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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In the real world, copying somebody else's written material for your own personal gain is called plagiarism. In the movie biz, it's called adaptation.
Since 1940, the Academy Awards have distinguished the adapted screenplay in its own category, honoring films whose scripts were derived primarily from books, plays, and short stories. But the occasional Best Adapted Screenplay nominee can credit its source to other media — such is the case for this year's nod, the true story thriller Argo.
Ben Affleck's directorial feature, written by Chris Terrio, was actually born from a WIRED magazine article by journalist and film producer Joshuah Bearman in 2007. The piece, titled "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran," was a chronicling of CIA operative Tony Mendez's unorthodox plan to retrieve a group of American diplomats from a hostage crisis in Iran in the late 1970s. Bearman penned the article following the declassification of the CIA documents describing the events.
Argo's company in this year's Best Adapted Screenplay category draw from more traditional sources: the scripts for Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook each comes from its eponymous novel, written by Yann Martel and Matthew Quick, Respectively; Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner cite the nonfiction book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin as the source for their biopic Lincoln; and the story of Beasts of the Southern Wild writer/director Benh Zeitlin was inspired by his co-writer Lucy Alibar's own play, Juicy and Delicious. Heck, even Argo does accredit some hardcover material with the machination of its script alongside the aforementioned original article (Bearman's book The Great Escape, in which he expands on the topic, and Agent Mendez's own account of the event, his memoirs The Master of Disguise). The category has housed a great majority of projects with roots in the forms of book and play. But there are a handful of interesting outliers, spanning from 1931 all the way to the present...
Skippy (1931): Predating the separate Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay categories, the family-friendly Jackie Cooper starrer was adapted from the syndicated comic strip of the same name.
Mrs. Miniver (1942): The romantic drama about the dawn of World War II drew from a series of columns in Great Britain's The Times newspaper, wherein the titular character Kay Miniver was created.
Boomerang! (1947): The true story of this film noir was first chronicled in a Reader's Digest article by journalist Fulton Oursler (under the pen name Anthony Abbot).
Marty (1955):The classic romantic drama was the first of several films to be adapted from a teleplay — Paddy Chayefsky wrote both the big and small screen versions of the story.
I Want to Live! (1958): Another film noir drawn from true events, this film extrapolated its story about a woman on death row from letters penned by the basis and namesake for its main character, Barbara Graham. A second source for the movie came from a collection of newspaper articles from journalist Ed Montgoomery.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962): The life of British Army officer T.E. Lawrence was chronicled in this classic epic, thanks to the adaptation of the collective writings from the hero himself.
Pennies from Heaven (1981): Ever since Marty, a handful of films has earned nominations for adapting television movies to film; this was the first, however, to earn a nod for adapting a television miniseries (the 1978 BBC drama of the same name).
The Insider (1999): Another film drawn from a magazine article, this time from Marie Brenner's Vanity Fair piece "The Man Who Knew Too Much," about tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, played in the film by Russell Crowe.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000): Classing up the list a bit is this Coen Brothers comedy, which adapted its script from Homer's epic poem The Odyssey.
Ghost World (2001): The first film to earn a nomination for a script adapted from a graphic novel came from Daniel Clowes, who turned his own comic book Ghost World into this comedy-drama.
Shrek (2001): In the same year, this blockbuster animated film pioneered the category's nomination of a script with another type of source: picture book (William Steig's Shrek!).
American Splendor (2002): The brilliant comedic biopic drew its material from the works of subject Harvey Pekar and his wife and fellow comic book author Joyce Brabner (American Splendor and Our Cancer Years, respectively).
Before Sunset (2004): Richard Linklater's screenplay was considered an adaptation, due to its use of characters from the preceding film Before Sunrise, which was written by Linklater and Kim Krizan.
A History of Violence (2005): Another graphic novel adaptation — screenwriter John Olson brought John Wagner and Vincent Locke's A History of Violence to screen with this picture.
Borat (2006): It might surprise you to recall that the Academy recognized this bawdy film with a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination; the film was considered an adaptation of the character developed by Sacha Baron Cohen for his small screen venture, Da Ali G Show.
In the Loop (2009): In the same vein, Armando Iannucci transported his The Thick of It hero Malcolm Tucker to the big screen in this satirical film.
District 9 (2009): Cutting it a little close to home, this sci-fi drama/parable for human intolerance and oppression was actually adapted from another movie — a short film titled Alive in Joburg.
Toy Story 3 (2010): Borrowing the characters from the original Toy Story, a new assortment of screenwriters vied for the Oscar in this magnificent threequel.
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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.