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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Live Tweeting The London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

A bottle of wine, some fish and chips, Twitter: all I needed to live-Tweet the Opening Ceremonies of the Games of the XXX Olympiad directed by Danny Boyle. Pip pip!

You mustn't look up Her Royal Highness' skirt and see her royal knickers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises



"There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne."

The Dark Knight Rises, the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, as it is now known, is like a massive jigsaw puzzle. Not all the pieces quite fit, some are jammed right in there to make for a scraggly patchwork. But when one steps back and sees the big picture, it's worthy of awe. Nolan and his screenwriter brother Jonathan have the brass balls to conclude their story about Batman, honoring the tropes of what has come before while blazing new directions. The story of Batman, and more importantly of Bruce Wayne, comes full circle, and in its final breath, The Dark Knight Rises does rise above its flaws and achieves a kind of magnificence.

The Dark Knight Rises pulls freely from Batman comic books of the 1990s, such as "Knightfall", where Bane breaks Batman's back, and "No Man's Land", when Gotham City is cut off from the rest of the world after a cataclysmic earthquake. Yet the Nolans craft an ambitious Batman story we've never quite seen before; if it angers some Batman fanboy "purists", it's because the Nolans treat Bruce Wayne not as a "superhero" but as a person first. A person who has to regain what's extraordinary about himself after suffering through the tragedies of the death of Rachel Dawes and Batman taking the blame for the murder of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight

Eight years have passed since the events in The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne has become a shell of himself, haunting the rebuilt Wayne Manor, a Howard Hughes-like curiosity to the rest of the world. Even after eight years retired, the time he spent as Batman left Wayne with no cartilage in his knees, kidney damage and a scarred, ravaged body. The fanboys rage: "Batman would never quit being Batman!" They demand Batman fight the never-ending battle against evil. But the Nolans have always floated the idea that there's a human being behind the cape and cowl, someone who wouldn't and shouldn't be Batman forever. Harvey Dent even said so in The Dark Knight: "Whoever Batman is, he doesn't want to do this forever. How could he?" Batman the symbol, the legend, can go on, but let us truly consider Bruce Wayne the man and what he needs. The Nolans display a compassion and a hope for Bruce Wayne that is simply unprecedented in any media.

As Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale is once again the primary focus of Rises. Bale throws everything into the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman this final time: limping, growling, screaming, leaping, falling, agonizing, and triumphing as the best cinematic Batman ever. Batman shared the stage more evenly with Harvey Dent, the heroic Commissioner James Gordon, and The Joker (never mentioned) in The Dark Knight, but Rises is mainly and fittingly about Bruce Wayne. Gordon becomes a casualty early and spends most of the movie in a hospital bed while missing and pleading for the Batman to return. (Gary Oldman's Gordon is unabashedly in love with the Batman, almost to the levels that Adam West's Commissioner was in love with him.) Note for all police commissioners: do not personally lead SWAT teams into the sewers; it doesn't work out so well. Michael Caine gives his most emotional performance as Alfred J. Pennyworth, whose monologues serve almost as a surrogate for the Nolans' vision for a better life for Bruce Wayne than being Batman. Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman returns, bemused as ever, giving Batman his most wonderful toy yet, a flying assault vehicle called (fittingly) The Bat*, before being horrified as his vast armory of Batman weapons and vehicles is stolen by Bane and the League of Shadows. Cillian Murphy in a cameo once more as Jonathan (The Scarecrow) Crane draws some welcome laughs.

New playmates for Wayne in this final chapter of the saga include cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway purring Hedy Lamarr-style and slinking about in a form-fitting updated Julie Newmar catsuit) and police detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an angry young orphan who has magic Angry Young Orphan X-Ray Vision that allowed him to see right through Batman's mask and figure out he's Bruce Wayne. Wayne/Batman mentoring Blake in his philosophy for masked nocturnal vigilantism is almost as much fun as Batman and Catwoman (no one ever calls her that) in costume smacking down Bane's thugs, though there isn't quite as much of it as one would like. Hathaway is rather fetching sprawled out on Batman's Bat-Pod and barreling down Gotham's streets blowing up Tumblers. Nolan doesn't deviate from the natural conclusion one reaches when seeing Batman and Catwoman together in their matching black night-time gear: they're made for each other. Selina Kyle's main motivation, besides being all excited about the "storm coming" and then freaking when it's Bane bringing the storm, is chasing after "the clean slate", which is a computer program metaphor that wipes away your past. Very necessary for the sexy cat burglar on the go.

