienna," a movie based on an upcoming novel by "First Blood" author David Morrell. Today's Daily Variety says Brosnan will play a former Marine pilot who becomes an artist in Mexico, only to find his life threatened when he turns down an offer to paint the wife of an arms dealer. His character is described as a cross between James Bond and John Rambo.
WHAT A CROC: Car pitchman Paul Hogan is ready to return to the film franchise that made him a movie star - at least in the mid-1980s. According to the Reporter, Hogan, now 59, will say "G'day' in a third "Crocodile Dundee" flick, tentatively titled "Crocodile Dundee in Hollywood." No director yet. Hogan's wife and perennial co-star, Linda Kozlowski, will return as his, yes, perennial co-star. The last "Dundee" movie - that would be "Crocodile Dundee II" - was released in 1988.
IN THE 'DUST': Disaster prone Jan De Bont ("The Haunting," "Speed") has signed on to helm (and produce) "Dust" for Village Roadshow/Warner Bros The movie's based on a novel by Charles Pellegrino, who created the dinosaur-cloning theories behind Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park."
TRUCKIN' TO 'RENO': Patrick Swayze and Natasha Richardson are in final talks to put on their redneck boots alongside Billy Bob Thornton and Charlize Theron in "Waking Up in Reno," the Reporter says. Newcomer Jordan Brady will direct the film about Arkansas rednecks, infidelity and (of course) monster truck shows.