The Amazing Spider-Man would prefer if you didn't call it the fourth Spider-Man movie. See this ain't the Spider-Man your older brother knew from ten years ago — it's a reboot. The latest adventure to feature the comic book webslinger throws three movies worth of established mythology straight out the window swapping the original cast with an ensemble of fresh faces and resetting the franchise with a spiffy new origin story. "New" in the loosest sense of the word — the highlights of ASM mainly a sleek new design and spunky reinterpretation of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and gal pal Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) are weighed down by overpowering sense of familiarity. Nearly a beat for beat replica of the 2002 original with some irksome twists of mystery thrown in Amazing Spider-Man fails to evolve its hero or his quarrels. The film has a great sense of cinematic power but little responsibility in making it interesting.
We're first introduced to Peter Parker as a young boy watching as his parents rush out of the house in response to a hidden danger. Mr. and Mrs. Parker leave their son in the care of his Aunt May (Sally Fields) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) who raise him into Andrew Garfield's geeky cool spin on the character. Parker's a science whiz but faces the challenges of every day life — passing classes talking to girls the occasional jock with aggression issues — but all of life's woes are put on hold when the teen discovers a new clue in the mystery behind his parents' disappearance. The discovery of his dad's old briefcase and notes leads Peter to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) a scientist working for mega-conglomerate Oscorp and his Dad's old partner. When they cross paths Connors instantly takes a liking to the wunderkind and loops him into the work he started with his father: replicating the regeneration abilities of lizards in amputee humans (Connors is driven to reform his own missing arm). But when Parker wanders into Oscorp's room full of spiders (a sloppily explained this-needs-to-be-here-for-this-to-happen device) he receives his legendary spider bite that transforms him into the hero we know.
Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) desperately wants Amazing Spider-Man to work as a high school relationship movie but with the burden of massive amounts of plot and mythology to introduce the movie sags under the sheer volume of stuff. Stone turns Parker's object of affection Gwen Stacey into a three-dimensional character. Whenever they happen upon each other an awkward exchange in the hallway a flirtatious back-and-forth in the Oscorp lab (where Stacey is head…intern) or when the two finally begin a romantic relationship the two stars shine. They're vivid characters chopped to bits in the editing room diluted by boring franchise-building plot threads and routine action sequences. Seriously Amazing Spider-Man another mad scientist villain who uses himself as a test subject only to become a monster? And another bridge rescue scene? Amazing Spider-Man desperately wants to disconnect from the original trilogy but it's trapped in an inescapable shadow and does nothing radical to shake things up. Instead it settles for the same old same old while preparing for inevitable sequels instead of investing in its dynamic duo.
There's a sweet spot where the film really hits his stride. After discovering his spider-abilities Peter hits the streets for the first time. He's superhuman but still a headstrong teen full of obnoxious quips and close calls with shiv-wielding thugs. The action is slick small and playful Webb showing us something new by melding his indie sensibilities with big scale action. If only it lasted — the introduction of Ifans reptilian half The Lizard implodes Amazing Spider-Man into incomprehensible blockbuster chaos. A gargantuan beast wreaking havoc around New York City promises King Kong-like escapades for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man but the lizard man has other plans: to rule the world! Or something. Whatever it takes to get Lizard and Spider-Man fighting on the top of a skyscraper over a doomsday machine — logic be damned.
Amazing Spider-Man peppers its banal foundation with great talent from Denis Leary as Gwen's wickedly funny dad and the police captain hunting down Spider-Man to Fields and Sheen as two loving adults in Peter's life to Garfield and Stone whose chemistry demands a follow-up for the sake of seeing them reunited. But it's all at the cost of putting on the most expensive recreation of all time with new demands imposed by the success Marvel's other properties (except that franchise teasing worked). Amazing Spider-Man introduces too many ideas that go nowhere undermining the actual threat at hand. No one wants to be unfulfilled but that's the overriding difference between the original movie and the update. You need to pay for the sequel to know what the heck is going on in this one.
