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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What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but what happens on Vegas stays on every television set in all of America. The show, about Dennis Quaid as the 1960s sheriff of Sin City and Michael Chicklis as a mob boss who likes to fly his planes over Dennis Quaid's land and scare his cows (yes, that is an actual thing), was the big victor of Tuesday night. Fox's premieres didn't fare nearly as well, with The Mindy Project and Ben & Kate (no mention of the 8) performing modestly but not horribly.
I'm going to try to break down the ratings in a fun and easy way so that everyone can understand them. In honor of Vegas' stellar premiere, I'll compare each network's performance to a casino game. And remember what Wesley Snipes says, always bet on black.
The king of all gambling games belongs to CBS, the king of all networks, which was the most watched network both in number of viewers and in the 18-to-49 demographic that advertisers crave on Tuesday night. NCIS and NCIS: With a Tan had 20.2 million and 16.7 million viewers, both down slightly from last year, but if your pile of chips goes from $1 million to $900,000, it's not such a big deal. Vegas was watched by 20.2 million people, which was CBS' biggest premiere in a decade. Yep, this show will be around for awhile. You can bet on it. Yuk. Yuk. I'll be here all week. Free buffet. Other Vegas cliches!
NBC knows when to hold them and when to fold them. The network hangs on to the number two slot, which for the near dead peacock is quite a feat. All of their shows were down slightly from last week, but then they had absolutely no competition from the other networks, so a drop is expected. The Voice sang to 11.3 million, the Matthew Perry comedy Go On stumbled by 20% to 7.3 million, The New Normal preached to 5.2 million, and Parenthood called at 4.8 million.
No one really likes roulette, do they? Well, they do a little bit when they're winning, but when they're not winning, forget about it! That's sort of what happened to Fox last night. Brother and sister parenting comedy Ben & Kate debuted with 4.2 million viewers and The Mindy Project scared up a bit more, 4.7 million, which isn't amazing, but better than Raising Hope was doing in the same time slot last year, so it's a minor victory for Ms. Kaling. Things weren't so hot for The New Girl, which aired two new episodes at 8 PM and 9 PM and they got 5.3 million and 5.2 million respectively. That's down considerably from the show's 10 million debut last year, but on par with the series finale in May. Guess some of the newness has worn off.
This game is complicated, awful, and only old people like to play it. Sounds just like ABC! It had the second most viewers in total, but was in last place for the 18-to-49 year old youngsters. Dancing with the Stars was down a third from last year with 9.9 million people watching Pamela Anderson pack her bags (spoiler alert). Private Practice threw snake eyes with 6.6 million viewers.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS; Images_of_Money/flickr;John-Morgan/flickr; Håkan Dahlström/flickr; spacepleb/flickr]
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In the wake of last week's revelations that Sony faked reviews and movie fans to tout its movies, Fox has revealed a similar misdeed. The studio used an employee in a TV montage, raving that the hit 1998 movie Waking Ned Devine was "hysterical," Variety reports. Then Fox executive assistant Carol Lipson, who is now employed at Universal Pictures, reportedly appeared in a national TV advertisement posing as a typical moviegoer. Florence Grace, a Fox spokeswoman, said: "No one who works here has any firsthand knowledge of it." Sony has promised to institute a policy preventing such practices from happening in the future. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, called these incidents "aberrations" which were "stupid and unnecessary."