The Amazing Spider-Man — Review

 

My spider-sense is telling me that we’ve seen this one before… Just ten years after the first Sam Raimi movie, Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) has taken up the reigns of the beloved arachnid franchise. If you think that having a director named “Webb” (!!!) is reason enough for this reboot, I won’t contradict you; but if you need something more, read on to see if he’s spun a good tale…

The good news is that Webb’s indie roots have infused The Amazing Spider-Man with a fresh indie vibe, setting it apart in tone from the original trilogy. It’s much less epic than either The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises (the two competing superhero movies of the summer), telling a simple origin story of how Peter Parker becomes the man behind the mask. The result is that the human elements of the film, rather than the superhero bits, really shine out; and the acting–apart from Chief of Police Stacy–is absolutely superb. (Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May are stand-out stars, bringing an incredible emotional weight to the movie.)

This emphasis on the human side of things is evident from the fact that Peter does not get bitten until over a third of the way into the movie. Giving more time to Peter Parker and less to Spider-Man, though, turns out to be a good thing. Seventeen years old, Peter loves to saunter around with his hood up and a skateboard at his side. He gets bullied, he has a silly crush on a girl in his class, and he’s smart yet also naive. Most importantly, he’s a complex and likeable person. The biggest strength of the Peter/Spider-Man character across all formats–the fact that, unlike Batman or Superman etc., Peter Parker is an everyman who we can all relate to–is wonderfully portrayed here.

Andrew Garfield, sporting awesome gravity-defying hair, brings just the right amount of vulnerability and charm to the role, confirming him as the perfect replacement for Toby Maguire. Emma Stone plays a much stronger lead female role as Gwen Stacy than we saw from the original trilogy, and the two bring a genuine chemistry to the screen together (Webb’s previous directorial position clearly coming into effect!). Both actors look a lot older than their character’s seventeen years, but it’s a niggling issue at worst.

The bad guy, Dr. Connors, played by Rhys Ifans, is an interesting character, but his transformation into the Lizard also signals a transformation into genre tropes. As a villain he’s heavy handed, and doesn’t reach the potential that the Lizard from the comics could.

The film’s visual effects are great: Spidey flips around the screen like a juiced up acrobat; the Lizard’s limbs grow and melt away realistically; and the web-shooters that Spider-Man uses are fun and flashy weapons. Simpler things like the clothing and set design of regular characters and places (such as Peter’s bedroom) are equally brilliant, creating an absorbing world that these characters can believably inhabit.

Unfortunately though, the big action sequences fall a little flat. The Lizard is big and strong and Spidey spends most of the fights running away from him. It’s not particularly tense and it ends up being formulaic. They’re not bad scenes per se; they’re just nothing we haven’t seen ten times before in similar movies.

All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie. It’s a refreshingly human take on this familiar story, but the Spider-Man action sequences aren’t as exciting as they should be. Unfortunately, it will undoubtedly emerge as the weakest of this Summer’s superhero triumvirate, but if you can stomach more spandex it’s definitely worth seeing. Expect a strong sequel 🙂

3 out of 4 stars

Advertisements

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Cover art. - Wikipedia

The Hunger Games is the new big thing in the post-Potter post-Twilight world of young adult fiction. And when the movie adaption comes out tomorrow it’s going to get even bigger. It’s based on an interesting premise: in a dystopian future 24 teenagers are thrown into a massive arena for a brutal televised fight for survival, where only 1 is allowed to leave alive. It’s easy to see how this could become such a popular new series in young fiction – but is it any good?

I won’t keep you in suspense: I must admit — that from the very start — I was pretty disappointed.

The Hunger Games suffers from a two major weaknesses: firstly, the setting of the novel; and secondly, its basic premise. Post-war USA has been split into a number of Districts and a capital city (originally named “The Capitol”…). The Capitol is super-rich and high tech, whereas the Districts live in medieval conditions, performing menial labor under the constant threat of starvation (it’s all very black and white). The fatal problem that arises is that the world Collins has created is so incredibly simple that it’s lacking in all the areas that are needed to make it believable. As far as I could tell, the people in the Districts spend all their time working or sitting at home feeling hungry. The basic components of society — community, activities, religion, socialization for God’s sake!! — are all nonexistant. The world is mechanical and empty; it’s a mere cardboard cutout propped up to justify a bunch of kids killing each other.