The Academy Award-winning performance of the late Heath Ledger as The Joker is an impossible act to follow, but as Bane, an enormously jacked and masked Tom Hardy, creates a different kind of arch villain. Personally, I found Bane fascinating, and Hardy's Bane voice is amusing to imitate. I especially liked the joke of the young boy singing the national anthem and Bane noting, "He has a lovely, lovely voice!" Bane's comic book smarts are maintained, and while Nolan eschewed the notion of Bane gaining super strength through the super steroid called Venom, Bane remains an imposing physical threat who does break the Batman's back in a ferocious, if straightforward fight. I did enjoy Batman's futile screaming and desperation as he falls to Bane, completely outclassed and unprepared for whom he was facing. Bane is a great deal of nasty fun, especially when he launched into what seemed like a ten minute super villain monologue or when he taunted Bruce Wayne about his failures ("Your greatest victory was a lie.") and when he would have Bane's permission to die. In the climactic rematch with Batman, Bane gets his mask damaged and visibly panics, desperate to end the fight as he's overwhelmed by agony and defeated by Batman.

Then there is the mysterious character of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), the new CEO of Wayne Enterprises, a quickie lover for Bruce Wayne, and a big believer in clean energy and Wayne's fusion reactor. Taking cues from his magic show movie The Prestige, Nolan hides Miranda Tate's true purpose and identity in Rises in plain sight, decoying and feinting with stories about Bane's origins that reaches right back around to R'as Al-Ghul and reveal Tate as Talia Al-Ghul, Daughter of the Demon. Batman was simply shocked when Talia shanked him, but it's understandable: While trapped in Bane's prison pit and healing from his broken back, Bruce Wayne was visited by R'as Al-Ghul (Liam Neeson)'s Force ghost. And like Obi-Wan's Force ghost did to Luke Skywalker several times, R'as mislead Bruce into believing Bane was his son. And speaking of hiding in plain sight, the ultimate destiny of John Blake - full name Robin John Blake - was a jawdropper.

The plot of The Dark Knight Rises is labyrinthine. Details involving the theft of Bruce Wayne's fingerprints by Selina Kyle, a Russian nuclear scientist kidnapped by the masked mercenary Bane, the wheeling and dealing at Wayne Enterprises which causes Bruce Wayne to lose his vast fortune as Miranda Tate is installed by Lucius Fox as CEO, an underground army plotting to take over Gotham City, and a fusion reactor beneath Gotham River which is turned into a nuclear bomb as Bane reveals his grand scheme to destroy Gotham City and fulfill R'as Al-Ghul's destiny a la Batman Begins are lobbed fiercely at the audience. The third act is almost an hour of Gotham City under siege, occupied by Bane and the League of Shadows under the threat of a nuclear holocaust, as Bruce Wayne must find a way to escape a Middle Eastern prison and lead the war to save Gotham City as the Batman. 

The #OccupyGotham act of Rises is the most unwieldy and problematic. Gotham City was really Chicago in the previous installments, but Gotham has grown in the last eight years and has now jarringly become Chicago, Manhattan and Pittsburgh side by side, linked by bridges destroyed by Bane. For five months, Bane and his small army held a city of twelve million people hostage; with many people isolated from their homes, like the executives of Wayne Enterprises trapped in Wayne Tower. Yet somehow everyone was able to maintain their haircuts and made sure to be dressed well even when they had no way to shower for months. Three thousand police officers are trapped in the tunnels under Gotham, but they were able to get food..., uh, why? Why would Bane allow them to not starve to death so they couldn't rise up against him later? As one character notes, "this situation is unprecedented", but many of #OccupyGotham's intricate and logical details seemed to slip through Nolan's grasp, at least until Bruce Wayne returned to Gotham (the hows remain a mystery), became Batman again, and mounted an explosive, all-out assault on Bane's forces.

As Bane mounted #OccupyGotham, Bruce Wayne was trapped in the 'worst hell on Earth' prison, which gave him the chance to heal and regain his true Batmanity. We're told this prison pit where Bane was born is filled with the worst murderers and thieves on Earth, but it didn't seem so bad. Supposedly it's a dark place with no light - Bane says he didn't see light until he was a man - but the place seemed awfully well lit. Maybe Bane was speaking metaphorically. The inmates seemed like a bunch genial chaps who all enjoyed watching rock climbing and chanting together. One of them can even smack a protruding vertebrae back into place. Look hard and maybe you'll see one of those guys helping Tony Stark build a suit of armor in a corner. I really enjoyed Wayne's multiple attempts to climb the pit and duplicate the leap and escape a child once made (who turned out to be Talia). Bruce Wayne is always driven by anger and a lack of fear of death, but he learned the importance of that fear, that he cannot truly rise unless he eschewed his tether and does so with the fear of failure and death. These heady notions would serve Bruce Wayne well into the ending of Rises.

