Film Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Also known as: Spider-Man: No More, Spider-Man 2: Lives, The Amazing Spider-Man (working title), Spider-Man 2.1 (recut version)
Release Date: June 25th, 2004 (Lithuania)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Alvin Sargent, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Alfred Molina, Donna Murphy, J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Dylan Baker, Daniel Gillies, Vanessa Ferlito, Elya Baskin, Hal Sparks, Joel McHale, Emily Deschanel, Joey Diaz, Chloe Dykstra, John Landis (cameo), Willem Dafoe (cameo), Cliff Robertson (cameo), Phil LaMarr (uncredited), Peyton List (uncredited)

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 127 Minutes, 135 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“We need a hero, couragous sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero, people line up for ’em, cheer for them, scream their names, and years later tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who told them to HOLD ON a second longer. I believe theres a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble. And finally gets us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want most, even our dreams.” – May Parker

I always thought of Spider-Man 2 as the superior film between the first two. However, having revisited them for the first time in over a decade, I think they break even. And that’s a good thing, as the first was a wee bit better than I remembered and this one was just about the same.

I like the story and the stakes in the first one better but this film has what I consider to be one of the greatest moments in superhero film history, if not the greatest.

That moment comes at the end of the train battle where Spider-Man exposes himself to the people on the train while he is risking his own life to save them from a horrible death. Those people, in a very powerful moment, stand up for Spidey and vow to protect his identity. Shit gets me misty… every fucking time.

The rest of the film is pretty great too and while I get bored with there being a lot of romance in superhero films, Sam Raimi did a stupendous job with these pictures, as he truly captures the emotions and the heartbreak of the characters, showing both sides of the equation equally and fairly.

A lot of the credit also has to go to Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, who played these roles greatly while also having incredible chemistry. Sure, their story gets a bit fucked up in the third film but I’ll review that one in about a week.

Another thing I like about the film is how Raimi foreshadows things to come. Spider-Man is exposed to the public, which sort of foreshadows his identity becoming known to his love Mary Jane and his best friend Harry Osborn, who has vowed to get revenge on Spider-Man for the accidental death of his father.

It also foreshadows stories to come after this film by including Dr. Curt Connors, the man who would become The Lizard, as well as J. Jonah Jameson’s son, who would become Man-Wolf. Granted, Raimi never got to explore these characters more, as Spider-Man 4 and the films following it were eventually cancelled after the third movie misfired pretty hard.

It also felt like the groundwork was being laid for a Sinister Six story, which would become a focal point of The Amazing Spider-Man films that followed but that series was also cancelled in favor of another reboot that brought Spidey into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe via Captain America: Civil War and his own solo films and guest appearances that followed.

Anyway, getting back on the topic of this film, my only real criticisms of it are the same as the previous one and that’s the visual style of it and how it looks overly copper. Granted, that feels like it is less of a problem here and the visual aesthetic was a bit more fine tuned and natural looking.

Apart from that, I just don’t like Dr. Octopus as much as I liked the Green Goblin. Both characters had weird designs and outfits in these movies but with the films being so good, you quickly look passed that. But Octopus feels kind of generic and uninspiring. While I like Alfred Molina in the role, I felt like he needed more meat to chew on and a much better look. In the end, however, you do really sympathize with him when he realizes what he’s done and decides to undo his work in an effort to save New York City and redeem himself in the eyes of Peter Parker, a kid he likes and respects.

Wrapping up two movies, this picture has an absolutely perfect ending. If the series ended here, it probably would’ve been remembered even more fondly but we did get that third film that derailed everything and it sort of left a stink on top of the series. Plus, after this, it would’ve felt almost criminal not to continue on.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Film Review: I Come In Peace (1990)

Also known as: Dark Angel (original title), Lethal Contact (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1990 (South Korea)
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley
Written by: Jonathan Tydor, David Koepp
Music by: Jan Hammer
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues, Jay Bilas, Michael J. Pollard, Al Leong

Vision PDG, Epic Productions, Trans World Entertainment, Triumph Releasing Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Either you’re Santa Claus or you’re dead, pal.” – Jack Caine

At least this movie isn’t as bad as its poster.

That’s not to say that this is a good film by any stretch of the imagination but I enjoyed it for what it was, a pretty mindless, hard-edged action flick starring Dolph Lundgren at the height of his earlier career.

