The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was always going to be an interesting movie. After the success of its predecessor Sony’s eyes fixed on The Avengers and their own dreams of world domination and upon hearing of this movie’s cast everyone assumed that the sequel would be their attempt to catch up to a battle won so long ago I think I studied it at school. That will have to wait until next time though, as Sony are not quite as stupid as DC and have decided to play the waiting game with one of the most conflicted films I’ve ever seen.

There are four plots in this film (not at all reminiscent of Spider-Man 3), which are:

  1. Jamie Foxx, a walking nerd stereotype who becomes obsessed with Spider-Man after he says Hi to him once, is the victim of improper health and safety procedures and after a soak in an electric eel tank with a power cable (which will in no way inspire kids to take a bath with Mr Toaster) becomes a being with the power of spontaneously growing underwear to ruin his Dr Manhattan references. He seeks revenge on Spidey as he thinks he set him up for a police ambush.
  2. Harry Osborn, Peter’s never-before-mentioned childhood friend, returns to New York as his dad passes away from MacGregor’s Syndrome to find that he has inherited it and doesn’t have long to live. Despite his dad taking forty-five years to die from the condition Harry appears to start rotting the second he enters New York and becomes convinced that Spider-Man’s blood will cure him. Peter refuses (because he thinks Harry will just drink the stuff for some reason) and so Harry swears vengeance.
  3. Gwen Stacey’s relationship with Peter becomes strained when she gets a scholarship to Oxford University.
  4. Mephisto appears and offers to save Aunt May in exchange for Peter and Gwen’s- nah, just kidding.
  5. The film occasionally cuts to Peter looking for his late dad’s research. This doesn’t really go anywhere.

To the film’s credit there is a overarching theme of abandonment to all this: John Hinckley Jr feels like Spider-Man abandoned him, Harry was sent away by his father and feels that Peter betrayed him by not getting Spidey to donate his blood, Gwen and Peter are moving away from each other and Peter’s dad died when he was young. It really is a credit to Mark Webb (insert joke here) that this film is even comprehensible, but the tone swings wildly from scene to scene. One moment you’ll have serious drama in the vein of the previous film and then the kind of camp that hasn’t been seen in this genre since Schumacher broke the bat. The ending is particularly jarring, as you go from genuinely moving drama to sequel set up back to drama again and then to comedy in the space of five minutes. There isn’t much of a defined structure here either, the film cuts between the four of them arbitrarily and the climax feels rushed to cram in both villains.

Individually most of this film’s scenes work. The campy fun parts are fun and campy and the drama well-played, with the cast remaining this series’ greatest asset. Garfield and lasagne Stone have great chemistry and Dane Dehaan makes an intriguing Harry Osborn who I wish had gotten more screen time to develop properly. When the scenes fail however, they quickly becomes hysterical. Peter’s repeated hallucinations of Gwen’s father glaring at him are ham-fisted to the point where every joke I come up with is just too easy, Foxx’s ‘what have I become’ face is like a cross between Jon Osterman and a guppy fish and when the Green Goblin finally turns up in all his splendour he resembles a deformed Tinker-Bell riding the finest in Mattel transportation.

When put together, the plot of this film is an utter mess with holes wide enough to fit Manhattan through, my favourite being when terminally ill rich kid Harry suddenly turns into Solid Snake for five minutes. The biggest problem is that it is vastly overstuffed and the screenplay is in dire need of pruning, starting with Electro, who is neither very interesting nor all that vital to the plot. Although I suppose this is what you get from a rewrite by the people behind Into Darkness. Upon watching the finished film it is also very clear that Mary Jane’s cameo was cut for time, rather than animosity toward the actress as at 142 minutes this film barely covers everything that made the final cut. Action-wise the film is decent, bar the opening plane fight which is the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises if you stole Wally Pfister’s epilepsy medication, as well as the stubborn insistence of the electricity to obey the speed limit. Overall, I don’t think I’d call this movie bad but it’s too jumbled and uneven to rise about just being okay, and there are definitely worse things to spend your money on right now coughTranscendencecough.

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What the fuck, Game of Thrones?

(Massive, ruinous fucking spoilers to come for the show and Once Upon A Time In America)

This show has always been dark. It comes from the source material. Murder, torture, incest and events offscreen that would only seem fun to the Imperial Japanese Army. But they generally have been able to handle it, until tonight. This episode went off the deep end.

