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Entries in rhys ifans (2)

Monday
Jul022012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Rebooting a superhero series means once again going through an origin story. It’s the inevitable nature of the beast. But despite their narrative necessity, origin stories are generally frowned upon; audiences always seem to want to get to the action. I, however, like origin stories because they give our hero something to fight for. They put reasoning behind their actions other than the simple fact that evil is present. Usually they suffer through a life changing tragedy that gives them the will and motivation to fight. Origin stories set up the character for all that is come, making them the most interesting to watch, but The Amazing Spider-Man, coming so close to the end of Sam Raimi’s popular trilogy (only five years after the final installment), feels redundant. If there was ever a movie that had a been-there-done-that feel to it, it’s this one. In a time when most Marvel movies are setting new standards for what superhero movies can and should be, The Amazing Spider-Man falls far short.

Taking over the reins from Tobey Maguire is Andrew Garfield as the titular hero. Peter is still the nerdy kid we know him as and he’s still living with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). He has a little crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a character different than Mary Jane in name only, who eventually reciprocates his feelings. One day after being bitten by an experimental spider, he is given amazing powers, including superhuman strength and the ability to climb up buildings using his fingertips and toes. In one of the only major narrative departures from the Raimi trilogy, he develops a durable web-like substance that he shoots out of a device attached to his wrist, thus rounding out his spider abilities and giving him a means to move about the city. His fun is short lived, however, when Uncle Ben is shot and killed by a fleeing robber, partially due to Peter’s unwillingness to do the right thing and stop him. Vowing revenge, he dons a suit and sets out to make him pay. His attention is soon diverted when a giant lizard begins running amok throughout the city. This lizard is the by-product of experiments with cross species genetics by scientist and former partner of Peter’s father, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and he’s out to get rid of Spider-Man and infest the city with a deadly toxin that will turn them into hideous creatures.

And if you’re wondering, yes, Uncle Ben does give the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech, or at least a variation of it. Although restrained somewhat by the source material, The Amazing Spider-Man fails to find a voice of its own, from its redundant opening all the way to its clichéd “ticking clock” ending (where Spider-Man may or may not save the day at the very last second). It’s all so familiar, so conventional of your typical comic book movie that it’s hard to muster up the strength to care, partially because the script seems to forget why Peter’s fighting in the first place. By the end, Uncle Ben seems like an afterthought and his prophetic words forgotten. Yet it’s that tragedy that makes Spider-Man such a compelling character, so by throwing that to the wayside, you lose much of the film’s (and character’s) appeal.

Take the abandoned motivation out of the equation, however, and you have a movie that does at least one thing correctly: it builds its characters. In particular, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy build a believable relationship (surely due to an off-screen budding romance between their real life counterparts) while the descent into madness by Dr. Connors isn’t rushed through, but rather approached with a deliberate pace. It nails everything that The Avengers did so poorly except the most important thing: the aforementioned lack of motivation. But where The Avengers suffered in character evolution and creating a team dynamic, it more than made up for with some incredible action (even if the team was separated too much of the time). The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t come remotely close to matching the awe inspired by that film, or many other recent comic book adaptations. The action is perfunctory in every sense of the word, both unenthusiastic and routine, seemingly there because it feels like it needs to be (aside from the climax, most of it is unnecessary, including a short lived scene where the Lizard bursts through a toilet in Peter’s school and starts attacking him).

Although character growth is more important than flashy action (and always will be), The Amazing Spider-Man is too immature to be recommendable, both in its technique—director Marc Webb, the man responsible for the wonderful, but wildly different, 500 Days of Summer, doesn’t quite have the experience necessary to tackle such a huge endeavor—and in its annoying, cocky approach to its lead. There’s a really embarrassing scene early on, just after Peter gains his powers, where he shows up the school jock on the basketball court, culminating in a painful-to-watch slam dunk that breaks the backboard. This is immediately followed by Peter shredding on his skateboard. This is a Spider-Man for the tween generation, not the mature movie going audience that wants, and expects, more. It may make attempts at being dark, but it’s a faux darkness, similar to something like Twilight: moody, but insubstantial. It may not be one of the worst movies of the year, but The Amazing Spider-Man is certainly one of the most disappointing.