That ending. Despite The Dark Knight Rises' flaws, Nolan's biggest gamble and triumph was truly ending his story of Batman, and he does so in a better, more uplifting fashion than Frank Miller did when he gave Batman his "ending" in the seminal graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns". Batman takes it upon himself to use The Bat to fly the nuclear bomb away from Gotham, perishing in a nuclear explosion. But Bruce Wayne did not die. How did he survive? After giving it a good deal of thought, I discovered the answer: I don't care. I don't care. Because I didn't want Batman to die. More importantly, I didn't want Bruce Wayne to die. What the Nolans achieved with Rises' conclusion was something the comic books, which must publish Batman stories ad infinitum, can and will never do: give Bruce Wayne the happy ending he's deserved for 70+ years. Because "anyone can be a hero", and Batman is a symbol who can rise again if he's needed. But this Bruce Wayne, our best Bruce Wayne, deserves a chance at something more, a better life, "a clean slate" with Selina Kyle. In grand style, The Dark Knight Rises finally, bravely and boldly, gives a noble and fitting end to Bruce Wayne's dark nights.

* Note that Batman never drives a Tumbler Batmobile in this movie. Why would he? He has The Bat. Once you go Bat, you never go back.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012




It's the future, the year 2078. The President's daughter is trapped in a prison in space. Someone has to save her. Those three sentences sum up Lockout, but one can add a fourth sentence to answer the first question that comes up: Liam Neeson was busy. One would expect Neeson to save the day because Maggie Grace, who played Neeson's daughter kidnapped by a sex cartel in Taken, is the President's daughter. Grace just can't catch a break. Her hero instead is Guy Pearce, playing Liev Schrieber. No fooling, Pearce does a dead on impression of Schrieber's voice. Shut your eyes, you'd think it's Schrieber. 

Grace was visiting the orbital supermax prison Maximum Security One, or M.S. One, (helpfully described as such by the on screen graphics well past the point of the audience being able to identify it by sight) on a humanitarian mission. Prisoners on M.S. One, the worst rapists and murderers on Earth, are held in "stasis" but are secretly being subjected to experiments to test human response to deep space travel. Problem is, stasis seems to leave some (but not all) the prisoners lobotomized. They're rapists and murderers - who cares? Well, Grace does. Her heart bleeds for them. Except it stops bleeding when she starts bleeding, after a deadly foul up occurs during a routine interview with a prisoner. Soon, all of the prisoners are released and take the crew of M.S. One hostage. The inmates are running the asylum, er, prison but they don't know they have the President's daughter hostage.

Enter Pearce, a guy with a one way ticket to M.S. One after he's accused of murder but gets finagled into going on a one-man rescue mission to bring Grace home. He's non-plussed about it. By 'it', I mean 'everything'. Nothing phases Pearce, who doesn't take a single moment of Lockout seriously. Pearce and Grace have a prickly relationship of her calling him obnoxious and him rolling his eyes at her pleas to help her save all the hostages. Pearce does rescue Grace without a lot of trouble, but then Grace does an incredibly stupid thing that no one in their right mind would do right when she's all but totally saved, but it was necessary to keep the plot spinning another half hour. Meanwhile, Pearce is after a McGuffan, a friend of his imprisoned on M.S. One who knows where a briefcase is hidden that contains a microchip that's really, really super important to no one but Pearce.

Everything turned out okay, though. Especially since there probably won't be a Lockout 2.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Comic Con: Episode IV - A Fan's Hope



Morgan Spurlock's documentary Comic Con: Episode IV - A Fan's Hope is an earnest, humorous, oddly sweet celebration of the annual San Diego Comic Con International (2012's Con is going on right now as I write this) and of the 125,000 geeks, nerds (in costume and out), fans, and creators, who descend upon San Diego to openly celebrate their nerdosity. Filmed during the 2010 SDCC, Spurlock steps out of the spotlight entirely and turns his cameras onto the Con-goers themselves, with many famous nerds and Con stalwarts such as directors Joss Whedon, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, and Kevin Smith, Stan "The Man" Lee, Seth Green, Seth Rogen, Aint It Cool's Harry Knowles, Morgan Webb of X-Play, comic book writers Matt Fraction and Grant Morrison, and other luminaries of their geeky fields providing amusing insight into the inner workings of the Con and the mindset of their fans. 