The story follows a badass, no nonsense, “fuck playing by the book”, ’80s movie cop. He discovers that an alien drug dealer has arrived on Earth and is killing people to steal endorphins from their brains, as that’s a powerful narcotic on his home planet. He uses some snake-like tendril that shoots out of his wrist and sucks the endorphin juice out of humans like a crazy straw.

The alien has a goofy weapon that is basically a CD disc what flies around, slitting throats and chopping off body parts. He also has a pretty badass gun that looks like a fairly normal pistol but it fires more like an attack from an Apache helicopter. It’s absolutely ridiculous but it definitely gives this film a few extra badass points.

Let’s not talk about the acting, the direction or the paper thin plot that makes you suspend disbelief at record levels. The quality of those things are exactly what one would expect from a cheesy sci-fi action flick from this era.

I like the tone and the visual style of the movie. It’s certainly derivative of the other schlock-y goodness one can compare this film to but it utilizes these things much better than average and setting it in Houston, as opposed to L.A., New York or Chicago, was a nice touch that gave the viewer something cool to look at, as far as the background environments.

Honestly, this isn’t a motion picture that I’d really recommend to anyone, other than those that really like the combination of the action and sci-fi genres from a time when action films were still unapologetic, balls out bonanzas. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dolph Lundgren action pictures of the era, as well as other R-rated sci-fi action flicks.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 4

Published: June 5th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 272 Pages

Review:

I’ve been blowing through these Fantastic Four – Masterworks collections pretty fast. But these represent the collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at its best while also showcasing the earliest stages of the Marvel universe, as it was still developing, taking shape and hitting its stride.

This one kicks off with the second Fantastic Four annual and then collects issues 31 through 40.

I’ve always wanted to read the second annual and man, it did not disappoint. It actually tells the origin of Doctor Doom, as well as showing him meet Rama-Tut a.k.a. Kang the Conqueror for the first time. I knew enough of what was in this massive 72-page issue but I never got to read it until now.

Beyond that, this gives us more Namor, the return of the Mole Man, as well as a great Skrull story. Probably my two favorite things come in the second half though, which sees the debut of the villainous Frightful Four, as well as the first time that the Fantastic Four meet Daredevil, which is a great story on its own.

This was a real high point for me in the overall grander Fantastic Four mythos. A lot of cool stuff happens and this just keeps building up the Marvel universe in a great way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Film Review: Weird Science (1985)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchel-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rusler, Suzanne Snyder, Judie Aronson, Vernon Wells, Michael Berryman, Wallace Langham (as Wally Ward)

Silver Pictures, Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?” – Lisa

This was one of those films that I used to watch constantly when I was a kid. I loved this picture and, at the time, it was one of the coolest movies I had ever seen.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it but I still really enjoyed it, even if it’s much harder for me to suspend disbelief as much as this film requires. But it doesn’t really need to make sense if you just surrender yourself over to the absurdity of it.

However, it has not aged well and it almost feels like a relic from the ’80s in a bad way. Also, out of John Hughes’ four big teen movies of that decade, I’d have to consider this one the worst, even though it was once my favorite.

The story is just absolutely bonkers and doesn’t make a lick of logical sense but the spectacle of it makes it entertaining.

My main problem isn’t that two teens make a girl using “science” it’s just how half-assed and convenient the whole process seemed. As a kid, you don’t think about this shit. However, as an adult, you do and if most people are like me, your brain will get more literal thinking with age. That’s not really going to bode well for this film’s longevity, as its audience has grown up and moved on. Well, maybe not those that are so addicted to nostalgia that they have to continually live vicariously through the past.

It probably sounds like I’m shitting on the movie and I don’t mean to. It’s fine for what it is and for its era, especially considering the age of its audience at the time. But even seeing this now, it’s hard not to like these characters, even if their journey seems kind of pointless and they don’t seem to actually learn anything important other than boners can make a man brave.

Kelly LeBrock is great in this and honestly, she’s the glue that keeps this movie from falling apart. But, as an adult, you start to see her character through a new lens and her story is pretty tragic and incredibly fucked up.

