SportsAlcohol.com’s Editorial Summit 3 coincided with opening day for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In a discussion moderated by Marisa, we discuss the problems we had with the movie, how great Emma Stone is, the myth of the multiple villain problem, and much more.
When it was announced that the romantic interest in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie would be Mary Jane Watson, some nerds objected. Mary Jane and Peter Parker had been married in the comics for a while, but they considered Gwen Stacy (who competed with MJ for Pete’s affections and tragically died in 70’s) Parker’s true love. They eventually got their way with Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man, which used Gwen (I assume) to have some superficial differences from the movie franchise it was rebooting just five years after it ended. Both times, I was by myself, shouting into the darkness: “What About Betty Brant?”
When Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man premiered in July 2012, the general reaction seemed to be: well, it’s better than Spider-Man 3, obviously. A few passionate defenders called Amazing a better, more faithful representation of the Peter Parker and Spidey of the comic books than the Sam Raimi take, but for the most part, the movie seems to have been met with something between an affectionate shrug and an encouraging smile. But at least it was better than Spider-Man 3. Obviously.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (for serious, you guys still aren’t going with The Spectacular Spider-Man for a sequel title?) opens this weekend to kick off the summer movie season, and while the early reviews seem a bit more mixed than its predecessor’s, it almost certainly won’t be treated with the same level of derision as Spider-Man 3. Obviously.
Now, I haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2 yet. There will be a SportsAlcohol.com editorial summit on Friday night to determine what the deal with this movie is. But I have seen The Amazing Spider-Man, and the thing about that movie is: it’s not as good as Spider-Man 3. Not nearly.
The thing about Spider-Man 3 is: it’s actually pretty good.
Not as good as Spider-Man and certainly not as good as Spider-Man 2. To be sure, Spider-Man 3 is the weakest of Raimi’s de facto trilogy, and has two major problems that feed into each other: overcrowding and retconning. Before we get to the good stuff, these problems should be addressed.
The supposed problem of villain overcrowding has been noted at least since Batman Returns in 1992, and indeed, the first series of Batman movies seemed to add bad guys indiscriminately for easy stakes-raising. But as Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has shown, multiple villains don’t have to mean jammed-up storylines: that trilogy managed to include Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, the Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Mr. Zsasz, Bane, Carmine Falcone, and Catwoman. Some had bigger roles than others, of course, but that’s pretty much the same number of villains that populate the Burton/Schumacher films.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 adheres more to the Schumacher model of villains, only it’s applied to the entire cast. Apart from the introductions and transformations of Flint Marko (the Sandman) and Eddie Brock (Venom) and the revival of the Green Goblin in the guise of Harry Osborn, Spider-Man 3 adds Gwen Stacy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and her police-captain father while continuing to utilize its beloved supporting characters (Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Curt Connors) and, if anything, upping the screentime afforded to Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Watson. The movie also serves its themes of internal conflict by having several main characters toggle back and forth between personalities, essentially piling on additional characters even when familiar ones are onscreen: Peter Parker bonds with an alien symbiote that brings out a dark side to his personality. Harry Osborn loses his memory (and thirst for vengeance against Peter/Spider-Man), then regains it. Mary Jane has a real flirtation with Harry, then is manipulated by him when he re-evils.
The movie has so little actual room for its characters that it ret-cons them into the earlier films whenever possible. Flint Marko turns out to be involved in the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben, just to give him some convenient incentive to seek symbiote-encouraged revenge. Less of a direct retcon but perhaps even more ridiculous, Bernard Houseman (John Paxton), the Osborn butler for the entire series, decides late in the film to come forward and tell Harry that his father was a murderous lunatic and that Parker did not kill him, and for some reason this and only this can convince Harry to renounce his evil ways (and for some reason Bernard did not see fit to share this information sooner).
Individually, most of the movie’s characters get a moment or three where they shine. Narratively, though, Spider-Man 3 is a mess. Both of the overcrowding and retconning stem from a script that seems unfinished at best; check out that patchwork bit where local news narrates Spider-Man’s big climactic fight with Venom and Sandman. There is also, as mentioned, some whiplash-inducing twists and reversals between Peter, Harry, and MJ in terms of who is wronging who and for what reason.