This brings me to my second problem: the concept of “The Hunger Games” themselves. The Capitol annually hosts a televised teenage deathmatch called “The Hunger Games” which (we’re told) keeps the Districts in line by forcing their children to kill each other. But wouldn’t this actually make them more likely to rebel? I guess not. It’s also apparently very entertaining stuff to watch for the people in The Capitol. To be honest, if I lived in The Capitol I would rather watch a nice sitcom instead. Or maybe the 6 Nations. The 6 Nations is pretty good. This fundamental premise that “The Hunger Games” are the height of entertainment just didn’t convince me at all.

The things that do work well are the action and the main character, Katniss. When the battle in the arena finally starts it’s entertaining enough. In terms of emotional impact and violence Collins is definitely pulling her punches for her younger audience, but it’s tense and exciting nonetheless. Katniss is a good protagonist, managing to be ruthlessly cold-hearted yet likable at the same time, even if she is a bit too simplistic. Peeta is quite bland (as is the romance) but he does provide a decent counterpoint to Katniss at least. The other characters are one dimensional, and the twists that I expected them to pull never materialized. I kept thinking that each competitor was appearing the way they were as a ruse — that they were lulling Katniss into a false sense of security, only to turn on her when she was vulnerable. This never happens — it’s all shockingly straightforward.

Frankly, The Hunger Games was a bit of a let down. It’s a good book but it just doesn’t live up to the hype that’s been generated about it. When it comes down to it, it’s too simple and straightforward to truly excel. Sure, it’s fun and exciting when you get to the actual arena bit (It should make a flashy movie. If the don’t censor it too much. Though they probably will. Oh well.), but the rest is mediocre at best. It’s written for teenagers, and if you’re an adult, I highly recommend that you approach it as such; you won’t find any political or philosophical exploration here. Take it all at face value, and it’ll be a short, fast-paced, and relatively enjoyable read. But nothing more.

2.5 stars

Song of the Day: Agalloch, They Escaped the Weight of Darkness

I watched Pan’s Labyrinth for the first time tonight so I was feeling pretty melancholy. This song is perfect when you’re in that dark kind of mood. It’s sad, haunting and beautiful. The style is simple; it’s a solo cello piece with the ambient noise of a river in the background. The cello is a really under-appreciated instrument which is truly beautiful when played well, as it is done here. This song is best listened to when you’re feeling somber and it’s the middle of the night. When you want to reflect on sad things.

Band of the Day: Mogwai

I felt so bad for not listening to my new Mogwai CD until now (sounds like a story!), that I decided to write a ‘Song of the Day‘ post specially dedicated to them to make amends. This song is actually one of my favorites from their album ‘Mr. Beast‘ which I’ve had for quite a while – and which I highly recommend. It’s completely instrumental, as is most of their material. They have a pretty unique sound, blending traditional rock instruments with electronic bleeps and bloops. They also use a lot of piano – and if you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I love piano!

[Kevin loves piano. Mogwai uses piano. Therefore Kevin loves Mogwai. Simple really!]

The artwork for 'Mr. Beast'.

This song is interesting because it has two distinct halves (though the same chorus is used for both, to great effect). It’s also a wonderful example of the Mogwai technique of layering waves of music on top of each other to somehow create a coherent whole. Mogwai is a band which rarely provides “easy listening” material; but when you’re in the mood, they can straddle the line between beautiful and challenging perfectly. They’re “a thinking man’s band”… with an edge.

If you’re liking what you’ve read/heard so far then I would also recommend the song ‘I Love You, I’m Going to Blow up Your School’ from their more recent album ‘The Hawk is Howling‘. They’re… intriguing titles to say the least. The first few minutes of this song are darkly peaceful… and then it explodes into a cacophonous guitar solo!! It’s a powerful showcase of the two ends of the Mogwai spectrum, and the brooding tension that their songs hold.

If you like instrumental music, check them out!

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, Review

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages

This review has actually been waiting to be written for a month now, so it’s about time I got down to publishing it. I’ll try to keep it nice and short; let’s face it, if you’ve read the other two books already then you’re probably going to read this one too!