Here we have a supremely intelligent woman that was created by two horny teenagers that take her for granted, use her and then dump her less than 48 hours later, leaving her to wander the Earth with her magic powers and no real human connection with anyone. Sure, she’s Einstein level intelligent with beauty and personality but this sounds like the origin of a horror monster. And maybe, just maybe… there’s some sequel potential there. Just send me a check, I’ll see myself out and go straight to the bank, Universal.

Anyway, this is a fun, dumb movie that might not work as well in 2020, as it did in 1985, but it still probably deserves the beloved status it’s built up over the years. Despite my new take on it, I’ll still probably revisit it once in a while. But that’s also because it’s hard for me to sometimes resist the nostalgia bug even though I can see it for what it is.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s John Hughes movies, as well as ’80s and ’90s teen comedies.

Film Review: Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Also known as: Tetsuo (original title), The Ironman (alternative English title)
Release Date: June, 1989 (Italy – Fantafestival)
Directed by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Written by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Music by: Chu Ishikawa
Cast: Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Shinya Tsukamoto

Japan Home Video, K2 Spirit, Kaijyu Theater, 67 Minutes (cut down version), 69 Minutes, 77 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“Together, we can turn this fucking world to rust!” – Metals Fetishist

While there are some things I appreciate about this film, I actually hate it quite a bit.

It’s an absolute clusterfuck and while that’s what it set out to be, that doesn’t mean that putting the idea on celluloid is a good one.

This film looks like an industrial band’s music video from the late ’80s. And I’m not talking about a good industrial band on a major label, I’m talking about an unsigned band of college kids that have little to no talent that “borrowed” some film equipment for the weekend.

In fact, my only real experience in seeing any part of this film was when clips would be playing on screens in goth clubs in the late ’90s and early ’00s. In that setting with goth rock and industrial blaring through the club, it worked. As a film, not so much and in fact, not at all.

The only thing in this film I can really give props to is some of the special effects. While they’re not mind blowing by any stretch of the imagination, they are at least effective. The drill penis is a scary appendage no matter what side of it you’re on.

Apart from that, this is a shrill, spastic and seizure inducing fever dream. It’s really hard to watch and to digest, as none of it makes a lick of sense and it’s insane just for the hell of it because, you know… it’s fuckin’ art, maaan…

This is pretentious crap that gives films like Eraserhead some actual merit because at least there was something competent in that picture that allowed its director to grow into something better and more refined. Granted, I can’t say whether or not Shinya Tsukamoto actually got better, as I have no urge to delve deeper into his oeuvre after this unwatchable skull fuck.

If you have ever wanted to stare straight into the twitching eye of insanity while loaded up on a cocktail of uppers and hallucinogenics, than this might be your movie. But if it is, stay the fuck away from me, please.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: industrial music videos by bands that never got signed, as well as Japanese surrealist gore flicks.

Comic Review: He-Man: The Eternity War

Published: 2014-2016
Written by: Dan Abnett, Rob David
Art by: Pop Mhan
Based on: Masters of the Universe by Mattel

DC Comics, 341 Pages

Review:

I didn’t have the highest of expectations going into this massive story arc but I’m really happy to say that this was one badass read! I loved it! It also really reinvigorated my love of everything revolving around Masters of the Universe, which was one of the first franchises I went crazy for as a kid.

However, other than that fairly satisfactory reboot animated series from 2002 or so, there hasn’t been much that has really re-energized my love of the property. As an adult, going back to the original cartoon was met with some disappointment, as it doesn’t play well for a forty-ish year-old man.

Maybe I should have expected more, as I typically enjoy Dan Abnett’s writing, specifically his recent run on Aquaman, which included a segment of the larger DC Comics universe that one could say is similar to the universe of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

Abnett impressed me greatly, as he really taps into the core of the MOTU mythos and really gives all of these characters life and purpose. I guess this is set after a previous story in the DC Comics MOTU canon but I didn’t realize that until after I already started this. But I’d like to go back and give that stuff a read, even though the earlier stories weren’t penned by Abnett.

Anyway, Abnett took a well-crafted world and expanded on it, adding a lot of really good context to the larger scheme of things while also weaving together these characters in new and interesting ways. It was cool seeing how their relationships and rivalries have evolved since this was presented in its original animated form. I especially liked how She-Ra was tied to Skeletor and Hordak and then the swerves that the villains kept pulling on one another.