AND YET: Narrative is overrated sometimes. Spider-Man 3 is a lot of fun and far more good than bad. It came out a year after X-Men: The Last Stand, and for some reason that movie got a pass as a mild disappointment from a lot of fans, while Spider-Man 3 is still held up as something as a disaster. It’s not a disaster! It’s a pretty good movie with a pretty weak script! Surely you’ve heard of this practice before. It also takes Spider-Man to some new places, which is a lot more than I can say for The Amazing Spider-Man insisting that it’s taking a different approach while more or less remaking the first Raimi movie with a minimum or imagination. If we’re going to say that Marc Webb didn’t make a terrible Spider-Man movie, then we as a culture need to admit that Sam Raimi never made a terrible Spider-Man movie.
Ten Great Things about Spider-Man 3, In No Particular Order
By now, everyone knows the deal with Transcendence: Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), while making strides in the field of artificial intelligence, is killed by anti-AI loonies, forcing those who love him to upload his consciousness and connect it to the internet.
This premise invites obvious comparisons to last year’s Her. It deals with the repercussions of giving AI access to the culmination of human knowledge through the internet, and it explores how a person–in Transcendence‘s case, it’s wife Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall)–could be in love with a bodyless, all-knowing entity.
But there’s one way that these movies are similar that no one seems to be talking about: They both have super weird fashion choices. In Her‘s case, it’s intentional. The movie’s affininty for high-waisted pants show that we’re not exactly in the here-and-now. With Transcendence, I’m not exactly sure what’s going on.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
A couple of weeks ago, the Hold Steady, a Minneapolis-by-way-of-Brooklyn indie rock band that sings about lost teenagers, drifting adults, various scenes, and other bands, put out their sixth record, Teeth Dreams. It’s their first album in four years, and basically the only time any of the band’s fans have had to wait any real appreciable amount of time for something new; the first five came out in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010, never more than two years apart. This daunting pace was eventually slowed by some lineup shifts, extensive touring, lyricist and singer Craig Finn taking a solo-record detour, and, you know, life and stuff. The first three Hold Steady records are, to this fan’s ears, basically masterpieces, and the others are pretty damn good, too; it’s probably inevitable that the band would need a break from eighteen-month album cycles.
In celebration of this fresh batch of songs, the editors of SportsAlcochol.com decided to poll some other Hold Steady fans and come up with a definitive Top 25 Hold Steady Songs (So Far). Fourteen people, including many writers and zero professional music critics, composed top ten lists that were either weighted (if ranked) or distributed equally (if not). Points were tallied, songs were ordered, ties were broken by number of list mentions, cases were made, and, probably, feelings were hurt.
With a band that so smartly engages with the pleasures and dangers of nostalgia, there’s a very real danger and palpable pleasure that a list like this becomes a catalog of greatest hits from everyone’s favorite couple of albums — mid-aughts nostalgia for nostalgia about a time, nonexistent for anyone participating in this poll (as far as I know) when the eighties almost killed us. As to whether that actually happened, well, read on. Individual top tens seemed like the right number to ask for, given that, by my count, the band has fewer than 100 original tunes — but it nonetheless forced us all to make some hard choices. I will say that while no songs from Teeth Dreams made the list, consider this: “Oaks,” the new album’s nine-minute closer, came close, outscoring several stone-cold Hold Steady classics in the process. That seems to me a sign that this band will continue making great songs for years to come. My personal pick for a future classic: “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” the propulsive narrative that opens Teeth Dreams with classic severe understatement. The point us: we compose this list not to eulogize the band on the tenth anniversary of their debut record, Almost Killed Me (it came out April 20, 2004), but to pay tribute as they set out on their latest tour.