One line summary: The Hero of Ages is a very good book. It’s noticeably better than the previous entries of the series in a couple of areas, most notably in characterization. Previously bland or secondary characters like Spook and Ten’soon get their chance to step out into the limelight – each having their own POV here – and they’re both stand-out, likable, and complex characters..

Plot-wise, I’m of two minds. Sanderson comes good on his promises and  brings every strand together masterfully here. The grand tapestry that he has been building up to is finally fully revealed. After the last twist, everything fits and everything makes sense. In fact, I would have to say that it fits too well. The plot is so carefully constructed that in a certain way it actually restricts the story. Continue reading

Impulse Buying: CDs

[P.S. (pre-script!) I’m back writing now. WOOO!!!]

I don’t know about you, but I generally consider impulse buying to be a very bad idea! So, when I went to HMV yesterday and bought a CD completely out of the blue… Well, there was a rather large amount of reckless glee involved! And you know what? It actually turned out to be really good!

There’s been a lot of rumors going around that HMV is closing down in Ireland. Considering the amount of downloading that’s going on (both legally and illegally), I’m not that surprised. It’s just easier to buy (or steal) music online. I use iTunes, and it’s really handy to listen to a preview of something before you buy it, or browse through related/suggested artists. I can happily spend a few hours browsing for music online before finally deciding on something. I’ve been in CD shops abroad where you can scan a CD into a preview stand and listen to it there and then, but there’s nothing like that in Ireland.

Then the other day, while cleaning out my room after the paperwork nightmare that was teaching practice, I found a lonely HMV voucher just sitting there waiting to be used.  Startled realization: better use it quick! Continue reading

Star Wars: The Old Republic; Initial Impressions: Story

Star Wars: The Old Republic is the new MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) from Bioware, the developer responsible for such games as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I was a big fan of World of Warcraft back in the day, so I’ve always been interested in trying out a new MMO. As I’m also a big Star Wars fan, this game was perfect for me! In this ‘First Impressions’ series I’m going to be taking a look at each of the different aspects of the game – starting here with Story. Continue reading

Song of the Day: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Smashing Pumpkins

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Image via Wikipedia

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKo4eT38XS4

(I found this version of the song while searching on YouTube, where the actual album version does not seem to exist! This seems to be a home video of Billy Corgan playing this song with some improvisation on his piano. The album part of the song begins at around the two minute mark. Billy is wearing a Christmas jumper in this so I thought it was rather appropriate for the time of year!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUhrDzWFsvg

(This is a cover I found that involves significantly less banging of the piano 😛 It’s pretty much identical to the album version so you might prefer listening to it instead.)

I would say that a lot of people would be surprised to hear that Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is probably my favorite song by the Smashing Pumpkins; it’s quite different from their usual fare. I’ve always loved piano music, and this song is, I think, a really beautiful example of the wonderful emotional depth that a piano can express. I don’t think anyone could argue that the piano isn’t the greatest instrument of all time. One of the things that’s so impressive about this song is that despite it only consisting of a single instrument, it has a truly full sound and quality to it (though in the actual album version there is a subtle string arrangement added in as well). It grabs you and it fills you and you feel the emotions. I think that it’s a song that is perfectly named because when you listen to it you really do experience what might be called “infinite sadness”. And any song that can touch you in that way is something that should be considered to be truly special.

1000 Gamerscore in Skyrim: Achievement Tips

Today I finally got 1000 gamerscore in Skyrim. BAM! This is the first game I’ve ever gotten all the achievements for and I’m feeling rather proud. So, I’ve decided to write this post – under the guise of offering you a few tips for the trickiest achievements – as an excuse to brag 😉 I’m a terrible person!

Most of the achievements in Skyrim are fairly easy to get; you just have to spend time doing the quests to get them. There’s a couple of ones that are a bit tricky though, and there are a few things you can do to make the process much less arduous and painful. Here’s some of my tips for doing them: Continue reading

Christmas Gift Ideas: Books

As any of you who have read my blogs or short stories have probably gathered, I am a massive fan of fantasy and sci-fi novels! In this post I want to suggest some of my favorites to anyone who is thinking of buying a book for a fantasy lover close to their hearts this Christmas 😉 Or, maybe you’re a fantasy lover yourself – in which case you should seriously consider spending a couple of the book tokens you might get for Christmas on these too!

Anyway, these are my 5 current favorite fantasy/sci-fi series:

Continue reading