This was a masterfully articulated story of epic proportions without a dull moment and with each issue building off of the previous ones, while never losing steam or getting too far ahead of itself. It was grandiose in the great way that great comics can be but it didn’t just become pointless spectacle like so many big event comics come across in the modern era. Frankly, it is one of my favorite things that Dan Abnett has ever worked on.

Additionally, the art by Pop Mhan is absolutely spectacular and stunning. His character designs were perfect, as was his dynamic action, backgrounds and use of color. There isn’t a single bad thing that I can say about the art.

This is a near perfect storm where everything kind of went right. This is a great example of how to make a great comic book based off of an intellectual property that isn’t directly owned by the publisher. The writers of I.P.s like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars should really take note.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other modern Masters of the Universe comics.

Film Review: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Also known as: Planet of the Man, Planet of the Apes Revisited (working titles)
Release Date: April 23rd, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Ted Post
Written by: Paul Dehn, Mort Abrahams
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston, Paul Richards, Victor Buono, Gregory Sierra

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.” – Mendez

From memory, I always considered this to be the worst of the Planet of the Apes movies. I’m pretty sure I’ll still see it that way, once I get done revisiting the original five pictures.

This is just a really weird film and a major misfire, after its great predecessor and its mostly enjoyable sequels. Plus, this ends in a way that sort of kills the franchise. I’m not sure how they explain away this film’s ending in the next movie because I haven’t seen it in years, but this movie ends with the destruction of Earth.

Anyway, Charlton Heston returns but he’s only in the opening of the film and then in the third act. The lead role was given to James Franciscus, who looks an awfully lot like Heston, even though he’s a new character. However, he eventually meets Heston and works with him in trying to free themselves from the apes.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is so bizarre, though. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

Apart from the apes, we meet a new group of antagonists, which are humans with psychic powers due to their exposure to radioactivity from Earth being nuked by mankind, earlier in this timeline’s history. The people also wear masks to cover up their disfigured faces. However, their masks are realistic versions of what their faces would look like without being destroyed by radiation. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s just a stupid plot device so that the studio could cheap out and only use makeup effects sparingly.

In the larger Apes mythos, it’s almost best to ignore this picture. It doesn’t really fit with what comes after it and it threw a curveball into the narrative and concept that was so bad, it was never revisited or re-adapted in future remakes.

Apart from that, this is still a good looking film for its time but it’s still pretty obvious that the studio was trying to do things on the cheap: recycling previous set pieces and props while using less makeup effects and diverting away from the apes as the biggest focal point.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Video Game Review: Batman: Return of the Joker (NES)

I never played this game and I guess I kind of missed out, as I probably would’ve really liked this, back in the day.

I was a fan of the first Sunsoft Batman game for the original Nintendo, as it came out and was tied to the 1989 Tim Burton movie.

I never realized that this one was a direct sequel to it and I guess that makes it exist in an alternate timeline than the cinematic universe of the same era. Granted, these games are very different than the ’89 movie in that they have a very sci-fi/cyberpunk aesthetic and deviate from the film’s story quite a bit.

So in this version of a sequel, the Joker has survived. They’ve also given him more of a comic book look, as opposed to using Jack Nicholson’s likeness. I’m assuming that was because the licensing fees to use his visage once again was too pricey and unnecessary in the grander scheme of things.

The game looks very similar to its predecessor; however, they’ve given Batman a larger sprite and stripped away the mechanics only to replace them with something worse. The weapons system may seem more advanced but it’s kind of confusing, tedious and annoying. Also, you can’t bounce off of walls and scale them like you could in the previous game.

This also adds in a few jetpack shooter stages that play more like a Gradius game than a normal Batman title. It’s kind of cool but I would’ve preferred having more standard levels with some good design. In fact, the levels in this game feel very small and are conquered too quickly.

Most of the bosses are just a big pain in the ass. Additionally, the first time you fight the Joker, he flies around in a pod like Dr. Robotnik from the Sonic games. It’s not cool and it’s pretty lame. The second time you fight the Joker, you basically fight a Joker-themed super computer. It’s also lame.