Spurlock follows a few key narrative threads throughout the five days of Comic Con: two aspiring comic book artists hoping to be discovered by the major comic book companies, a costume designer and her team presenting a cosplay (costume roleplay) of the video game Mass Effect to the Comic Con Masquerade, a couple who met at the Con in 2009 and get engaged at this Con during Kevin Smith's panel (Smith got very emotional during the proposal and offered to marry them himself), and the owner of Mile High Comics, America's largest comic book store, who is a 40+ year "survivor" of Comic Con and his hopes for his retail business on the show floor. The Con experience turns out well for some, disappointingly for others, but nothing about the experience crushes their spirits or hinders their desire to return.

The truth of how Comic Con has evolved into Hollywood studio-dominated pop culture phenomenon doesn't escape the comic book retailer, who finds far less foot traffic and interest in purchasing and collecting actual comic books when compared to the interest in Hollywood films and the latest pop culture trends. For the comic artist hopefuls, the Con is a series of nerve-wracking meetings with comic book professionals evaluating their work and talent. But for many others, Comic Con is just pure nerd heaven, a place to be whomever and whatever they secretly fantasize being and spend four days with like-minded people "geeking out" over whatever they love, be it comic books, Star Wars, Star Trek, Twilight, superheroes, video games, etc. - anything and everything goes at Comic Con. 

Spurlock finds the humanity in this vast sea of geekery; Episode IV - A Fan's Hope never condescends or casts a cruel light on the people who make Comic Con an annual destination. The documentary casts a light touch and if anything, perhaps it's too breezy. There are only a few odes to the logistical challenges of going to Comic Con, such as the pre-dawn wakeup times, lining up for hours and hours to get into the popular panels (time that is sometimes wasted if you don't get in), the exhaustion of four days on your feet, and the difficulty of getting in proper meals, a wireless signal, or a place to charge your cell phone. Not nearly enough time is spent on what I found to be the most enjoyable aspect of attending Comic Con: just mingling with the legions of cosplayers, seeing them in their costumes, posing for photos with them, and watching them perform in character on the show floor. However, over the closing credits, Spurlock and company did make sure to note the peculiar smells of Comic Con - thousands of people in paint, spandex and rubber, mixed with sweat and the occasional lack of basic hygiene, does unfortunately make for curious, inescapable odors. 

Overall, Spurlock and friends, who are obviously geeks themselves and proud of it, successfully capture the beating heart of Comic Con. Episode IV - A Fan's Hope is a sincere and terrific tribute to something anyone who calls himself a geek or a nerd should experience at least once in their lives. Odds are, once you do, you get the itch and you want to keep coming back. That's the magic of Comic Con. Also, the documentary is almost worth the price of admission to just to hear Kevin Smith tell the imaginary tale of him visiting his eleven year old self to brag about going to Comic Con and knowing Stan Lee, and how 11 year old Kevin retaliates and changes his future (for the better).

Friday, July 6, 2012

Batman: Get Me The Hell Off This Earth One

Batman slugs Jim Gordon, because he is a dummy.

Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank is the second DC Comics graphic novel set in an alternate Earth that reimagines DC's iconic characters, following last year's Superman: Earth One. After reading his Justice League and now this, I might as well just accept the conclusion I've come to that I just do not like Geoff Johns' comics. I don't get why he's so celebrated. I don't find his writing anything special or extraordinary where he's regarded as one of the mega talents of the comic book industry and one of the Powers That Be in DC. I understand many people love the guy and his books $ell. Hell, I got Batman: Earth One because of the hype, and because of Gary Frank. Him, I do like. His artwork is fantastic.

Gary Frank's art aside, I don't know if I could have enjoyed Batman: Earth One less. For everyone who complained about The Amazing Spider-Man and "why do we need to see the origin again?", well, here's Batman's origin again. It's different for the sake of being different. Is it a better origin of The Batman? No. Not at all (pretty art aside). If anything, it makes Bruce Wayne less admirable and a hell of a lot less likable than, say, Batman Begins did. Maybe it's a more 'realistic' spin, if that really means anything to a story about a billionaire who dresses up as a bat to hunt criminals. I'll give Johns this: He used maybe ten cocktail napkins to write this story as opposed to the one he uses for each issue of Justice League.

So, what's different in Earth One?

