The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Money Spider

You can’t help but approach this film with some trepidation. Most film-goers over the age of 11 will have at some point seen some of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy from the early 2000’s, and for that reason will be very familiar with the whole “geek gets bitten by a spider… gets super powers… gets told he should be responsible… saves the city… gets the girl” scenario. In fact, I’m not even sure that you need to have seen Spider-Man on the silver screen to be aware of how this hero gets his powers, but that’s what we get here in the Marc Webb-directed The Amazing Spider-Man.

“My Spidey-Sense is tingling… no wait, it’s just my silver-rimmed shoes being fabulous.”

Let me get one confession out the way early: “My name’s the Phage… and I’m a comic-aholic, and in recent years I’ve relapsed with waves of sweet, sweet comic ecstasy pouring straight into my eyes and ears like a junkie. I don’t repent.” For this reason, I can’t help but adopt an almost snobbish attitude to comic book movies, especially those stemming from the Marvel stable. And recent stellar output from Marvel Studios (Avengers Assemble, ThorCaptain America: The First AvengerThe Robert Downey Jr. Show Iron Man) really makes it an uphill battle for Sony Pictures’ ol’ webhead to shine on the screen, even for the non-comic loving viewer. Does he succeed? Well… almost.

First things first, Andrew Garfield is inspired casting as Peter Parker. He brings that nervous, awkward energy with him, which sits perfectly with the insular Parker, but also breaks out the wit when his alter-ego merits it. In my opinion, a far better choice than Tobey Maguire, who could never bring out the sarcasm of Spider-Man… add to this the fact that Garfield didn’t sweep his hair to one side and dance down a street in one of the most cringe-worthy moments of Spider-Man 3, and we’re golden. Probably not a routine that Maguire insisted on, so he may not be totally to blame; but it’s his face that’s burned into my retinas, so he’ll take the fall here. Go on… have another look and live it again.

So where does the film fall down for me? No, it’s not the fact that this is essentially just a (well crafted) love story between Garfield and Emma Stone, where one of them just happens to have superpowers. It’s more the fact that you can’t shake away the feeling of déja-vu. The film hits the same beats as its predecessor, even down to the villain. Sure, William DaFoe‘s Norman Osborn / Green Goblin is a different physical entity to Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors / Lizard, but they’re essentially the same with both gradually losing their respective grips on reality before inevitably being whooped by our hero. However, it is refreshing to see a Spider-Man film where the villain is not defeated with such… “finality”… as previous iterations. Wise move Sony… wise move indeed.

So all this begs the question as to why this was even rebooted. The cynic in me just screams “money you fool – money!“, hence the hokey 3D job to tag a few more dollars / pounds onto the ticket price. Also, with Sony making this movie they avoid the sticky issue of giving the rights to Spider-Man back to Marvel Studios. And let’s be honest, Sony marketing this as the “untold story” of Peter’s parents was unnecessary with the story barely licking the surface of that particular plot. However, the optimist in me is telling me that this reboot could rejuvenate the franchise and clear the sour taste that Spider-Man 3 left in every fan-boy’s mouth. At least the origin story is now done with, and we can progress to bigger and better things in the 2014 sequel…

Origin stories, when done right, leave the viewer feeling invigorated and filled with wonder. However, retelling the origin is like opening your Christmas presents, having a day of play and then wrapping them up again for next year. Yes, it’s fun to play with those familiar things again… it’s just not all that exciting or surprising. That being said, I’ve high hopes for the sequel, where hopefully we’ll see more of the cocky guy in the blue and red suit, as opposed to him learning about responsibility. Again.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

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Killer Joe (2012)

Finger Lickin’ Good…

So often nowadays do actors become type-cast into particular roles and genres. You’re going to see a Michelle Rodriguez movie? Well, you know she’s not going to be wearing a dress and brandishing a sterling British accent. You’re going to see a Jason Statham movie? Well, likewise, you’re not going to be getting an engaging story about how one man battles adversity and discrimination to be taken seriously as a Spanish teacher in downtown Madrid. Unless by “adversity” and “discrimination” you mean “pimps” and “drug runners”, and by “Spanish teacher” you allude to “mean bad-ass”…

Joe… not a man you want to disappoint.

That’s why it’s so great to see an actor break out of their shackles and surprise you, like Jonah Hill in last year’s fantastic Moneyball, or Channing Tatum flexing his comedy chops in 21 Jump Street. So when someone throws the name Matthew McConaughey at you, I’d presume you’d think of the latest “first date” fodder film, such as How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days or The Wedding Planner, and not his fantastic turn in A Time To Kill. Well, chalk this one up with McConaughey‘s “non-rom-com” films… and also rack it up as one of his best.

Briefly, Killer Joe follows the exploits of a family in the backwoods of Texas as they scheme to off someone for a lucrative life insurance premium. So who do they turn to? Joe (McConaughey): the detective who moonlights as a killer-for-hire of course. As the family can only pay after the contract has been completed and the insurance claimed, Joe chooses to take a “retainer” just in case he doesn’t get his cash, and that retainer is Dottie (a captivating Juno Temple) – the young, naive daughter of the family. What ensues, for those unfamiliar with the award-winning theatre production, is an undeniably enthralling number of twists and turns as we learn how the tale of this desperate family unfolds.

What’s so great about this film is the same “just one more page” compulsion you get with all the best novels: you’re dying to know what’s coming next, due in no small part to the fantastic cast and sharply delivered dialogue. McConaughey and Temple are ably backed up by Emile Hirsch as the indebted son Chris and Thomas Haden Church as the good-for-nothing father Ansel, whose world-weary one liners provide some much-needed comic relief during some of the most intense scenes of the film. And believe me when I say “intense”. When this film chooses to get dark, it’s like wandering into a cave. At night. With a blindfold on. It can make The Dark Knight Rises look about as diabolical and dark as The Smurfs. My mind immediately leaps to parallels with 2011’s fantastic Drive, which whilst fantastic, didn’t shy away from some graphic beatings. However, Killer Joe also delves into sexual depravity on several occasions – something not seen in Drive, but don’t let that perturb you; it’s worth it. And if nothing else, I can guarantee that you’ll not look at a KFC drumstick the same for a good few weeks…

An enthralling, yet deeply sinister story of murder in darkest Texas. The entire cast shines in what surely must be one of the must see’s of the summer if you love a character-driven tale. Maybe not a film for those that are faint-of-heart or have a particular affection for the Colonel’s fried chicken…

Phage Factor:

4 Star