This game had some promise and I mostly enjoyed it but the improvements just ended up being disappointments. I would’ve rather just gotten a redesigned version of the first game with new levels and bosses.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the previous Sunsoft Batman game for the NES

Film Review: Spider-Man (2002)

Also known as: Spider-Man: The Motion Picture (working title)
Release Date: April 30th, 2002 (Philippines premiere)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Randy Savage, Octavia Spencer, Macy Gray, Lucy Lawless, Jim Norton

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben

Spider-Man blew my mind when it came out in 2002, as the vast majority of comic book movies before it were terrible. Also, Marvel didn’t have a good track record up to this point, other than 2000’s X-Men, which was just one movie that seemed to have taken a step in the right direction.

Sam Raimi made magic, however, and seeing this for the first time in a very long time, I’ve got to say that the magic is still there. Frankly, I loved this movie in 2002 and I love it now in 2020.

Side note: how the hell is this 18 years-old already?

From top to bottom, this is a solid picture. Sure, I have some issues with the creative direction but it achieved what it set out to do, which was to tell a great origin story, close to the source material, and to entertain and give fans something spectacular.

On top of that, it’s well acted, everyone plays their parts well and even if Tobey Maguire wasn’t 100 percent perfect as Spider-Man or Peter Parker, it’s hard not to love him and become invested in his journey. I’m from the camp that really liked Tobey Maguire and I still think he’s the best live-action Spider-Man, overall.

I also thought that Willem Dafoe was genius casting as Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin. While I’m not a fan of the Goblin’s suit in the movie, as a character, his was pretty close to perfect. It actually kind of sucks that they only really got to use him in one film but the story that emerged from his demise makes up for it, as these movies become just as much about Harry Osborn’s journey, as they are Peter Parker’s.

This is just so well crafted and executed that it set the bar really high for the series. It would actually be eclipsed by the second movie, which I once considered a near masterpiece. We’ll see how I still feel about it in another week or so. Let’s try not to talk about the third film until I review that one. I have a feeling that time did it some favors in spite of its creative misfires.

Anyway, the emotional high points of this movie still hit me right in the feels and regardless of having seen this multiple times, it’s all still very effective. The Uncle Ben stuff really feels like a punch to the gut, even if you know it’s coming and you’ve already experienced it.

Apart from the Goblin costume, my only real gripe about the movie is the overly copper look to it. It’s not terrible but I’m not a fan of everything sort of looking like it was shot at sunset, excluding the night scenes. This just feels really filtered and overly vivid. It’s an obvious creative choice but it’s not one that makes the visual presentation look more like the comics. Well, maybe the comics of the time but it kind of detracts from what could’ve been a more colorful, more cheerful look to the film, more akin to the classic artwork and tone of Steve Ditko.

One thing that really stood out to me quite a bit was Danny Elfman’s score. What happened to movie scores? There really aren’t very many that are that memorable in modern times and this one just really points that out, as it’s dynamic, energetic, fun and I’d say, by this point, iconic. While it’s not on the level of Elfman’s Batman scores, it feels more refined and complex and it doesn’t come off as derivative of his older work, which some of his scores do.

Spider-Man still is one of the best superhero movies ever made. I think it’ll maintain that status forever, as it helped push Marvel properties down the right cinematic path and it exceeded 2000’s X-Men by quite a bit.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Comic Review: Earthbound: Between Two Breaths On Earth

Published: 2019
Written by: Narwhal
Art by: Narwhal

Narwhal Books, 148 Pages

Review:

I’ve backed a lot of crowdfunded comics over the last few years but this was one that I didn’t initially support. But after hearing a lot of praise for it, I figured I’d grab a copy after the initial batch had already been sold and sent out.

For the most part, this was pretty enjoyable and it’s hard not to be impressed with anyone who writes and does the art for their own creation.

While the story didn’t fully connect with me, I didn’t find it boring and actually thought it was interesting and I could see why so many people were fans of it.

Granted, this is the first of two parts and I don’t want to be too harsh as the overall narrative is still incomplete. But as its own standalone release, it builds up without a real satisfying payoff.

Additionally, the art is competent but it’s not my cup of tea. I did really like the coloring, however, and it gave this a very unique aesthetic that enriched the total experience.

I guess my biggest takeaway from this is that it is a good start but it needs more refinement. That should come with time, as long as Narwhal, this trade paperback’s creator, keeps plugging away at his craft.

It does leave me fairly enthusiastic about whatever else he could do in the future.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other recent indie sci-fi comics like Downcast, Gods & Gears, Eden, Exilium, and Feast or Famine.