Funny thing about this week’s summer movie kickoff, The Avengers: While all of the superheroes have been around for a long time in comic-book and/or animation form, they’re all relative newbies to the live-action world. (That is, with the exception of the Hulk and, to a lesser degree, Captain America.) Not the case with the unofficial “first wave” of superheroes, the ones many of us have been watching — and have been entertained by — for decades on the small and big screens. Here’s a look at those superheroes, the actors who have portrayed them on TV and in films, and how they’ve changed (or haven’t) over the years.
In: Batman (TV series, 1966-‘68) and Batman (movie, 1966)
Best/Worst Batman? Neither
Notes: West is generally thought of as the first actor to play the Caped Crusader, but Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery each played the character in the 1940s “serial” movies. West, however, was the first to give Batman a place in the public consciousness, cinematically speaking, and he will forever be linked with the superhero. His performances were solid, but West was a victim of the campy feel of the movie/series in which he starred… and the spandex Batsuit… and the Batusi.
In: Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)
Best/Worst Batman? Neither
Notes: Keaton’s interpretation of Batman, which followed two-plus decades of nonactivity on the big screen for the Caped Crusader, forever changed the representation of the character. The monotone, emotionless voice? The physical rigidity? That’s Keaton’s work (which isn’t to say his director, Tim Burton, didn’t have a hand in crafting the modern-ish Batman). And what great work it turned out to be. In fact, we'd understand if you rank him as the best Batman of all time; he’s our No. 2, and just barely. (And on the subject of rankings, Kevin Conroy, who voiced the Dark Knight in the 1990s animated TV series, doesn’t quite meet our live-action criteria for this list, but vocally, emotionally, and dichotomously — as Bruce Wayne and Batman — nails the character unlike any before or since.)
In: Batman Forever (1995)
Best/Worst Batman? Neither
Notes: Kilmer was mostly just… innocuous as Batman in his really, really brief (as in one-movie brief, thanks to the ol’ “creative differences”) tenure playing the character. Although strong in spots, Kilmer’s turn as Batman was stiff and ultimately forgettable, a Caped Crusader that didn’t make audiences feel much of anything. That’s a no-no for a character as complex as Batman.
In: Batman & Robin (1997)
Best/Worst Batman? Worst
Notes: The Cloon Man can do virtually no wrong — except when it comes to the role of Batman, which was a borderline (unintentional) joke at the time and is now, in hindsight, an absolute joke. Clooney’s delivery and affect were tonally askew pretty much throughout the movie, and then there were the things he had no control over, like the prominently displayed codpiece — er, Bat-crotch (pictured, above!) — not to mention director Joel Schumacher’s subtly erotic take on Batman and Robin’s relationship. But Clooney’s hindsight assessment of the movie’s failure, and his failure in it, has always been refreshing: “It’s easy to look back at Batman and go, ‘Whoa! That was really s**t, and I was really bad in it.’”
In: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Best/Worst Batman? Best
Notes: Is it too soon to crown Bale the best Batman ever? Does proper perspective and evaluation of his performances require time and distance? Uh, no. Bale has captured the true essence of the Dark Knight (emphasis on “Dark”) like no actor before him, injecting his trademark intensity into an iconic character that, let’s not forget, was previously rendered a joke by Clooney and Schumacher. With obvious help from director Christopher Nolan, Bale completely resuscitated a dead franchise and restored fanboy sanity — by playing Batman the way he was meant to be played.
NEXT: Reeves or Reeve?
In: Superman and the Mole Men (movie, 1951) and Adventures of Superman (TV series, 1952-’58)
Best/Worst Superman? Neither
Notes: Reeves, as the first screen version of Superman, was a bit, well, steely as the Man of Steel, one of the few superheroes whose faces we see (and thus whose expressions are a big part of the performance). But it was more a sign of the times than bad acting. In fact, Reeves, who obviously didn’t have the good fortune of working with any sort of modern special effects, was often forced to rely on his raw physicality, to typically strong results. He was even cooler as Clark Kent!
In: Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Best/Worst Superman? Best
Notes: Make no mistake: We’re not calling the late, great Reeve an unequivocal success throughout his overlong run as the Man of Steel, but he’s certainly the franchise’s best. When one thinks of Superman in human, non-comic form, Reeve comes to mind first, and for good reason: Not only did he make us associate him with the character by, again, starring in at least two too many such films, but his performance throughout struck the perfect balance between sweet charm and raw masculinity.
