Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man is a decent summer blockbuster. Despite being entertaining, Marc Webb’s film may nevertheless suffer from the audience’s superhero fatigue.

Growing up with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Peter Parker is having difficulties understanding why his parents appeared to abandon him. When he finds a clue about his father’s work, Peter tracks down Dr Curt Connors, former colleague of his father. Visiting Connors at his work, something strange happens to Peter in the lab…

The Amazing Spider-Man features everything that viewers would expect from a superhero movie; a personal transformation, big action set pieces and a love story. The narrative offers nothing particularly original; it is the same journey that has featured in other films of this type. Nonetheless, Peter Parker is a likeable and well-developed protagonist. Moreover, The Amazing Spider-Man is well paced, and entertains throughout.

Marc Webb’s film really does not do anything wrong. The problem with it is the feeling of déjà vu it provokes. After all, it has only been ten years since the last Spider-Man franchise began. More telling are the allusions to various Batman films. References, seemingly indeliberate, appear to recall Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

The effects in The Amazing Spider-Man are good overall. It certainly does not seem as if the CGI in this film will age quite as quickly as its 2002 predecessor. The extra dimension also works well, with Spider-Man swinging through the New York landscape being a particular highlight of the 3D. James Horner’s score is fitting, although it can make emotional moments seem excessively saccharine.

Andrew Garfield makes a good Peter Parker. His chemistry with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey makes their scenes together a joy to watch. Rhys Ifans makes a suitable antagonist for this origins tale, though the character may have struggled to be a  worthy opponent in an epic battle.

The Amazing Spider-Man is an enjoyable film. The problem is that it does not elevate itself to the level of Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight. In these days of abundant superhero movies, it is this echelon that needs to be reached in order for a film of this kind to be box office-breaking and truly memorable.

Film Review: Anonymous

Flick to the cinema section of the Hot Mess dictionary, and there you will find an entry for Anonymous. Roland Emmerich’s hymn to ludicrousness is a camp fiasco.

In Elizabethan London, William Shakespeare is an actor, performing in the plays of others. Edward, Earl of Oxford is a secret playwright, looking for an anonymous way for to make his plays public. Initially recruiting Ben Jonson to act as author, William Shakespeare happily plays the part when Jonson shows reluctance…

The problem with the Anonymous is manifold. Firstly, there is the absurd narrative. While it is not inconceivable that Shakespeare’s works were written by another, the story descends into farce while most of the cast try to keep a straight face. Taking liberties with historical fact, Emmerich has created a Tudor melodrama, with its ever so earnest heroes and comedy villains.

Perhaps the problem is that William Shakespeare is a much loved and respected icon. Making a mockery of the man was always likely to go down badly among sections of the audience. If the film had tried to retain a shred of realism, perhaps it would not have been so offensive. Instead, the film becomes more and more absurd as it progresses.

The character of Shakespeare in the film is unfathomable. To portray him as a bumbling idiot would be one thing. Instead, Emmerich has taken it to a whole other level with Rafe Spall’s Russell Brand impersonation. It seems as if Spall is almost playing for laughs, and makes the film an experiment in high camp.

Performances in Anonymous are generally subpar. Sebastian Armesto, Helen Baxendale, Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Hogg and Rafe Spall all play as if the film was a soap opera. As Earl of Oxford, Rhys Ifans is the only one who appears to be taking things seriously. There is some nice staging but at times locations and sets look terribly artificial. Production values are otherwise fine.

Taken as a serious drama, Anonymous is an awful film. As a farce, Emmerich’s film is rather enjoyable as you anticipate the next comical twist.

Anonymous is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: Greenberg

Ben Stiller plays a distinctly obnoxious protagonist in Greenberg, yet it is still a watchable film. The fact the audience will keep watching despite the questionable behaviour of the main character can definitely be attributed to Stiller’s solid performance in Greenberg.

Recovering from a breakdown, Roger Greenberg house-sits his brother’s Los Angeles home with the sole aim of doing nothing. In between writing his letters of complaint to major corporations, however, Greenberg reconnects with old friends, and makes new ones along the way…

Screenwriter and director Noah Baumbach has created an ambling little film in Greenberg. Not remotely plot-driven, the film explores the minds of the main characters; the narrative is incredibly loose. Whilst there is strength in this approach, it is also the film’s biggest weakness, as Greenberg is a thoroughly unlikable character.

His treatment of best friend Ivan and new friend/love interest Florence is, at times, deplorable. Whilst some sympathy can be garnered by the fact that Greenberg is recovering from a mental breakdown, his dramatic outbursts against these far more likable characters do little to endear him to the audience. It is these two characters in particular which generate the only positive reaction from viewers. Baumbach and writer Jennifer Jason Leigh (who also stars in the film) have, in Ivan and Florence, have created two flawed but identifiable characters, giving the audience someone to root for – an aspect completely lacking in the protagonist.

Best known for his comedic roles, Stiller excels as the unpleasant Greenberg, offering a quiet but effective performance miles away from the likes of Zoolander. Greta Gerwig shines as the downtrodden Florence; she is engaging and elicits much sympathy for putting up with Greenberg’s rants. Rhys Ifans likewise gives a solid performance, and offers the audience a moment of catharsis when he finally calls Greenberg out on his shortcomings.

Whilst Greenberg is a well-made film, with a protagonist such as this perhaps more plot development would have been a good idea. Nonetheless, the strong performances of the cast, as well as the well-crafted secondary characters, make the film an enjoyable, if sometimes frustrating, experience.