Thomas Wayne was running for Mayor and was on track to win when he was killed. His death was a hit by the man who is now Mayor of Gotham City, Oswald Cobblepot. (I did like this version of Penguin and the hints of Batman Returns in Oswald being mayor. Especially how disgustingly he eats.) The hit however failed when little 10 year old asshole Bruce Wayne caused his parents to go into an alley and get killed by a common criminal. Either way, Waynes are dead and Oswald got what he wanted.

Martha Wayne's maiden name is Arkham. She's Martha Arkham-Wayne, and she grew up in a condemned old house currently housing a serial killer that may or may not become Arkham Asylum in future Earth One installments.

Bruce Wayne is incompetent as Batman. This is, of course, "realistic". His Bat grapple gun and other gadgets don't work. His cape is just a cape (until it isn't). He's not the best trained or best detective in the world. He's really not very good at all. He's arrogant and foolish and stupid. Nor did he apparently travel the world to learn his skills. Alfred taught him how to fight.

Alfred is the biggest change, and this is because of Downton Abbey. Alfred was a war buddy of Thomas Wayne who saved his life in the desert and lost his leg. So in gratitude, Thomas brought Alfred on to be his butler. Johns swiped this wholesale right from Downton Abbey. Alfred is a bad ass in this story, and he thinks Bruce is an idiot and Batman is a stupid idea, and he saves Bruce's life more than once. Because Bruce is an idiot and Alfred is right.

Gordon is a weak cop who finds his mojo to become a better cop. His wife is dead and Barbara Gordon is in the story, who later is inspired by Batman to start wanting to be Batgirl. She is also kidnapped and nearly killed but isn't shot through the spine. (No Joker in the story.)

Harvey Dent is still DA but he has a twin sister Jessica, who's Cobblepot's main political rival. Neither Dent becomes Two-Face.

Harvey Bullock is a handsome, TV star cop shades of Kevin Spacey in LA Confidential who comes to Gotham to find out who really murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne, then gets embroiled in the seedy criminal world of Gotham. By the end, he starts drinking.

Finally, Lucius Fox is here, he's younger, and he works for Bruce Wayne as his Q, building him Bat gadgets that actually work.

By the end, knowing he barely survived his own incompetence several times, Bruce and Alfred decide that they need "to build a better Batman". What does that mean? Don't know. Suddenly Batman is back in action and we're meant to presume he's 'better'. If they were going to build a better Batman, I wish they'd started with this graphic novel.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012




Ted starts off so promisingly, with a flashback to a snowy Boston Christmas in 1985 narrated by a foul-mouthed Patrick Stewart. Young outcast Mark Wahlberg receives a teddy bear and makes a magic wish that his bear would come alive and be his best friend. It does, and Ted, the living talking teddy bear voiced by writer-director Seth MacFarlane, becomes a pop culture phenomenon, even appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The concept of a living teddy bear becoming famous is an intriguing one. But then Ted jumps forward to present day to an adult Wahlberg, stunted in arrested development, still co-dependent on Ted, who is now a drunken, pot-smoking burnout, and the magic of Ted is immediately, irrevocably lost. Ted immediately settles into a bland, conventional rom-com plot where Wahlberg, in a relationship with Mila Kunis, has to learn to grow up and be a man who isn't emotionally clinging to his talking teddy bear. At her urging, Wahlberg kicks Ted out of the affluent Boston apartment he can't possibly afford on his salary working for a rental car lot. Ted relocates to a Chinatown tenement and starts working at a supermarket check out. Meanwhile, Kunis' sleazy boss Joel McHale, makes a play for her hand romantically and I'm bored just describing this lurching, eye-roll-inducing plot. If Ted and Ted were as raunchy and funny as promised, the paint by numbers plotting wouldn't matter, but outside of a few fleeting funny lines, Ted is oddly limp on actual comedy. Instead, Ted is a showcase for MacFarlane's idiosyncratic 1980s pop culture fetishes, from the theme from Octopussy that Wahlberg sings badly at the Hatch Shell (a scene were I was an extra in the crowd), to a parody of the dancing scene in Airplane!, and especially the camp classic Flash Gordon, complete with Flash himself, Sam J. Jones, in a cameo that well-past overstays his welcome. The blatant fellating of Flash Gordon throughout Ted goes way overboard, and I'm a guy who is also a lifelong fan of that wonderfully terrible movie Flash Gordon. There's also a grating subplot where Giovanni Ribisi wants to kidnap Ted and give him to his fat son that just pads the running time, giving an excuse for a car chase through Boston (with questionable geography where the Southeast Expressway suddenly exits into the Fenway area) and an action finale in Fenway Park. Ted "dies" at the end, which would at least have been a ballsy finish, but Ted chickens out of that to give Wahlberg and Ted a "happy" ending. Ted somehow has sex with numerous women in the movie, including Norah Jones, despite having no genitals. Like Ted the bear, Ted the movie has no balls.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man