In: Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Best/Worst Superman? Neither
Notes: Don’t judge Cain based on his post-Lois & Clark career — or lack thereof. He actually made for a solid Clark Kent/Superman in this small-screen take on the relationship between the title characters. Cain rendered Superman/Kent a likable, interesting, more contemporary superhero/guy, and a lot of viewers didn’t much mind his looks week after week, either.
In: Superman Returns (2006)
Best/Worst Superman? Worst
Notes: The movie’s box office failures and those of its star have probably been overstated a bit, but… yeah. It did disappoint in both aspects, especially the latter. While Superman Returns itself was relatively well-received by critics, Routh, who was basically unknown at the time of his casting, undeniably lacked charisma as the title superhero, and his performance was flat. Which isn’t to say it was disastrous, but for a franchise that had been inactive on the big screen for almost two decades, a wiser casting choice might’ve been a splashier name and/or a more impactful actor.
In: Man of Steel (2013)
Notes: A Brit? As the most all-American superhero?! Hey, worked for Batman — quite well. Aside from that, with nothing more than an exciting "first look" photo to go on, we don’t know what to expect from Cavill in the summer 2013 Steel, other than a major step up from the man he’s replacing. (That, and Christopher Nolan's producing.) With all due respect to Routh, there’s nowhere to go but up.
NEXT: The Irreplaceable Ms. Carter
Cathy Lee Crosby
In: Wonder Woman (TV movie, 1974)
Best/Worst Wonder Woman? Worst
Notes: Little-known, or frequently glossed-over, fact (by those who weren’t around in the mid-‘70s): Lynda Carter IS Wonder Woman, but she isn’t the original Wonder Woman. In fact, Carter might have Crosby to thank for her iconic role: The Wonder Woman TV movie garnered solid ratings when it premiered in 1974, but not great reviews from critics or viewers. Thus, producers felt compelled to launch a serial version soon thereafter but also to take the character in a different direction, one that better paralleled the comic version on which she was based… i.e., played by a brunette.
In: Wonder Woman (TV series, 1975-’79)
Best/Worst Wonder Woman? Best
Notes: Again, Carter IS Wonder Woman. It's perhaps why TV and movie studios have had such a difficult time trying to find her replacement or replication for a big- or small-screen update… to no avail. (There has never been a movie version, and, well, see below for more on the extremely short-lived TV reboot.) And while Carter’s beauty was always what caught the viewer's eye first, her strong yet humane performance is what has really helped the character resonate and endure the way Wonder Woman has. It’s also what made her a role model to so many women at the time.
In: Wonder Woman (TV pilot, 2011)
Best/Worst Wonder Woman? Unknown
Notes: NBC was once so excited about its shiny David E. Kelley-backed Wonder Woman reboot with rising star Palicki in the title role. That was circa February 2011. By May, on the heels of the not-so-well-received first image of Palicki in costume, it was announced that nothing beyond the pilot episode would be necessary, and so the updated-Wonder Woman search continues.
NEXT: The Not-So-Jolly Green Giant
In: The Incredible Hulk (TV series, 1978-’82), The Incredible Hulk (movie, 2008; voice) and The Avengers (movie, 2012; voice)
Best/Worst Hulk? Best
Notes: Whether he likes it or not, Ferrigno is and always will be the Hulk, which at this point in his life/career is presumably somewhat annoying (see: I Love You, Man’s hilarious but probably accurate send-up). The ex-bodybuilder certainly would be a natural fit to play any superhero of monstrous proportions — green or otherwise — because of his physical stature, but it’s as much his innately hulky voice and mannerisms that make him such a great fit as the green giant. And it’s a role that has endured, to say the least, as Ferrigno provided the voice of the character in the 2008 Incredible Hulk and he does the same in this summer’s The Avengers (Mark Ruffalo will physically portray the Hulk in the film, but not vocally — which is more than can be said for Edward Norton and Eric Bana, both of whom only played the Bruce Banner character in the 21st-century Hulk updates; see below for more on them).