I wrote a bunch about Divergent the week it came out, and then I found out that my thirteen-year-old cousin Abby is super into Divergent so I decided I should interview and get the scoop about what I was missing by only seeing the movie. Abby reads a lot and is awesome. Herewith, our chat:
JESSE: So when did you first read the Divergent books?
ABBY: Over the summer.
JESSE: How did you find out about them?
ABBY: I saw one of my friends had read it, and I saw stuff on the internet that said they were really good books.
JESSE: And I assume you’ve read all three by now?
ABBY: Yeah. It was quite the wait to get to read Allegiant though. That came out in October.
JESSE: Did you know then that a movie was coming out?
ABBY: I can’t quite remember…I don’t think I knew then but after I had read it I saw something online.
JESSE: And generally you were super happy with how the movie came out?
ABBY: Yeah, pretty much. Only a couple scenes I thought would have been really good to be put in the movie.
JESSE: You mentioned something about a butter knife scene. What was that about?
-Definitions of words explained 60% fewer times
-Zipline sequence shot with real IMAX cameras
-Zipline sequence shot entirely as POV to avoid bad green screen
-Someone pointing out that Tris may be Divergent, but her hair is Dauntless
-Billy Zane cast instead of poor and weirdly shaped substitute Jai Courtney
-Long sequence with Shailene Woodley alone in dystopian wilderness a la the first half hour of Riddick
-Longer bird-fighting sequence, possibly including bird-fu (not to be confused with bird flu)
-Miles Teller cast in one of the main roles tailor made for an actor with genuine charisma
-Four contracts bird blu
-Ending with cut to title card DIVERGENT. By “ending” I also mean possibly individual scenes, not just the movie
-More complicated scheme of mirrors that would necessitate at least 25 more takes to the camera
The movie Divergent comes out this week. Before the movies of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games came out, I read the books to orient myself in the beloved world of these properties. I have not read Divergent. But I have seen the trailer a bunch of times. I am seeing a press screening of the movie tonight so I thought I should explain what I think this movie is going to be like.
What I Assume Happens in the Movie Divergent Based Only On Watching the Trailer a Bunch of Times
Backstory delivered by opening narration: 100 years ago, there was some kind of war, possibly topiary in nature. Then someone declared color-war and divided everyone by their shirts.
Shailene Woodley plays a character who I think is called Tris, a girl who gets up on roofs and admires the peace topiary while also kind of wondering what it all means, also is maybe kind of Amish or something. She is almost ready to go to vocational school and her affectionate boss at the barn where she works is played by Ashley Judd.
On orientation day, everyone and their families, or bosses if they don’t have families, goes to hear a lecture from Kate Winslet’s character, who I will assume is called the Peacekeeper. She explains the rules of color-war and then all the teenagers, even the ones from the Amish districts, have to go get tested to figure out what team they’re on. So the teens get tested on skills such as getting injections, knowing object permanence in a world of mirrors, dog-hugging, and hitting floors when you fall on them.
So, I’ve said on this site a few times that creators should be brave enough to stand up to their fans. I’ve begged Sherlock‘s Stephan Moffatt, for example, to keep the focus of the show away from the Sherlock/Watson bromance—their love for each other is only moving if commented on sparingly—and I’ve stated that Veronica Mars works best when Veronica’s love life isn’t the centerpiece of the action (again, a little goes a long way). If I could add a third example to complete this triumvirate, I’d say that Marvel should be wary of giving in to fans’ luuuurve of Loki. Like everything else mentioned above, Loki is great, but most effective in a subplot or as a side-character. He’s charismatic, yes, but he’s not a hero—making him one would diminish what’s interesting about him.
Anyway, at SportsAlcohol.com, we’ve created a shorthand for the idea that fans shouldn’t get what they want: #TeamPiz. I’ve learned that this makes some people on the internet very, very angry.
I think part of the anger is the idea that I’m telling other people that they shouldn’t get what they want. As someone who is more interested in mysteries than romance, who am I to tell people who are into epic love stories that they shouldn’t have their romances?
In reality, though, I developed my “people should never get what they want” theory based on something I did to myself.