Jaime is fucked now as a character. It is impossible to sympathise with him after this. It is impossible for his up until this point impressive redemptive character arc to continue. It is impossible to want to continue watching what he’ll do. For the first time, an episode of this show was unpleasant. I should probably explain what I mean by that. I don’t mean that there has never been uncomfortable subject matter on this show, nor do I mean that I am jaded to the point where the slaughter of babies does not phase me. I mean that at no point did I want to stop watching. Anything subject matter can be shown onscreen in a compelling way, be it rape, torture or child molestation, but it has to fit with the work as a whole. This does not. It can not. The entirety of the last series had Jaime starting to redeem himself and us coming around to him despite everything we’d seen him do and that is the only way his arc can attempt to continue. But it won’t work.

The books are the most obvious comparison point so let’s start there. In the books this scene happens right after Jaime returns to King’s Landing. He arrives maimed to find his son dead and his sister/lover inconsolable by his corpse. In all this he starts coming onto her and after some initial protestations over the possibility of being caught next to their son’s body she gives in and they energetically fuck each other’s brains out. This is fucked up to an impressive degree, yes, but it does not make either character completely irredeemable. That’s the thing with rape in fiction: it cannot be justified. Murder, sure. Even the killing of innocent children can be carried out by a sympathetic character (usually as the lesser of two evils) but there is not a single sound justification that can be found for rape. We all hated Joffrey, we wanted him to die in a painful way and eventually we got it, but no-one ever wanted to see Joffrey being violated. Because that would have been unpleasant.

I think a good example of what I mean is one of my favourite films: Once Upon a Time In America, Sergio Leone’s lifetime-spanning gangster epic. Roughly two-thirds of the way through this film the protagonist Noodles is attempting to woo a childhood friend of his who reveals that she is leaving New York to pursue her dreams of acting. Noodles, who up to this point has been an interesting and morally complex character, responds by raping her in a drawn-out, very uncomfortable scene which destroys any sympathy you may have had left for him. But that it the point. Noodles is meant to become irredeemable. We still watch him because we want to see how his story ends but we are not meant to sympathise with him as it comes to a close. Unlike Jaime.

The rest of the episode wasn’t a whole lot better. The new wildling tribe are so cartoonishly villainous that they are impossible to take seriously, Aiden Gillen appears to be taking the piss by this point, the Hound mugging people was just unpleasant to watch and Benioff and Weiss prove once more that they have absolutely no idea how to write a gay character, as yet again we have the point of Oberyn’s bisexuality hammered into our skulls with a fucking piledriver. This isn’t even the show’s infamous sexposition as there is no sex, apparently our writers are just too insecure to have two men actually fuck onscreen. After Loras and Renly, whose may as well have been renamed Slutty McFucksaround and Wimp respectively we also have Oberyn’s girlfriend Ellaria Sand, whose literally only character trait is ‘fucks women’. This episode isn’t dark. It’s stupid. Unpleasant. Written by people who have no fucking clue what they are doing with this material and subject matter and if this course continues I will start burning my bridges with this show like a glowing child just turned up and told me to pick a colour.

Transcendence

This review contains some spoilers.

Really, I should have seen this coming. A first-time director with a hundred million dollar budget; when has that ever worked out? Catwoman? Eragon? 47 Ronin? And now Wally Pfister, a man who rose to fame as Nolan’s cinematographer (whose name is certainly why this thing got greenlit), has decided to step into the directors chair. I had high hopes for this film based purely on the director’s long-time collaboration with my lord and saviour but the finished product just goes to prove that Pfister is no Zhang Yimou.

The basic plot, as you may have gathered from the excellent trailer (but not the fucking awful posters), is that Johnny Depp (appearing slightly drugged here given the slurred, undefinable accent and slightly vacant facial expressions throughout) is an AI researcher who is assassinated by an neo-luddite group controlled by Kate Mara, but before his untimely death his wife (Rebecca Hall) uploads his brain to their AI supercomputer and then the internet, where he starts going a bit HAL. This is not a bad premise to be honest and raises a number of interesting issues regarding the nature of consciousness, what makes us human and transhumanism. Too bad the movie has no idea what it wants to say about them. It pays lip-service to the question of whether iDepp is actually him or just a simulacrum but it never wrings anything satisfactory from it, or any of its other potentially interesting moral quandaries which it does not seem to have any idea what to do with.