The Amazing Spider-Man receives 2/5

Friday
Apr272012

The Five-Year Engagement

Romantic comedies so often rely on formula, one should be praised when it dares to break the rules. The last film to do so is 2009’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer. This week’s latest, The Five-Year Engagement isn’t quite as delightful or original as that film, but it avoids many of the usual romantic comedy clichés, including the “meet cute” and the initial dislike between the two main characters before they fall in love.

At the outset of the film, Tom (Jason Segel), a sous chef in a San Francisco restaurant, and Violet (Emily Blunt) have already been together for a year. It’s New Year’s Eve and Tom’s acting a little weird, but it’s only because he’s going to propose to Violet. When he does, she accepts and they begin planning their wedding, but a kink is put in those plans when Violet is accepted into the University of Michigan where she hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology. The plan is to do so in two years, so they put off their wedding until she’s done and Tom quits his upscale job to move with her to Michigan. However, she excels in her field and is eventually promoted, so they find themselves stuck there for a few more years, but Tom’s unhappiness is growing and it’s going to put a strain on the relationship.

The Five-Year Engagement grabs you right off the bat. It presents two likable actors playing two very likable people who love each other deeply. It circumvents the overused screenplay tactics like dramatic misunderstandings and the general awkwardness that most romantic comedy screen couples are forced to go through. They’ve already gotten passed all that and even though it’s only spoken, you can feel that they’ve been together for a year already. Segel and Blunt are simply fantastic together and you can’t help but cherish the love they cherish so much themselves.

You could make the argument that Violet is too much of a looker for a tall, pudgy guy like Tom, but it’s not difficult to see what she sees in him. He’s one of the most dedicated, unselfish people in the world and when she breaks the news to him that she was accepted to Michigan and will be moving there for two years (over a bottle of wine she uses to calm her nerves), he’s genuinely happy for her and actually suggests quitting his job and moving there with her; she doesn’t have to ask. Even after he hears from his boss that she was going to make him the lead chef at one of her new restaurants, he still packs up and leaves, knowing that Violet is well worth the sacrifice. He’s willing to give up his dreams and desires he’s worked so hard to obtain so she can have a chance at obtaining hers. It’s impossible not to like Tom.

Violet isn’t selfish either (despite a poorly expressed sentiment that maybe she deserves to be). She never pressures Tom to do what he does and she is always aware of his feelings. She asks him about them so much, in fact, that he tells her to stop, assuring her he’s okay with the situation. Of course, he’s just being his usual supportive self and isn’t entirely okay with it, especially after she breaks the news to him that her two year stay has been extended (a two year stay that is breezed through far too quickly). After sacrificing two years of his life, he’s ready to move on and get back to San Francisco, which is now impossible if he wants to stay with Violet. This inevitably leads to some unavoidable relationship problems, both wanting to follow their dreams without causing the other to give theirs up, a hope that is unattainable.

The unhappiness of such a stressful situation is more than enough to bring forth drama—and in a way that isn’t indicative of your usual formulaic romantic comedies—but The Five-Year Engagement nonetheless falls victim to screenplay doubt, forcing in unnecessary drama on top of the problems at hand, like when Violet’s professor (Rhys Ifans) kisses her after a night of drunkenness. Their friendship is charming at first, so it’s that much more annoying when it devolves into typical rom-com fare. (It’s such a shame that a man and a woman can’t be friends in a Hollywood movie without eventually hooking up.)

At over two hours, The Five-Year Engagement goes on for too long, especially considering so much of the late movie drama stems from that redundant affair and could have been cut out altogether, but what it botches with the drama, it nails in the comedy. This is a very funny movie—not quite as funny as this year’s 21 Jump Street (but then again, it isn’t trying to be)—and it will leave you smiling more often than not. Regardless of its problems, it’s a movie that just makes you feel good and that in itself is worth giving it a recommendation.

The Five-Year Engagement receives 4/5