In: Hulk (2003)
Best/Worst Hulk? N/A
Notes: Bana turned in a solid performance as Bruce Banner and is in no way, shape or form responsible for the cringe-worthy Hulk we saw on screen — the cartoonish version that might as well have been Shrek's juiced-up (on CGI) cousin.
In: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Best/Worst Hulk? N/A
Notes: The newer Hulk was a vast improvement over the previous model, seen in the aforementioned 2003 film — but it still had nothing to do with Norton, who, like Bana before him, only portrayed Banner. In fact, as much as the toned-down CGI deserves credit, it was franchise MVP Ferrigno, providing the vocals and more, who once again helped restore credibility to the character.
NEXT: Is the Best Yet to Come... This Summer?
In: The Amazing Spider-Man (TV series, 1977-’79)
Notes: Can Spider-Man be considered groovy? If so, that’d be probably be the most accurate description for Hammond’s tenure as the character. Just see: The porn music and overall vibe present in the way-too-‘70s Spidey TV movies/shows in which Hammond starred. His acting was endearingly cheesy — and you thought the upside-down smooch between Mary Jane and Spider-Man was tacky! — and he looked about two decades too old (and was, in reality, about one decade too old) to play Peter Parker. But no one can ever take away the fact that Hammond was the first-ever live-action Spidey.
In: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Notes: Part of what makes Maguire slightly off-putting in a lot of other roles is what also happens to make him credible as Peter Parker: a certain delicate awkwardness. The fact that, for three films, he was able to seamlessly and believably transform into the powerful, crime-fighting title web-slinger speaks to his oft-overlooked ability as an actor. (Even the studio, Sony, was reportedly not convinced that Maguire could pull off such a dichotomy… and then he auditioned.)
In: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Notes: Another British takeover! And another seemingly good casting choice: Garfield showed off a pitch-perfect American accent (and more importantly, a firm grasp on teenagedom) in 2010’s The Social Network, and that was all producers needed to cast him as the lead in Columbia Pictures’ franchise reboot. Garfield’s personal passion for, and understanding of, the character since childhood is icing on the cake. Couple all that with incoming writer/director Marc Webb’s hints of a deeper, less special-effects-reliant Spider-Man installment, and the Garfield casting ought to pay dividends immediately (especially if the studio got the pre-fame discount!).
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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.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Despite more than 30 years on hiatus from the screen, Wonder Woman may just be ready to take her Lasso of Truth and invisible jet out of hibernation and into American living rooms. Legal drama guru David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal) is slated to put his spin (or twirl) on the classic heroine as she returns to television for the first time since the 70s.
Kelley will write and produce the new project through Warner Bros. DC Entertainment and it should be ready to shop around to the networks soon. While the idea of yet another superhero reboot seems a little tired – we got our fill on TV with Smallville and more than enough in theaters with indulgent reboots like the latest X-Men iteration and Spiderman 3 – this one provides a bit more intrigue.
First, Kelley faces the formidable hurdle of Wonder Woman’s classic interpretation. The All-American heroine was last played by Lynda Carter in 1975, and Carter has remained the epitome of Wonder Woman ever since. Whereas more ubiquitous heroes like Batman have a plethora of different versions that compete with any new edition, the new Wonder Woman will have only one beloved interpretation of the Amazonian superhero to compete with.
Add to that the recent controversial Goth makeover of the DC darling. This summer, Wonder Woman’s magical island origins were tweaked in order to make way for a new back story in which she is supposed to have fled her besieged homeland to be raised in New York City. Accordingly, the character ditched her star-spangled undies for real pants and a more modern look. Though details for Kelley’s adaptation are still top secret, fans are buzzing about which Wonder Woman the TV tycoon will bring to the small screen.
Whether Kelley tackles the shiny, new Wonder Woman or Carter’s long-lived super lady, he’s still got to be careful. Kelley’s known for showing the kinder, gentler side of his subjects (usually lawyers; they’re people too!) and a super hero show could be a present him with a bit of a challenge.Hopefully he can avoid creating a Wonder Woman that’s more concerned about her on-again-off-again boyfriend than kicking ass with her set of indestructible bracelets and super tiara – we don’t need another Lois and Clark on our hands.