The Amazing Spider-Man takes a song everyone knows by heart and self-consciously rearranges the notes. It's the same song but with different cadences and crescendos. Rebooting Spider-Man back to his most fertile ground as a teenager who leads a double life as a misunderstood web-slinging superhero, director Marc Webb's Amazing mines the sticky emotional issues of childhood abandonment, young love, guilt, angst, and teenage rebellion for its drama, eschewing the cheery, day-glo derring-do of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy still fondly fresh in audiences' memories (except for 3). In some respects, Amazing is better than the Raimi movies. In other respects, it's just different for the sake of being different. At its best moments, Amazing could be [500] Days of Spider but with thrilling superhero action and heightened emotional stakes. 

Our new Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, plays Peter Parker like a raw, open wound. It's a powerful, visceral performance filled with anguish and heart. We all know Peter Parker, a bright science nerd who gets bitten by a radioactive spider, tragically loses his Uncle Ben via his own negligence, dons a red and blue unitard, and fights crime as Spider-Man. At school, Peter is bullied by Flash Thompson, who later gets awfully bro-mantic with Peter after newly Spider-empowered Peter has stood up to him. Amazing makes it a point to 'modernize' Spider-Man so that Peter Parker has Internet access, a cell phone, and his web-swinging is captured on YouTube. And yet, for the amount of time Peter is in the Spidey suit sans mask (or letting little kids wear his mask), he sure is unbelievably lucky his face never ends up streaming to millions of followers.

Beginning with a flashback to a dark and stormy night, elementary school-age Peter is abandoned by his grim scientist father Richard (Campbell Scott) and mother and left with his kindly Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Richard Parker was working on something Top Secret and Important (not a Supertrain in Seattle - get that reference, kids?), important enough to run from his son and never look back. Years later, teenage Peter discovers the satchel his father left behind, conveniently containing the Top Secret and Important Files his father wanted hidden. Luckily, Peter is a chip off the old block in the brilliant scientist department and has the know-how to decipher the math. 

At Oscorp, the company owned by Norman Osborn (who we're told is dying off-screen), Peter is bitten by the fateful radioactive spider, as he must, and gains its proportionate strength, speed, and agility. His powers don't manifest overnight; a quick nap on the subway before being accosted by strangers is all the time Peter's body needs to transform him into something Amazing. An ongoing runner of Peter not being able to control his super strength draws consistent laughs. Peter discovering and developing his spider-abilities is handled in a thrilling series of trial and error, often in first person POV. Some lip service is even paid to how Peter Parker acquires his Spider-Man costume. ("Spandex! Everything's spandex!") There's a neat nod to the famous wrestling scene in his comic and Raimi origin where Peter crashes into a wrestling ring; his Spider-Man mask is inspired by the masks of luchadores. Spider-Man has always owned a surprising amount of his very conception to pro-wrestling.

Garfield's Peter Parker, taller, lankier, is more spider-like than his predecessor in the role, Tobey Maguire. He more strongly evokes the Spider-Man depicted in Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's classic Marvel Comics, though Amazing draws most of its inspiration from the modern Ultimate Spider-Man line of comics. Unlike Maguire's Peter, who manifested organic web shooters, this Peter uses his scientific acumen to design mechanical web shooters ("biocable") he wears on his wrists, though the classic comic book bit of Spider-Man occasionally running out of web fluid when he needs it most still isn't utilized. Garfield's Peter is established early on as a photographer but Amazing does away with the side story of Peter working part time at the Daily Bugle, which is fleetingly mentioned. J. Jonah Jameson barking at Peter with cigar in hand is not missed. High school is one of Amazing's key settings, so much so that the villainous Lizard even brings his beef with Spider-Man right to its hallways and classrooms. This is fitting as the Lee and Ditko Spider-Man in the comics was often attacked in his high school.