Character-wise the film is remarkably thin. Depp starts off alright while human (although the accent is distracting as all hell) but Depp.exe is remarkably more one-note and the film can’t decide whether it wants him to be the villain or not, laying on the creepy cult imagery as he builds himself an army of followers (also, what is it about supervillains making armies out of disabled people they cure? Iron Man 3 did this as well and it made it hard for me to want Stark to kill them there) but then attempting some kind of tragic monster thing in the Universal movies vein closer to the end, which by that point does not fit in the slightest.

Rebecca Hall is a bit better, although she seems to only have two modes in this film, anxious and crying, and for most of the second half of the film she, like the rest of the cast just get to sit there looking increasingly worried by whatever Will is doing at that point. Paul Bettany, as their long time friend, is pretty much the same, only really serving to invent the macguffin  for the climax. He is also the most easily convinced man in the world, as after voicing a token objection to Hall’s plan to upload a sapient AI who’s stated first goal is Wall Street to the internet just leaves when she tells him to so she can get on with it. Shortly after he gets kidnapped by Jenny McCarthy and friends and joins their side without much persuasion either.

Cillian Murphy turns up as an FBI agent for a bit but does bugger-all beside call the soldiers in for the climax (are we noticing a pattern here?) and Morgan Freeman does literally nothing but stand around. Neither does Kate Mara (besides convincing Paul Bettany that Depp is evil) who only gets to say that she hates AIs occasionally before pretty much disappearing from the story.

For a plot that is meant to be about creating intelligence this film tends to lack it. After being uploaded to the cloud, Depp makes a fortune on the stock market using a company in his wife’s name which they then spend on building a massive underground laboratory complex next to a small desert town complete with a field of solar panels visible by even the most outdated surveillance satellite. This is noticed by absolutely no-one for two years besides Kate Mara; not the FBI (who are probably wondering why the AI researcher whose partner was just assassinated for their work disappeared), the taxman (who will always track you down) or health and safety, who generally take a dim view of involuntary human experimentation.

This is also very plainly a script about science and technology written by someone who is neither a scientist nor works with computers. Depp apparently manages to infiltrate every computer in the world via the internet, meaning that the soldiers at the end come armed with hummers and old-fashioned artillery as apparently every piece of military technology made during the last twenty years is capable of accessing facebook and is not manually controlled (or were tanks and planes just beyond this film’s hundred million dollar budget?). Depp also has plot convenience wi-fi, as one of his cyborg minions is captured underground by putting him in a makeshift Faraday cage (because the soldiers have never heard of signal jammers or chaff), which disconnects him from Depp but also prevents him from re-connecting once he has left it and stops the regenerative nano-machines Depp has imbued him with for reasons which are never explained.

Interestingly, the film starts three years after the climax (which involves one of the most contrived dilemmas I have seen in some time), with a post-computer world being completely fucked following the loss of the internet. There’s no power and food shortages and the place rather resembles the world of The Last of Us minus the zombies, so apparently it is impossible to generate electricity or use a computer without the internet. Jack Palgen, the writer on this thing, does appear to be old enough to remember a time before social networking but apparently his pretensions to tragedy overcame his common sense here. He’s also the screenwriter for Prometheus 2, so it may still turn out better than the first one.

As far as Pfister himself goes, his direction isn’t awful or incompetent (unlike Carl Rinsch), just not very good. As with all cinematographers-turned-directors he delivers a pretty film, although as many critics have pointed out there is not a single memorable image in it. One of his biggest problems (which appears to be common with first-time directors on a huge budget) is that he has no sense of scale. This is meant to be a global story affecting the whole world, but it feels extremely constrained, which I think in part may be due to a preference for close-up shots in scenes which would be far better served with wider angles (a montage of neo-luddite’s being arrested feels like it’s all happening within a hundred metre radius). It really feels like a high-budgeted TV production along the lines of Game of Thrones, where it’s clear they don’t have the budget to show everything so they fill their time with smaller scenes and use the occasional CG wide-shot of a city or army to imply a larger world outside the frame. Pacing is another problem here as well, as the story just kind of lurches along without much of a defined structure (despite seeming to have three distinct acts). Pfister also is not very skilled at action, with what little there is in this film feeling very static and without the sense of wonder he is clearly aiming for.

In conclusion, Transcendence is a superficial, muddled and thematically incoherent attempt at intelligent science fiction without a whole lot to offer except for the knowledge that we will soon be seeing Pfister’s camerawork again in Nolan’s next movie after Interstellar and I look forward to that at least.