The hot button issue of cross-species genetics is the cause of all the trouble in Amazing. Richard Parker was allies with Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans), a misguided genius trying to use reptilian DNA to re-grow his missing right arm. Conners was a minor character throughout the Raimi trilogy fans waited in vain to see transform into the villainous Lizard. In Amazing, the Lizard takes center stage, though it's interesting that the serum that turns Conners into an eight-foot, prehensile-tailed "dinosaur man" was meant to restore the mysteriously dying Norman Osborn back to health. Conners becomes Peter Parker's mentor, someone he can talk science-y stuff with that's beyond the understanding of his working class aunt and uncle. Peter is quick on the uptake when Conners becomes The Lizard, but it takes Conners seeing "Property of Peter Parker" stamped on his camera via label maker (a hilarious nod to when Bart Simpson fell down the well), for The Lizard to realize his teen protege is really his arch foe Spider-Man.

When Conners becomes The Lizard, he looks and sounds curiously like Lord Voldemort. He also starts hearing voices in his head (much like how Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin helmet spoke to him in Raimi's Spider-Man) but the voices sound just like Lord Voldemort. (No surprise that Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves is one of Amazing's credited writers.) Later, Conners decides he wants to turn his Lizard serum into a gas cloud that will make everyone in New York City Lizards like him. Curt Conners loves being the Lizard so much! Why wouldn't everyone else love it too? (This scheme is the same as Magneto's plan in Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie, where Magneto wanted to turn everyone in New York into mutants.) 

There's always a girl in Peter Parker's life, and this time, it's blonde, knee-high go go boot-wearing Gwen Stacy, played fetchingly by Emma Stone. Mary Jane Watson who? In a fictional comic book movie featuring wall-crawling superheroes and sewer-dwelling lizard men, Gwen Stacy is Amazing's most fanciful creation: a beautiful, stylish, high school knockout who is patient, understanding, also a scientist who is smart-but-not-as-smart-as our hero, and acerbically witty. Much of Gwen's appeal is owed entirely to Stone's own considerable charms as the character isn't much more on the page than a collection of conveniences, such as how Gwen is conveniently an intern at Dr. Curt Conners' lab in Oscorp, which allows her to be a convenient plot device in helping to manufacture the Lizard antidote when Spider-Man is otherwise preoccupied hunting the Lizard and getting shot at by the NYPD. When on screen together, Garfield and Stone crackle with bristling chemistry. They have moments together in their high school and in Gwen's bedroom (Peter prefers coming in through the window, like that other Peter, Pan) that could have been the heart of a sharp, winning teen rom com if this weren't a Spider-Man movie.

Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben Parker steals scenes early on as he tries to comprehend his moody nephew's comings and goings. He tries to impart wisdom to Peter about power and moral responsibility but avoids repeating the hoary "with great power comes great responsibility" line that was driven to the ground by Raimi and Maguire. There's a palpable sense of real loss when Sheen is gunned down on the street by a common criminal. Later, Sally Field's teary-eyed Aunt May has to weather Peter's nocturnal excursions, never fully comprehending why he returns battered and bleeding when he was supposed to be out buying a dozen eggs. The tragedy of Uncle Ben's death pushes Peter into thrill-seeking vigilante-ism, where, as the smack-talking Spider-Man, he stalks the streets of New York hunting for his uncle's killer, a man with a star tattoo on his left wrist (whom Spider-Man never does locate and capture.) One of the strongest cues Amazing takes from the mega-successful Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy is the idea of Spider-Man being a public menace hunted by the police. 

Amazing's best character might be Denis Leary as Gwen's father, police Captain Stacy, a no-nonsense, honest cop who makes arresting Spider-Man his personal mission. (How much do New York City police captains earn, anyway? The Stacys live 20 stories up in a midtown Manhattan apartment with a gigantic wrap-around balcony that must cost millions.) One of Amazing's best scenes involves Peter having an awkward dinner with the Stacy family and defending Spider-Man's vigilantism, before getting schooled by Captain Stacy that Spider-Man doesn't understand the greater consequences of his actions and is impeding months of important police work. Even when The Lizard is rampaging through the streets of New York, Stacy makes apprehending Spider-Man his top priority. Later, after discovering her daughter's boyfriend is the vigilante he's been after, Stacy is damned heroic fighting side by side with Spider-Man and blasting away at The Lizard with a shotgun. When Stacy is killed by The Lizard, it brings the tally to Peter losing two fathers and Gwen losing one. Curious though that Captain Stacy got a funeral scene but Uncle Ben did not.

The Amazing Spider-Man reboot is kind of amazing. It's overall a success, though a modest one; calculated and pleasing but a few webs short of outright exhilarating. Amazing does boast some marvelous superhero beats like Spider-Man saving a boy from a car falling off the Williamsburg Bridge and the blue collar construction operators in New York lining up their cranes to give their injured hero Spider-Man a clear path to web-sling to Oscorp Tower. More of Garfield and Stone in the inevitable sequels will draw no quarrel from me. Ultimately, Amazing takes great pains and its sweet time to inform us that we don't know all we think we know about Peter Parker, and neither does he. Did we really need to know anything more about Peter Parker? Are whatever 'new' revelations Amazing offers worth knowing? That's for you to determine, true believer. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Smallville: Season 11 #9 - "Guardian"



Gang's all here for this issue, although Lois and Clark only make a token appearance. After saving her from a helicopter landing and exploding on top of her, Superman whisked Lois up, up, and away for a romantic interlude in the clouds. We'll leave the Lane-Kents alone for now, they deserve a little quietude.

Meanwhile, on Smallville's terra firma, Green Arrow and wife are still stalking through the cornfields on the hunt for the mysterious woman with size 5 feet. Since Oliver can never seem to keep his mind on the business at hand, he takes this opportunity to ask Chloe whether she really wants to leave Metropolis for Star City. Chloe feels like she needs to, so she and Oliver can jump start their adulthood. Oliver: "What's more adult than forming an international League of heroes?" Hey guys, I feel like you should have had this conversation, oh, six months ago. Isn't there that reporter job that's been waiting for Chloe for six months in Star City? And now she's waffling?

Whoa, foreshadowing! Gotham! Later this summer, a Dark Knight rises in Smallville season 11! But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Oliver floats the idea of a little archer joining the Sullivan-Queen family (start buying Superman comics to read to him now, guys) and Chloe humorously ponders whether they've already hit the point in their marriage that hunting for the occupant of a downed alien spacecraft isn't enough to keep the spark alive. Soon they find more foot prints, but not dainty size 5s. "In no way intimidating" boot prints burned into the ground. Time to whip out the arsenal: Chloe packing heat, Oliver packing pointy. Little do they know the man(?) they seek is right behind them! (Abed in Community would be disappointed they didn't stand back to back.)

At STAR Labs, Lex Luthor is in the rest room washing his hands and we see his badly burned right hand clearly for the first time. How'd that happen? Bad cloning mishap? Couldn't be a Kryptonite ring like in the comics, could it? Anyway, Tess picks this time and not when he's on the can to haunt her big brother. As usual there are taunts and threats in their banter, but this panel is kind of interesting:

"St. Louise's Orphanage". I don't remember whether or not that was the human alias Granny Goodness was going under. Probably? It was her orphanage Lionel Luthor left Tess in. Anyway, before I get on another tangent, this time about Tess' crazy life being raised for a while by Granny Goodness and then getting recruited by Amanda Waller for Checkmate, Tess steers Lex on the subject of Commander Hank Henshaw. Lex has made immediate good on his promise to download Henshaw's mind into the body of one of Emil Hamilton's drones. Now comes my favorite part of the issue: Tess says she "can't believe Emil would ever" let Lex go through with this, and Lex totally went there:

Lex: "So you knew Dr. Hamilton. Perhaps in more than one way?"

Wow, so Tess can physically make contact with Lex. But that doesn't change the fact that Emil totally banged her. Emil might be the greatest hero of Smallville when it's all said and done.

Lex tries to tell his compellingly less-than-ghost sister on the BS of the benefits behind this mind-transfer-to-drone technology, on giving the dying a second chance at life. "Albeit a mechanical one," Tess notes. But his real master plan is to download Tess into a robot body, then he'll have her dismantled. This latest brother-sister less-than-bonding is interrupted by Otis, who caught his boss Mr. Luthor talking to his invisible sister again. Then, in my second favorite part of the issue, Otis, talking to thin air, apologizes to Miss Mercer for her condition. Otis is awesome. Lex thinks he's an idiot, but then, why did he hire him to begin with? Lex is like Ricky Gervais to Otis' Karl Pilkington. They should get together with Tess and do a podcast, then send Otis to the Seven Wonders of the World.

Lex and Mrs. Henshaw then go to check on Hank Henshaw. Lex tries to ban Emil from the room amid protest. Henshaw awakens and drops the shocking reveal his wife's name is Terri. Then he notices weird things, like how he can't feel his wife's hand and everything he sees is via digital readout. Lex's bedside manner is super upbeat but for a super genius, Lex Luthor really, really underestimated how delighted a hotshot astronaut like Hank Henshaw would be to wake up and find out he's a robot. Henshaw immediately goes for the jugular - Lex's jugular - and grabs him by his throat, while Superman's pal Emil breaks out his cool new Superman Signal Watch!

This looks like a job... that Superman will take on after a one week hiatus....